The American racial order—the beliefs, institutions, and practices that organize relationships among the nation's races and ethnicities—is undergoing its greatest transformation since the 1960s. Creating a New Racial Order takes a groundbreaking look at the reasons behind this dramatic change, and considers how different groups of Americans are being affected. Through revealing narrative and striking research, the authors show that the personal and political choices of Americans will be critical to how, and how much, racial hierarchy is redefined in decades to come.
The authors outline the components that make up a racial order and examine the specific mechanisms influencing group dynamics in the United States: immigration, multiracialism, genomic science, and generational change. Cumulatively, these mechanisms increase heterogeneity within each racial or ethnic group, and decrease the distance separating groups from each other. The authors show that individuals are moving across group boundaries, that genomic science is challenging the whole concept of race, and that economic variation within groups is increasing. Above all, young adults understand and practice race differently from their elders: their formative memories are 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Obama's election—not civil rights marches, riots, or the early stages of immigration. Blockages could stymie or distort these changes, however, so the authors point to essential policy and political choices.
Portraying a vision, not of a postracial America, but of a different racial America, Creating a New Racial Order examines how the structures of race and ethnicity are altering a nation.
Since America’s racial disparities remain as deep-rooted after Barack Obama’s election as they were before, it was only a matter of time until the myth of postracism exploded in our collective national face. –Peniel Joseph, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 27, 2009
In electing me, the voters picked the candidate of their choice, not their race, which foreshadowed the historic election of Barack Obama in 2008. We’ve come a long way in Memphis, and ours is a story of postracial politics. –Congressman Steve Cohen, Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, September 18, 2009
Race is not going to be quite as big a deal as it is now; in the America of tomorrow . . . race will not be synonymous with destiny. –Ellis Cose, Newsweek, January 11, 20101
Are racial divisions and commitments in the United States just as deep-rooted as they were before the 2008 presidential election, largely eliminated, or persistent but on the decline? As the epigraphs show, one can easily find each of these pronouncements, among others, in the American public media. Believing any one of them—or any other, beyond the anodyne claim that this is “a time of transition”—is likely to be a mistake, since there will be almost as much evidence against as for it. Instead, it is more illuminating to try to sort out what is changing in the American racial order, what persists or is becoming even more entrenched, and what is likely to affect the balance between change and continuity. That, at any rate, is what we propose to do (if briefly) in this article.
Individually or in combination, two federal policies have the potential to transform the American racial and ethnic hierarchy more than any other policy changes since the civil rights movement. They are the Immigration Act of 1965 and the introduction of the "mark one or more" instruction in the race question on the 2000 census. Unlike the civil rights activities of the 1940s through 1960s, the first change was not intended to overturn the racial order and the second was a response to a process of transformation already underway. Both were, and remain, highly dependent on the isolated choices of many people around the world, as well as strategies of political and business leaders and economic or other forces outside anyone's control. Because the long-term effects of these policies have not played out fully, their ultimate outcomes will remain unclear for a long time—but they could be substantial.