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Immigration's racial complexity

Guest Blogger

Will today’s Latino and Asian immigrants become incorporated into American society like their European predecessors? Or will race remain a stumbling block to full assimilation? Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean explore these questions in their new book “The Diversity Paradox: Immigration and the Color Line in Twenty-First Century America,” recently released by the Russell Sage Foundation. What they discover is that second-generation Asians and Latinos are not as constrained by racial categories as are African-Americans. A key to the question may lie in the state of intermarriage.

By Jennifer Lee and Frank D. Bean

The United States is more racially diverse than ever before. New non-European immigrant groups such as Latinos and Asians made up only 5 and 1 percent of the nation’s population in 1970, but today, they account for 15 and 5 percent, respectively. According to Census projections, by 2050, they will soar to 30 and 9 percent.

Immigration alone, however, is only one factor contributing to the country’s new diversity. Interracial marriages, which increased from 1 percent in 1960 to 7 percent in 2008, are contributing to this growing diversity. According to a Pew Research Center study released June 3, 1 in 6 marriages in the U.S. is interracial.

Along with the growth in intermarriage is the rise in the number of Americans who chose to identify multiracially. Accounting for just 2.2 percent of the U.S. population in 2008, some analysts project that multiracial Americans will account for 1 in 5 Americans by 2050, and 1 in 3 by 2100. Such trends appear to portend a post-racial society where racial divides are disappearing. However, a closer look at racial group differences tells a bleaker story.

First, U.S.-born Asians and Latinos are marrying outside their race (mostly with whites) at much higher rates than blacks, and these figures have increased since 1990 for both Asians and Latinos. In 2008 nearly three-quarters of marriages involving a native-born Asian was interracial, up from 69.3 percent in 1990. This trend also holds for U.S.-born married Latinos; 52.5 percent of marriages were interracial in 2008, up from 46.0 percent in 1990.

While intermarriage figures also increased among blacks, they constitute only 17.4 percent of black marriages. What these figures reveal is that married U.S.-born Asians are four times as likely to be intermarried as blacks, and U.S.-born Latinos, three times as likely as blacks.

What is especially remarkable about the increase in interracial marriage among Asians and Latinos is that it is occurring despite the growth of these populations due to continued immigration from Asia and Latin America. It’s expected that as Asian and Latino populations grow, these two groups would have a larger pool of partners from which to choose within their racial group, resulting in more intraracial marriage.

Also noteworthy is that the rise in intermarriage is occurring despite the public backlash against immigrants after the September 11th terror attack or the tensions that have led to the new immigration law in Arizona. As strong as anti-immigrant sentiment may appear, any hostile feelings toward the foreign-born are not strong enough to drive down intermarriage rates among native-born Asians and Latinos.

These intermarriage figures reveal much about the state of U.S. racial relations. The fact that interracial marriage continues to increase indicates that racial prejudice is breaking down between Asians and whites, and Latinos and whites -- the social distance is narrowing between these groups.

However, this is happening at a much more rapid pace than that between blacks and whites -- the racial and cultural boundaries dividing Asians and Latinos and whites is fading more quickly than the boundaries separating blacks and whites. In addition, the patterns of multiracial identification mirror those of intermarriage; Asians and Latinos are much more likely to identify multiracially than blacks, suggesting that Asian and Latino boundaries are more porous than the boundary surrounding blackness.

So while boundaries are rapidly fading for Asians and Latinos, they are not fading for blacks at nearly the same pace, highlighting a diversity paradox. While intermarriage and multiraciality are projected to increase in the foreseeable future, thereby ushering in a new era of diversity, the rates of intermarriage and multiracial identification are occurring at various speeds for different non-white groups. The pace for blacks is the slowest, pointing to a pattern of “black exceptionalism” rather than a post-racial America.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  July 9, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
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Comments

Nice to know the facts out there. It's interesting to note what's on TV seems to suggest white/black marriages are the most common form of interracial marriages. Maybe its because black celebrities tend to marry interracially. Compared with black/white couples, We don't often see Asian/Latino/white interracial marriages on TV. Needless to say, because white forms the majority, percentage-wise, whites don't marry interracially a lot.

Is there a color thing going on? Black and White contrast a lot. If you're walking down the street, a black/white couple and a Asian/white couple are walking across the street, you'd notice the former first. In terms of skin color, white/Asian/Latino are much more similar.

I wonder if the black community oppose to interracial marriages more so than Asians and Latinos? Would love to hear this from black folks. My Chinese US born girlfriends (I'm a straight white girl dating a Chinese American born guy) says that their parents' don't think much of them dating interracially. It might be the TV effect making it such a common and expected thing.

Posted by: ekfl | July 9, 2010 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Nice to know the facts out there. It's interesting to note what's on TV seems to suggest white/black marriages are the most common form of interracial marriages. Maybe its because black celebrities tend to marry interracially. Compared with black/white couples, We don't often see Asian/Latino/white interracial marriages on TV. Needless to say, because white forms the majority, percentage-wise, whites don't marry interracially a lot.

Is there a color thing going on? Black and White contrast a lot. If you're walking down the street, a black/white couple and a Asian/white couple are walking across the street, you'd notice the former first. In terms of skin color, white/Asian/Latino are much more similar.

I wonder if the black community oppose to interracial marriages more so than Asians and Latinos? Would love to hear this from black folks. My Chinese US born girlfriends (I'm a straight white girl dating a Chinese American born guy) says that their parents' don't think much of them dating interracially. It might be the TV effect making it such a common and expected thing.

Posted by: ekfl | July 9, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Sorry for the double post.

Posted by: ekfl | July 9, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

I also wonder if blacks are still pissed off at whites for enslaving them and treating them like they are inferior.

Posted by: ekfl | July 9, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Actually it is not surprising at all that increased interracial marriage is occuring in a time of hardening of anti-immigrant views.

When Hitler came to power around 60% of Jews were married to non-Jews. It Rwanda Hutus and Tutsis intermarried for decades.

Frankly as a black person I'm not enamored with this increased immigration in the least. It is not something to be celebrated.

Posted by: cleancut77 | July 9, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

60% of German Jews that is were married to non-Jews.

Posted by: cleancut77 | July 9, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

The era of white supremacy in the U.S. is kaput, but that doesn't mean we have to throw out the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights that were developed in that era. Rather, they will always be a beacon of light for the world. When it comes to Mexico, the real problem is on the other side, namely the totally corrupt Mexican govt. and retro constitution that keep the rich on the backs of the poor and drive them over the border. Instead of letting it continue, why not explore a 1-state solution under the U.S. Constitution? Learn the surprising answer at http://go.to/megamerge

Posted by: tlwinslow | July 9, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Since 40% of American Hispanics are white, it goes without saying that there is not a division between Hispanics and whites. Hispanic origin is a linguistic, not a racial category. As for Asians, it is illuminating but not surprising to see this pattern. Historically Asians were considered white in America, at least in many areas. I know that Louisiana law considered Asian to be legally white.

Posted by: lfivepoints69yahoocom | July 9, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Are the patterns different for white Hispanics than black Hispanics? In the states with large black Hispanic populations (Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), are the marriage patterns of black Hispanics similar to those of black Anglos or to those of white Hispanics?

Posted by: lfivepoints69yahoocom | July 9, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

The data provided by the article is incomplete, which often leads to erroneous conclusions. They author should have included sex, education, and economic factors. What percentage of Asians and Hispanics marrying whites are women? If high, as I suspect, it would support an entirely different conclusion. Regardless of what many believe, marrying a white man is still considered the quickest way to move up the economic ladder for many minority women. Not so much for minority men. Asians and middle class Hispanics readily adopt white culture giving them more in common. Also, Blacks, male and female, prefer to marry other Blacks and, although not against it, are not as open to interracial marriage as the other races.

Posted by: GabsDaD | July 9, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

GabsDaD, in my experience, it is certainly true that more Chinese native-born girls marry interracially than Chinese native-born boys. We still get the occasionally look from passerby, nothing malice just curious. But people won't even bat an eye if my boyfriend's sister walk down the street with her white boyfriend.

Posted by: ekfl | July 10, 2010 3:18 AM | Report abuse

GabsDaD, you "economic ladder" theory is really a generalization. My boyfriend's sister happen to be earning just as much as her white boyfriend, being co-workers. I would say she is "richer" than her boyfriend since her boyfriend usually pays on dates.

Posted by: ekfl | July 10, 2010 6:53 AM | Report abuse

cleancut77, I think the anti-immigration sentiment, if there exists any, is confined to some ethnic groups that has copped a bad rep on TV. e.g. the increase in hate crime committed against Middle-Eastern looking people and the recent controversial law in Arizona. Basically it all boils down to racism.

Posted by: ekfl | July 10, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

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