Washington—After years of battles over immigration, affirmative action, racial profiling and other issues, it appears that the United States is becoming a genuine melting pot. An interracial tide has transformed friendships, dating, cohabitations, marriages and adoptions in just one generation.
If the wave continues, it could begin to erode racial stereotypes and categories, as well as the rationale behind affirmative action and other broad protections for minorities.
The average American today, young or old, is 70 percent more likely than a generation ago to count a person of another race among his two or three best friends, according to an article in the current issue of American Sociological Review.
Minnesota has been a leader in such change for decades, dating back at least as far as the mid-20th century with the surge in the adoption of Korean children. By the year 2000, no large U.S. city anywhere other than on the intensely multiracial Pacific Coast had a higher share of multiracial children than Minneapolis.
“It’s never, ever, once been an issue for us,” declared Tony Klaers of Minneapolis.
Klaers, who is white, has an extended family that includes two kids from a black-white marriage as well as adoptees from Korea and Vietnam.
“We’ve had strange looks from others; but in my family it’s no big deal.”
Young people leading the way
Young adults and children are the vanguard of the change: Consider 9-year-old Heshima Sikkenga of Apple Valley, for whom race “is a minor point, like brown hair or blond hair,” as his father, Steve, put it.
Match.com, a leading Internet dating service, says more young people are willing to date someone of another race.
“I’m seeing a lot more interracial couples,” said Guatemala native Javier del Cid, a 32-year-old Washington bartender who has worked in restaurants for 18 years. “They’re not scared anymore. You see a Hispanic guy with a black girl, you don’t say, ‘Oh, my God!’ Only people raised before it was accepted say that.”
He should know—he said he dates mostly black women. A raft of research supports his observations. For example:
• In 1992, 9 percent of 18—and 19-year-olds said they were dating someone of a different race. Ten years later, the figure was 20 percent, according to a 2005 study by sociologists Grace Kao of the University of Pennsylvania and Kara Joyner of Cornell University.
• In 1992, 9 percent of 20—to 29-year-old Americans were living with people of different races. A decade later, that figure was 16 percent, Kao and Joyner said.
• In 1985, when asked to describe confidants with whom they’d recently discussed an important concern, 9 percent of Americans named at least one person of a different race. These days, it’s about 15 percent, according to Lynn Smith-Lovin of Duke University and Miller McPherson of the University of Arizona at Tucson, co-authors of the American Sociological Review article.
• In 1980, 1.3 percent of marriages in the United States were interracial, according to the Census Bureau. By 2002, that had more than doubled, to 3 percent.
• Eight percent of adoptions were interracial in 1987. By 2000, the number was 17 percent, according to Census demographer Rose Kreider.
In 1980, four out of five people in the United States were white; today that proportion is three out of four, mainly because of surges in Hispanic and Asian populations.
Those population shifts may be nudging along a general softening in attitudes about race. Today’s circles of friends, for example, tend to be more racially mixed, primarily, Smith-Lovin said, “because society is more diverse.”
In 1990, two-thirds of Americans polled said they opposed having a close relation or family member marry a black person.
That’s dropped to about one-third, according to Maria Krysan, a racial attitudes specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
More integrated workplaces also have a lot to do with it, according to researchers.