Noah Smith explores different possible futures for race
in the United States in light of recent statistics showing dramatic increases in the rates at which interracial marriages take place. I don't necessarily endorse or oppose his ideas, but they are thoughtful and I think that they are worth mentioning. The original is a series of tweets, but I have reformatted it and culled metadata for readability.
Even if intermarriage rates stop rising, this means that within two generations, America will have an absolutely ENORMOUS number of mixed-race kids. A substantial fraction of the U.S. population. It will probably force our whole conception of race to change.
That raises the question of what America's conception of race will be. One oft-cited possibility is the reestablishment of a "biracial hierarchy", with whites + Asians + some Hispanics replacing whites as the dominant group, and blacks + other Hispanics as a racial underclass.
Another possibility that seems more remote, but which deserves a mention, is a biracial hierarchy with whites - or a subset of whites, roughly corresponding to current Trump/GOP stalwarts in rural/small-town/exurban areas - as the new racial underclass.
A third possibility - obviously the optimal one, but which sadly seems even more remote - is for "American" itself to become an ethnic identifier that includes all current racial groups.
But if I *had* to bet, I'd place my money on a fourth outcome - a Trinidad-style outcome, where "mixed" (or some similar term) becomes effectively a third racial group. In practice, "mixed" would include disproportionate amounts of Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern ancestry.
In this possible future, America would be: 1) Black people 2) White people with strong white consciousness, mostly living in rural/exurban segregated areas 3) A suburban/urban mixed group forged from all the various races in varying proportions 4) Some small remnant groups
But I have no real idea what will happen, so this is all just wild speculation. Meanwhile, the intermarriage numbers are the hard data.
One important foundational concept he accepts which I definitely agree with is that the way that society conceptualizes race is dynamic and is prone to change over time that is influenced by social realities. I fully agree that widespread intermarriage will change how Americans conceptualize racial categories in the near future (within a generation or two).
I've done some back of napkin Markov chain style projections based upon intermarriage rates further informed by some assumptions about what kind of thinking influences how racial categories are described and conceived. Based upon that, and global examples of how racial categories have changed over time and differ from one place to another, I think Noah Smith's fourth outcome is indeed closer to the likely future than the other possibilities.
But, this is with the caveat that I think that the remnant groups may not be all that small. This is because the descendants of people who have not intermarried for multiple generations are probably less likely to do so than previous generations and are likely to have a great ideological commitment to endogamy. Also, I think that there will be more than four pretty distinct categories that emerge, although not all of the categories will be present in appreciable proportions in every locality.
For example, it is not at all obvious to me that recent immigrants with substantial African origins will assimilate into the community of black Americans whose ancestors were slaves at some point in the pre-Civil War United States.
Another result of that kind of simulation is that the larger a racial or ethnic group is, the less likely it is that people who end up being endogamous are doing so out of an ideological commitment to endogamy. Thus, Jews with only Jewish ancestors, Chinese people with only Chinese ancestors, and Pakistanis with only Pakistani ancestors are very likely to have practiced endogamy as an intentional objective. This is still likely, but less likely among larger racial an ethnic groups such as African-Americans with only African-American ancestors who are not recent immigrants, and Mexicans with only Mexican ancestors. It is least likely that non-Hispanic whites with only non-Hispanic white ancestors have practiced endogamy as an intentional objective, because this is the most likely type of endogamous marriage that can happen randomly.
Fictionally, Richelle Mead's two science fiction novels in her Age of X series (which has been discontinued by her publisher): Gameboard of the Gods (June 4, 2013) and The Immortal Crown (May 29, 2014) are probably closest, in broad outline of the results, to the likely future (although the means by which they get there in the books is highly implausible, as to a lesser extent, is the future of religion in the United States portrayed in the books). In her world, most people are complete "mutts" but there are many enclaves of "pure bred" communities with very specific racial and ethnic origins who resisted the forces that led everyone else to intermarry.
Other discussion in the same thread and similar discussions I've seen in the past also make some important observations.
U.S. born people in the U.S. are more likely to be exogamous than first generation immigrants. Third-generation or more Americans are even more likely to be exogamous.
In many immigrant ethnicities, women are more likely to be exogamous than men. Immigrant men often remain endogamous by recruiting spouses from abroad. But, the disparity declines as descendants of immigrants are more removed from the first generation. Even "1.5 generation" Americans who immigrated at a young age are much more likely to be exogamous than Americans who immigrated as adults or nearly adults.
People in more urban areas are more likely, on a population density continuum, to be exogamous than people in more rural areas (in part, ideologically, and in part, because there is greater opportunity to meet someone of a different ethnicity).
Places that are economically prosperous or experiencing economic growth tend to attract people from everywhere causing them to become more multi-ethnic, which in turn causes exogamy to become more common in those places, while places that are economically struggling or experiencing economic decline tend to stay mono-ethnic. But, sometimes immigrants and domestic migrants start to replace departing native born populations, en masse, in economically declining areas, because it is still more economically favorable than their place of origin and these places are cheap to live in, defying this general rule. It isn't entirely clear why this happens in some places (both urban and rural) and not others. I suppose that demographic change is least likely in places that have been stagnant and stable, rather than experiencing great growth (that attracts new people) or a great decline (that creates a vacuum that can be filled). Immigration founder effects and chain migration may also play a part.
People who are similarly situated in the same mixed gender and mixed ethnicity institution (e.g. a college or the military) are more likely to be exogamous than in situations where an ethnic divide is closely aligned with a social class divide and those people are not similarly situated within the same institution.
People who are part of a predominantly mono-ethnic religious community who are part of the primary ethnicity of that community are more likely to be endogamous than people who are not part of such a community. (On the other hand, minority ethnicity members of a predominantly mono-ethnic religious community are particularly likely to be ethnically exogamous.)
People are more likely to be exogamous when they live outside a predominantly mono-ethnic community of their own ethnicity than when they do not, but are more likely to be exogamous when they are minorities in a predominantly mono-ethnic community. This also means that minority ethnicity individuals in less urban areas are more likely to be exogamous than minority ethnicity individuals in more urban areas where there are enough members of a given minority ethnicity for large mono-ethnic enclaves to form.
The way that race is understood changes significantly when there are enough people who do not fit into two primary racial or ethnic categories, and when this happens, it tends to favor exogamy, especially between members of one of two larger categories and members of the other categories.
There is a strong historical trend, seen in Latin America and the Caribbean, in French Louisiana, and in South Africa, for example, for mixed race individuals to be seen as a separate racial category of their own rather than as parts of two or more other categories.
There is little historical precedent for "biracial hierarchy" to emerge when there are multiple meaningful racial or ethnic subcategories that are still salient. But, there is strong historical precedent for races or ethnicities that were once considered distinct to start to be seen as part of a single ethnicity.
For example, people in the U.S. once tended to think of Catholic immigrants from places like Southern Europe and Ireland and Poland, and Jewish immigrants to belong to a very distinct and separate places in an ethnic hierarchy from WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants). But, a four to six generations or so later, all people with predominantly European ancestry were seen merely as "white" and the intra-white ethnic distinctions had faded in importance (in part, because by then many "white" people had a mixture of European ancestries). People with mixed European ancestries came to all be conceived as "white", rather than as people who were mixed Northern European and Southern European, for example.
A related trend is for immigrant religious institutions to initially be greatly divided on the basis of place of national origin, but to start to merge as generation after generation is born in America after an initial wave of immigration.
For example, there used to be separate denominations of Lutherans for Swedish Lutherans and German Lutherans, but about sixty to ninety years after the main waves of immigration from those countries, those denominations merged (having already lost much of their ethnic identity as Swedes attended German Lutheran churches and Germans attended Swedish Lutheran churches). Similarly, the Orthodox Church in America has arisen from the merger of more assimilated Orthodox Christians from different countries that were initially distinct denominations but merged as their parishioners became more assimilated.
On the other hand, it is possible for new ethnicities to emerge within existing ethnicities.
For example, there were once several distinct waves of European (and more specifically, United Kingdom) immigrants in the U.S., all distinct from each other, but all part of a WASP ethnicity. But, over time, the waves that migrated to the American South and Appalachia have merged into a "country-western" and "Southern" and "red state" ethnicity, and the waves that migrated to New England and the Mid-Atlantic have merged into a "Northern" or "Yankee" or "blue state" ethnicity. Those ethnicities became so distinct that religious denominations that once had members of both of these white ethnicities almost all experienced schism into Northern and Southern branches. Arguably, Roman Catholics have stayed united and above this divide under the unifying influence of the Pope.
The members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (i.e. Mormons) are another example. These people, originally almost all from white mono-ethnic New England, migrated in several stages to the west, eventually ending up in Utah, and have pretty much formed a new white ethnicity of their own.