Apparently we’re getting rid of racism…

Last October National Geographic commissioned a portrait gallery of mixed race Americans called “The Changing Face of America.” The gallery and accompanying article explain why the US Census is a problematic measure of race in America and why it’s difficult for people of mixed heritages to fall into one single category—that’s all fine. In response, however, PolicyMic recently published an article titled, “National Geographic Determined What Americans Will Look Like in 2050 and It’s Beautiful” and I can definitely say that the headline alone made me uncomfortable. Now, I’m not by any means saying that people of mixed race aren’t beautiful, but the fetishization of this ideal post-racial society is the exact problem that King O’Riain talks about in her book.

The author of the PolicyMic article, Zak Cheney-Rice states “it’s no secret that interracial relationships are trending upward, and in a matter of years we’ll have Tindered, OkCupid-ed and otherwise sexed ourselves into one giant amalgamated mega-race.” The whole article is coded in troubling language of progressiveness that dismisses race as a social construct and figures that we can just breed ourselves out of racism.

Picture of two modern American multi-racial boys

Just because the demographics are obviously changing (the percentage of people self-identifying as more than one race on the Census has jumped 32 percent in the past 10 years) and we have adorable interracial families in Cheerios commercials, doesn’t mean that this is the ‘beginning of the end of race’ as we know it. Mixed race has become a platform onto which we project our anxieties about race—either mourning the “downfall of people of color” or an attempt to “build bridges” and mend past race relations (King-O’Riain, 28). Both of these approaches, however, disregard race work, physical appearance and others’ perceptions of it. King-O’Riain states “how [multi-raced people] are perceived by others, through visual contact is important as it shapes how they see themselves through interaction with others, and how others see them in relation to privilege” (29). And yet multiracial people in this idealized outlook are not considered active agents, despite the key role they play in the supposed process of racial undoing. Instead, this “2050 remains decades away, but if these images are any preview, it’s definitely a year worth waiting for” attitude flattens the experience of multi-raced people into a troublesome single narrative and erases a history of where it is that they come from. Perhaps, even the very notion of trying to capture images race at all—mixed or not—in an attempt to dismantle race is in itself a problematic endeavor. So how, then, should we go about engaging in a dialogue about the changing landscape of race in America without stepping on any racial toes? I don’t know… but I’ll get back to you in 2050.


3 thoughts on “Apparently we’re getting rid of racism…

  1. I saw this article in the printed National Geographic a long time ago and was very intrigued. And then I saw the same PolicyMic headline that you did and felt deeply, deeply troubled. The implications of that title and its future utopia are that the multi-cultural and multi-racial American population at present is somehow inadequate and NOT beautiful. The trouble with creating one amalgamated super race is the same issue that arises when people suggest abolishing the concept of gender identities and creating one homogenous unified gender: it discounts the individual and shared experiences of those who have lived their lives as an “other” for an umbrella label that frankly makes it easier for those who fall in a normative spectrum to understand. If there were one mega-hot melting pot race, idealists would be led to believe that everyone would be privileged because no one would be. But this is inaccurate particularly in a country where the faintest bit of an ancestry of color mandates an identity that is non-white. I also think there’s something semi-tragic about the fact that all of the images in the National Geographic were created via Photoshop rather then taking photographs of actual multi-racial people. This indicates this fetishized ideal that we are very familiar with through the Photoshop-ing of images in advertising to create an unattainable idea. By generating these glorious, fake images, NatGeo is setting yet another impossible beauty standard for people to meet in their homogenous future.


  2. I really like the way you phrased the “troubling language of progressivism.” This sort of peppy, liberal, aesthetics-minded outlook is shallow and basically uninteresting. Like you say, the treatment of mixed race people is incredibly flattening– the writer supposes that having more than one racial identity somehow liberates that individual from the constraints of race… When in fact, that is not the case. Some other things came to mind when looking over the national geographic pictures… The word “beautiful” that you pointed out in the headline kept bothering me. When I was in high school, my friend’s mom would always comment on how beautiful any black woman was. We’d be looking through an issue of Vanity fair, or discussing a classmate, it could be anybody. But, without fail, she would make a point to roundly applaud a black woman’s beautiful braids, or beautify body, or beautiful face. It’s the kind of thing that’s infuriating because how can you really reproach someone for that? All they’re doing is giving a compliment, supposedly. Anyway, it’s anecdotal, but I know that this a widely noted phenomenon. Chimamanda ngozi adichie skewers a white, hippie-liberal type (like my friends mom) for this exact compulsion in a scene in her book Americanah. And on the other side of this misguided progressivism is a black mom like the one who authored this article She laments the “subtext” that the word beautiful carries when directed (overly so) at her 5 year old daughter.

    Basically, I keep thinking of how the word “beautiful” is racialized. And I think it is in the context of the national geographic pictures as well. The article completely pretends not to notice that there are no people in those snapshots with the darkest skin shades on the spectrum. Or it that the point? Are these people beautiful BECAUSE they are not dark? Because they are adequately “mixed” (read: lighter)? When people constantly comment on how beautiful biracial children are, who are they measuring this ideal phenotype against? This monotone caramel wash of faces is “beautiful” I think, because it is easy. It’s certainly easier than a “divisive” portrait of white and black. It’s harmonious.

    The policymic article asks, “is this the end?” The question is deeply haunting. The end of what? The end of race? Because if so… It apparently means the end of dark skinned people.


    1. National Geographic clearly romanticizes the idea of a unified post racial society that condenses individuality of race into one big multinational conglomerate of connected individuals. Clearly there is a misconstrued idea that racial meaning is clumped by association to biological factors alone. What this article fails to delve into, is notions of race as politically and socially constructed, rather than a state of being you are simply born into. By assuming that biological notions of race determine ideas about a culture, we are dismissing the “essence of race thinking.” There’s an implication that a racially cohesive population is deemed to be “beautiful” based on breeding people out of race structures.It’s pretty disturbing that National Geographic is promoting this image of a “progressive America” through diminishing racial individuality.
      The mention of sexual connectivity between races through mediums likeTinder and OkCupid only further racializes the themes of this article. Suddenly dating websites are the ultimate paths to achieving a homogeneous race, because interracial couples could not have possibly met elsewhere in this day and age. If interconnectivity is urging people to breed themselves out of racial bloodlines to create a progressive mega-race, very soon all sense of cultural and racial identity will be forgotten. Race, ethnicity and culture will be muddled together until we become one big, homogeneous, photoshopped nation of “beautiful” interracial people! How disturbing.
      The idea of abolishing racism through changing definitions of race and diminishing the amount of darkness seems a tad Aryan… To me, these photos only imply that any race can become more beautiful after it breeds itself into a white bloodline. The whiter you are the more beautiful you are?


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