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.
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.