Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2008

Abstract

The browning of America promises the bodily, social, and political transfor- mation of the United States, and as with all ethno-racial threats—or promises of deliverance—browning operates through the private, intimate arenas of love, sexuality, gender, family, and friendship. As a demographic idea, the “browning of America” gathers together Native Americans, African Ameri- cans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Americans with a multiracial identity, as well as non-white immigrants. In popular culture, however, it primarily con- notes the expanding population of Latinos, and Mexican and Latin American immigrants. Secondarily, it includes the growing social and political presence of multiracial Americans, those who claim more than one racial background, and the growth of interracial romantic relationships. And occasionally, it also includes the expanding presence of Asian Americans and Asian immigrants. The “browning of America” is a term that is meant to denote the demo- graphic shift of the United States’ population to a so-called majority-minority society. The phrase is dramatic and has many detractors, in part because many of the groups included in the phrase are not simply “brown.” The phrase re- duces the multifaceted shift in the population to a simple rise in the number of brown folks. Despite these objections, I use the phrase precisely because of its problems and social currency. The phrase, in a nutshell, captures the shifting racial patterns in the United States and thus the changing face of America. A significant portion of the transformative potential of browning, therefore, is due to the role of interracial intimacy in that process. Of course, interracial intimacy, or to the point, interracial sexuality, has been one of the United States’ greatest taboos, as was common in racial states, and as James Baldwin wrote in his reflection on racism, sexuality, and masculinity, “Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood,” interracial sexuality—in ways con- nected with homosexuality—touches “our most profound terrors and de- sires.” This is the nature of the threat and promise of browning, and is why Americans view it in terms of either salvation or terror. This chapter explores that disjunctive vision by thinking through the links between racism and interracial intimacy that are and are not made in contemporary philosophical accounts of racism. It makes three claims. First, with a few exceptions, contemporary philosophical investigations of racism, unfortunately and mistakenly, have largely avoided the topic of interracial intimacy. This is an immense mistake, for those matters are the content of our most intimate and daily experiences with race and racism. Second, this evasion is related to popular and facile representations of racial harmony and “mosaic” conceptions of diversity that restrict inter-racial associations and friendship to the public sphere and leave racially defined communities largely untouched. Third, although interracial intimacy results from the undermining of racism, the transformative promise of interracial intimacy is largely rhetorical and romantic.

Comments

Article originally published in The Browning of America and the Evasion of Social Justice, SUNY Press, 2008, 190pp., ISBN 9780791475867.