America, The Melting Pot... Or is it?
I am inherently interested in race, ethnicity, cultural differences and social issues related to the Hispanic community due to my Mexican background. During my undergraduate years, I studied what it means to be a Latino in the U.S. and how identities of Latino-Americans are formed. I was fascinated! I gained an academic understanding of why people of Latino descent feel and think the way they do, myself included. I remember sitting in my LALS 103 (Introduction to Latino Urban Studies) class, absorbing and identifying with the complexities of being a Latino or “minority” in the U.S. I felt that my own feelings, doubts and frustrations were voiced. And there was plenty of credible research behind it! I felt empowered. One of the major reasons why is started this blog is to explore the curiosity and passion I feel for such topics. In this post, I turn the spotlight around – What does it mean to be Caucasian or White in the U.S.?
A few months ago, I watched Rich Benjamin’s insightful and funny Ted Talk in which he details his two year road trip across America’s fastest growing + whitest towns and cities, or as he coins it – Whitopia. He identifies such places (based on growth rate and demographic patterns) and moves in to become part of that community. He experiences and immerses himself in Whitopia, as a Black man. This shift is quite a phenomenon as White people are set to be the minority group of this country in the coming decades. By the year 2050, Latinos will be the largest ethnic group in the U.S. If you ask me, America shifting to a darker complexion is a good thing. Who doesn’t like a glowing, sun-kissed tan? Plus, this country was first populated by tan Native Americans... 'Merica is only coming full circle, it seems. In the wake of America’s rising multiculturalism, Benjamin became interested in exploring why these communities were getting less diverse. In his riveting talk, Benjamin examines how a country can have racism without racist individuals, the history of the U.S. residential + educational segregation, and how moving to Whitopia yields racial outcomes. All of these in under 14 minutes. I highly recommend this talk to everyone.
The typical White American individual lives in a town where 77% of the population are also White. – 2010 Census Bureau
As Benjamin delved into segregation, I reflected on my own city. Chicago is notoriously the most segregated city in America. Like one of my favorite Spanish idioms says “Juntos pero no revueltos” (together but not mixed). The White folk live up north, the Blacks are in the eastern south side and west while the Hispanics like to chill in the northwest and southwest parts of Chi (Note: I am only mentioning the major racial groups that make up this city’s population). Surely we are proud of our diversity but a lot of us never come into contact with said diversity. This is why a staggering amount of people living in say, Lincoln Park have never been to Bridgeport or Chinatown. Why some South siders rarely go downtown, etc. I find it really sad and antiquated. I don’t want to be the only person of color when I walk into a bar in Lakewood. Homogeneity is boring. This is why I make it a point to explore my own city. To understand the big picture of Chicago. When I am able to chill by midway with my Mexican homies, go up north to catch a show at Old Town School of Folk Music and return to my West Town stomping grounds, I feel that I am doing my part. Fellow Chicagoans: let’s explore the awesome neighborhoods that make up our city! Race divisions and segregation aren’t cool. Do you venture out to explore the entirety of your city or town?
On average, 91% of a White person’s friends are also White. – 2010 Census Bureau
Jose Antonio Vargas’ White People documentary also revolves around race and asks Caucasian millennials what they think of being White. Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter that came out as an undocumented in a 2011 piece in the New York Times Magazine. White People caused quite a stir when it was released because some critics felt accused and attacked for being White. But it’s important to note that this films simply aims to open a dialogue with White people about affirmative action, colorblindness, white privilege and what it’s like to be on the verge of becoming the minority of this country. Some of the people profiled in the film are completely oblivious to these concepts including race issues that affect non-whites. This is very telling of our nation as a whole. White People is far from perfect but it’s a good starting point for young White Americans to try and understand how they’ve unknowingly benefited from social inequality. This film is lengthier than the talk, about 40 minutes long, but it’s worth your time. Watch it here.
What this talk and documentary signify is that we have a long way to go as a nation. Diversity in America only keeps accelerating and it’s important to try to understand race issues to prepare ourselves for the changes to come. And we can start doing that now, little by little.