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The changing faces of race in America

By 2060 "the U.S. will become a plurality nation, where the non-Hispanic white population remains the largest single group, but no group is in the majority," the U.S. Census Bureau predicts. With beautiful photography, "The Changing Face of America" in the 125th anniversary issue of National Geographic illustrates how multiracial people will be contributing to this change.

36 years ago my high school sociology teacher proposed interracial families as way to eliminate racial tension and prejudice. People tend to fear and hate those who look different from themselves. As more multiracial children are born, grow up, and have their own children, he reasoned, over a few decades Americans would look more and more alike — removing at least one of the ways that racism is manifested.

In 1978 this solution sounded far-fetched. The teacher admitted that it would take a lot of work to overcome attitudes against interracial marriage that were so prevalent at the time. If he's still alive, he's probably gratified by the National Geographic article.

But in two important ways, my sociology teacher got it wrong. What's most striking about Martin Schoeller's photo array is not the similarity of the faces, but their uniqueness. Genetic diversity doesn't make people more the same; it generates human beauty in an ever-expanding array of forms.

Secondly, racism isn't caused by differences in skin tone, hair, or contours of the face and body. Racism is caused by how we are taught to think and feel about those differences.

The storm of outrage over the interracial family in Cheerios commercials shows that we still have a long way to go in overcoming racism and the injustices that it generates. But it's important to know that racism in its current form hasn't been around since the dawn of humanity.

The whole concept of "race" as we understand it today was first formulated in the 18th century by Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and others who separated humanity into neat categories, with whites at the top. "Race has no definition, no basis in biology, yet its constructions, functions, and mythologies irrevocably shape the world as we know it," writes Amanda Froelich on True Activist.

Racism is learned, so it can be unlearned. National Geographic noted that since the Census Bureau started allowing people to check off more than one race on the 2000 census form, the number of people identifying themselves as multiracial has become "one of the fastest growing categories."

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