Where the interracials may take us

We may be in the midst of an interracial baby boom. A recent Pew Research Center study reported that interracial marriages rose from 6.7% in 1980 to a record 14.6% in 2008. If these marriages produce children at the national average, one out of seven Americans could claim two or more races. In Western states where interracial marriage is more common, the ratio rises to nearly one out of four

The day will arrive when this interracial generation reaches political consciousness and finds itself at odds with America’s divisive identity politics. Of all Americans, they represent the best opportunity to end these politics and point America back to its tradition of individualism.

Most minorities today fall conveniently within categories such as African American, Chinese American or Mexican American. These labels arose during an era of political correctness that literally placed race, ethnicity or religion before national identity. Since the 1960s, minorities have found in their racial identity a preferential gateway into public and private institutions.

Will such identity politics survive the interracial baby boom? Will new categories arise for the African German American or Chinese Latino American? Will a critical mass of interracials become an eclectic race in their own right? Or will they bypass the labels and embrace individualism?

These questions await my children. The birth of my son two years ago, and my daughter four months ago, marks the third interracial generation in my family. At first glance, their names — Shelby Jack Steele and June Rose Steele — signify little. But in fact these are what might be called melting pot names.

Shelby is the name of their paternal great-grandfather, who was born to slaves and married a white woman he met in the early civil rights movement. Jack is their other paternal great-grandfather, who survived the Holocaust and rebuilt his life in New York City. June is their maternal great-aunt, who was a flower child and a direct descendant of the first Mormons. Rose is their paternal great-great-grandmother (great-grandfather Shelby’s mother), a slave who gave birth to 13 children. Rose is also Rosario, their maternal great-grandfather, who raised cattle in the Sonora mountains of Mexico.