I am sorry to be writing to you at such a late date, but I’ve been away for several months and am just now catching up on my oId PAWS.
The issue on race (Jan. 13) was mind-boggling. Nothing has brought home to me more forcefully that America does not have a race problem, but a race psychosis. From reading these articles, it is obvious that we are far from being “postracial.” We still seem to think automatically in terms of “black” and “white,” or more accurately, “white” and “nonwhite.”
Race (i.e., physical appearance) constitutes the slenderest difference between people. Ethnicity is far more important, but even this is hardly significant. Perhaps 100 years ago or even 50 years ago there were great ethnic difference between people, but the world is now far more culturally homogeneous, and ethnic differences are a faint echo of what they once were. They may be resurrected for purposes of self-identification, but they are basically trivial.
When I was at Princeton, the greatest diversity I saw was between playboys and “grinds.” As for the significance of “racial diversity,” as a New Yorker, I felt I had more in common with a black from New Jersey than with a white Southerner.
Accentuating superficial differences, and trying to make people feel more racially or ethnically self-conscious, seems harmful and regressive. After all, in the long term, assimilation is absolutely inevitable, and any effort to stem it is doomed. Ethnic attachments will fall away by the fourth or fifth generation, and as miscegenation becomes more customary, racial identity will become more problematic and less of an issue.
The one central fact of life that characterizes all racial and ethnic minorities is that they or their families were often made to feel more different than they really were, and experienced prejudice first-hand. This, and not skin color per se, nor ethnic differences, constitutes the true line of separation, and explains why minorities feel that they have more in common with each other than with the white majority.
Browsing Letters 2009-2010