A census doesn’t say everything about how people identify and how that changes over time, sure, but it signals the governmental discussion on race relations. How does a government attempt to control populations? The line becomes simultaneously structured and muddied when we begin to create more racial categories and erase the old-timey ones that may remind us of pain—past, present and future pains.
“It’s amazing,” writer Zadie Smith (a poster child for a cosmopolitan multiracial futures) writes in her essay “Speaking in Tongues,” “how many of our cross-cultural and cross-class encounters are limited not by hate or pride or shame, but by another equally insidious, less-discussed, emotion: embarrassment.” In the essay, which was based on her New York Public Library lecture in December 2008, she points to the intimacy of racism. Here’s more:
But I haven’t described Dream City. I’ll try to. It is a place of many voices, where the unified singular self is an illusion. Naturally, Obama was born there. So was I. When your personal multiplicity is printed on your face, in an almost too obviously thematic manner, in your DNA, in your hair and in the neither this nor that beige of your skin—well, anyone can see you come from Dream City. In Dream City everything is doubled, everything is various. You have no choice but to cross borders and speak in tongues. That’s how you get from your mother to your father, from talking to one set of folks who think you’re not black enough to another who figure you insufficiently white. It’s the kind of town where the wise man says “I” cautiously, because “I” feels like too straight and singular a phoneme to represent the true multiplicity of his experience. Instead, citizens of Dream City prefer to use the collective pronoun “we.”