An Ascendant Multiracial Coalition Is on the Cusp of Defeating White Supremacy and Will Open the Doors to a New Era of Democracy


Excerpted from Loving: Interracial Intimacy and the Threat to White Supremacy by Sheryll Cashin (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

California is retreating from the War on Drugs, investing in education and offering an example to the rest of the country of what functioning, multiracial politics looks like. It is far from perfect. There is still much damage to undo. Prisons are still unconscionably overcrowded. Most black and brown children attend separate and unequal schools. Among many needed reforms for a more just California are the training of police officers to reject the stereotypes in their heads and to deescalate tense situations, more decarceration, and excellent educational opportunities for all children. The beginning, though, was restoring democracy so that it can no longer be hijacked by racist bids for the dark recesses of people’s hearts and minds. In the Golden State, dog-whistling is a political nonstarter for any candidate with grand ambition.

The state also now helps people who were once demonized. Undocumented immigrants can be admitted to the bar to practice law and can get a driver’s license. The state is considering allowing undocumented people to participate in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It currently provides state-funded insurance for undocumented children through Medicaid. The University of California system offers loans to undocumented “dreamers,” students who cannot participate in the federal student loan program. Most local authorities will not report individuals to federal immigration authorities solely because of their immigration status. Governor Brown struck the word “alien” from the state’s labor laws because of its negative implication. In sum, for most Californians, undocumented immigrants have been humanized so that public policies are more apt to reflect pragmatic realities and the net public benefits of allowing people to come out of the shadows. 

By 2016, among likely voters in California, 60 percent were white, 18 percent Latino, 12 percent Asian, 6 percent black, and 4 percent multiracial. Among state legislators, 61 percent are white, 18 percent Latino, 9 percent Asian, 9 percent black, and 2 percent multiracial. Conservative Republicans would be in charge if most white Californians accepted the disinformation that the extreme-right echo chamber serves up elsewhere for breakfast. This is impossible in California, where a plurality of whites share the worldview and political commitments of most people of color. Since gerrymandering has been undermined, the new California requires coalition. 

Race mixing in California politics, as in its social culture, is likely to be a permanent and growing feature of this state whose early constitution explicitly limited suffrage to “white males.” The founding white fathers of California made clear in the state’s first constitutional convention that they wanted only whites to govern the state. They took pains to exclude the few Negroes and many indigenous people and nonwhite Mexicans who resided in that rough, beautiful country. Asians, too, were not welcome when they began arriving in significant numbers. A century and a half later, California’s ascendant coalition defeated its founders’ racist vision and replaced it with something far closer to what we say America stands for. It is Reconstruction once again, and in many ways, the herculean work of building an inclusive California is just beginning.

A similar story could be told about America in a decade or two. In the 2016 presidential election, candidate Donald Trump did for America what Pete Wilson did for California. Trump accelerated political engagement by Latinos, Muslim Americans, and other groups deeply offended by scapegoating, and many whites began to see racism. For seventeen months, the candidate stoked racial resentment and many other forms of bias, and the strategy was shockingly effective. Add to this the unrelenting stream of heartbreaking videos of unarmed black people killed by police and of protests and counterprotests in myriad cities, and the country had a convulsive conversation about race. No matter how appalling, racist, misogynist, anti-Muslim, xenophobic, homophobic Trump’s rhetoric, roughly 46 percent of voters supported a man who never held public office, disdained preparation and paying taxes, bragged about his sexual predations, and had a documented history of financial exploitation, including taking advantage of workers. For many of his supporters, these negatives could be overlooked, denied, or even cast as assets because at bottom, he signaled that he was with them. 

Many Trump supporters voted their economic frustrations, their weariness at being underemployed or having no job at all. But in addition to economic concerns, Trump tapped into a distinct cultural binary, the chasm, broadly, between nondexterous and dexterous people. Many Trump supporters were sick of what they deem “politically correct” multiculturalism and of coastal elites and a political establishment that seems dismissive of their values and worldview. At rallies, Trump whipped up furor among overwhelmingly white audiences and encouraged them to attack dissenters and shoot his opponent. Here was another American passion play, in which many reveled in hate or appreciated being in a space where it was okay to be nondexterous.

This new low in American presidential politics rendered transparent how embedded supremacy and patriarchy are. Trump rode a torrent of white fragility to victory in the Electoral College among people who just couldn’t deal with economic and cultural displacement at the same time. A pus-filled American sore still oozes. Exploiters continue to betray economically vulnerable people while playing on those same people’s fears, in an effort to divide and conquer—old story, despicable story. Those with faith in a greater idea can write a new narrative. It requires acceptance, though, of the self-evident truth of our founding. If all are created equal, then America should not have been constructed as a white country. A pluribus that renders white just one among many is a new America that some can’t accept. If you are white, you have an obligation to at least understand where the concept of whiteness comes from and to decide how you will proceed with that knowledge. I hope your journey will include an intentional choice to acquire dexterity.

A coalition may yet rise to lance this recurrent boil and wipe away the stench. In 2012, the Pew Research Center projected that the Hispanic electorate would double by 2030. And that was before the frightening election of 2016. Many Hispanics are young citizens who are waking up to their potential at the ballot box. Hispanic millennials constitute 44 percent of eligible Latino voters. From 2012 to 2016, Hispanics increased their share of the electorate from 10 to 11 percent. Asian Americans increased from 3 to 4 percent of the electorate in the same period. Meanwhile, whites declined from 77 percent of the electorate in 2004 to 70 percent in 2016. 

Soon, Hispanics and Asian Americans combined will cast as much as a quarter of all votes in presidential elections. Most likely, white supremacy will not be on their agenda, and equality and fairness will. Count black and multiracial people in that column, and other people of color, and large numbers of whites. At the same time, the Silent Generation, those born between 1928 and 1945, is the whitest of extant generations and the least accepting of the cultural and demographic changes in American society. The youngest of the Silents will have reached American life expectancy by 2025. By 2030, in just thirteen years, most Silents will be eternally silent.

It is not hard to imagine an ascendant coalition rewriting the ground rules to unleash American democracy. In individual states, these coalitions might create more citizen commissions that end political gerrymandering. Surely they will support laws that encourage rather than discourage voting. They can also create organizations that help people who want to acquire dexterity to develop these skills and relationships, organizations that are intentional about bridging divides.

Everyone—particularly whites who are used to being central— must work at adjusting to new realities. Passivity is also a choice, and part of the problem. As an African American, I can only write authentically about being black. There are a million ways to be black in America, but for virtually all of us, denying the existence of antiblack racism is not one of them. One scholar has suggested that there are also multiple ways to be white in America. She recommends being actively antiracist and this is likely the most joyous path.

Although they are not the answer to all America’s ills, ardent integrators are helping to spread dexterity. And in communities that integrators gravitate to, there is the possibility of a refreshing redo on race—not imaginary color blindness, but seeing difference and smiling at it. In small utopias that are very intentional about inclusion and valuing difference, strangers may see a dark-skinned black boy as adorable, beautiful, and full of potential, the same way his parents see him. That view, unfortunately, is a radical concept, but one that prevails today at my kids’ thoroughly multiracial public charter school. With ardent integration and activism, such an ethos can spread. 

The cultural dominance of integrators will be most palpable in dense metropolitan areas, where intense diversity will be inescapable. Emerging global neighborhoods, places where no particular group or culture dominates, will also contribute to the rise of the culturally dexterous. An influx of global aspirants changes the complexion of a former white-flight suburb, and many whites decide to stay rather than escape to whiter exurbs.

While agitating for a saner future, we can create small utopias now—a school, a nonprofit, a gospel choir, a neighborhood—spaces that are open to all comers, where people can build trust and something new and enduring, something that works for all participants. In the United States, we need to reinvigorate and reimagine public spaces where people practice pluralism. In small utopias, citizens can break things and start anew. They can change the narrative from hatred or denigration of government to putting the people back in the idea of public and viewing government as the enabler of good lives. Effective public institutions are critical for middle-class and poor folks who cannot afford to opt out of them. Middle-class utopias where government functions for the common good may rise because old baby boomers with no savings and young people with meager starts in life desperately need excellent, well-funded public institutions, including public transportation, libraries, schools, free or low-cost community colleges, and public universities.

Geography is one key to the successful coalescing of multihued reformers. White supremacy in pre-civil-rights America required exclusion, as did the so-called American Dream, which idealized suburban single-family living for one type of family (traditional, heterosexual, white, middle class) while discouraging entry by others. In the twenty-first century, the American Dream is broken for all but wealthy people. Exclusion and exclusivity squelch opportunity for the nonaffluent. Technology and its creative destructions leave the masses struggling to create viable lives from what plutocrats will hire and pay them to do. Economic survival requires access, and access requires institutions and communities that include rather than exclude.

Creative innovators tend to live and work in communities of dense diversity and tolerance. Because of this, America is likely to remain a magnet for the most talented people in the world. Our country could be the first universal state in world history—a nation where people of all races, ethnicities, classes, religions, genders, transgenders, and sexual orientations are accepted and where public policies support rather than undermine their aspirations. The United States could show the world what pluralism means, while antipluralistic countries continue to be torn asunder by ancient and modern intergroup conflicts.

Excerpted from Loving: Interracial Intimacy and the Threat to White Supremacy by Sheryll Cashin (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

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