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She quotes U.C.-San Diego ethnic studies professor George Lipsitz: "I've talked to many students who are either from racially mixed backgrounds or who have what they consider to be an odd history–maybe they were the only black student in a white school or something like that. Then at the university it seems that there is an inside that they are not part of, and there is no obvious subgroup they can join."
This is terribly unfair to the young. It forecloses options and experimentation. It denies them potential friends. But most survive. And the collegiality of the workplace, with its required teamwork (or its universally hated boss), restores a sense of balance and of mutual interest. College principles vanish before career realities.
People who worry about America's future spend a lot of time worrying about the English language. I don't. The financial incentives to learn English are simply too great. And English-speaking Americans are notoriously pigheaded about learning other languages, even when they're transported to other countries. That obstinacy ensures that those financial incentives will continue.
The more interesting question about language is how we describe ourselves. With what words do we designate our cultural differences? What do they portend? On this front, too, there is good news.
Ethnicity has always been an easier barrier for Americans to cross than race. Oddly enough, we're better off breaking down into lots of little groups than into a few large blocks. The little groups have something to do with actual historical experience and with individual identities. And, more importantly, they are easy to rearrange. Nobody gets excited when Italian-Americans marry German-Americans. The little blocks make interesting patterns; the big blocks only confine. Black and white are ghettos captured in words.
Hispanic was invented to turn the latest wave of immigrants into a new race, and a new race problem. But Latinos stubbornly resist that term (and Latino), preferring to be called Mexican or Cuban or Salvadoran or whatever. Seeing themselves simply as Catholic ethnics (and an increasing number of evangelical Protestants), they act like their forebears–settling first in enclave communities, moving out after a generation or two, and intermarrying. About one-fifth of Latinos marry non-Latinos.
The language problem begotten by tan immigrants has begotten another. Many "Hispanics" are "white," so we have to invent a new term for whites. The term is Anglo–and if you want a fight, just try to slap it on a Jew or an Italian or, worse yet, an Irishman. So we're back to national origins, which leaves out people like me whose relevant ethnicity is regional American. The labels break down in absurdity.
The best news on the language front is, however, the oh-so-cumbersome term African-American. (Yes, it is imprecise–but, seriously, is Colin Powell really "black"?) African-American turns race into ethnicity. It transforms the huge, insurmountable differences of Jim Crow into the small, interesting details of urban neighborhoods. It changes a color into a person, into an American. It is, in fact, a de-Balkanizing term. Eventually, perhaps, we may not even need it. What, after all, do you call Thurgood Marshall's grandchildren?