Racial mixing on the rise

From time to time, the media turns a statistical finding into “news”. This article is one of those times.

More than 340,000 children in Canada are growing up in mixed-race families, a new report from Statistics Canada reveals, and the number of mixed unions is growing much more quickly than that of other partnerships.

I am heartened by the findings, of course. As the product of a mixed union myself (two, technically, after my dad re-married) I am obviously a supporter of marrying whoever you want to. As different groups begin to live together, go to school together, and work together, people become more exposed to other cultures and ethnic groups. As time goes by, they start wanting a bit more exposure (of the boobies kind) with other cultures and ethnic groups. Of course, this has a particular application to Canada.

Of course because I’m a damn addict, I looked at the comments at the bottom of the story. There’s a lot of very vocally (at least behind the anonymity of the internet) racist people who say that the reason people are getting married is because black guys come in and get white women pregnant. I suppose they’re free to think that, but there’s actually something much more interesting (and supported by evidence) at play here.

What’s interesting is that the increase in inter-racial marriages isn’t an issue of simple familiarity (seeing different kinds of people in your day-to-day life), nor is it people becoming particularly philosophically enlightened. There is a phenomenon in social psychology called ‘in-group bias‘. Basically, you are more likely to favour members of your own group to the exclusion of those in other groups. This was tested at a summer camp with boys who were randomly assigned to two different groups. Of course, the groups were made to compete against each other in various activities, which fostered resentment and a strong polarizing of the two camps. Once animosity between the two groups of young boys had been fostered (ah, the 50s… a more innocent time), the researchers went to work trying to tear down the barriers. Simple sports and team activities didn’t seem to work.

“It is predicted that contact in itself will not produce marked decrease in the existing state of tension between [p. 159] groups.”

The only thing that got the kids to work together was when they had to pull for a common goal: unblocking the water cistern, and getting to a movie. Once they were working together to achieve something they both wanted, the bias against the other group diminished almost immediately.

“When groups in a state of friction are brought into contact under conditions embodying superordinate goals, the attainment of which is compelling but which cannot be achieved by the efforts of one group alone, they will tend to cooperate toward the common goal.”

By the end of the camp, the two groups that used to hate each other were playing, eating, and doing regular kid stuff together. This is a pretty powerful phenomenon, and illustrates an important fact: simple co-existence does not foster co-operation. There needs to be a next step – working toward a common goal. What occurs at that point is that the “group” identity dissolves and is replaced by another identity (in this case, the one of the “camp”). Instead of seeing one’s self as being a member in opposition to another group, you see all the people as members of the same group. This is a very powerful effect.

In the same way, we’re going to see more racial mixing as a result of people of different backgrounds not simply sharing the same geographic space, but sharing education, workplaces, etc. This process won’t happen by simple diffusion; if we want to see increase co-operation between groups, the concepts of “us” and “them” need to change. Racial identity shouldn’t be abolished, but the weight with which we use race to identify both ourselves and each other ought to be reduced in favour of something more useful. This already happens with team affiliations (think of Remember the Titans), and will continue to happen in professional groups and educational facilities.

Re-defining our in-groups is the way forward. Taking some of the mystery and sting out of racial issues will help accomplish that.


  1. says

    I think tribalism of all stripes is unhealthy for us.

    It’s one (perfectly fine) thing to appreciate where one comes from, and to know ones ancestral history, it’s another thing altogether to use it in a divisive manner, to generate strong us vs them mentalities.

    People who think that most interracial pregnancies are occurring due to rape are woefully ignorant of crime statistics.

  2. says

    Hahaha, they’re likely woefully ignorant of quite a number of things.

    I agree with your assessment of the “us vs. them” being negative, although I’m not convinced that an “us” can’t be useful, at least in the interim. I will discuss this in more detail in a full-fledged post, but group identifications can be personally and politically useful and need not necessarily be adversarial.

    Thanks for the comment!

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