Friday, October 16, 2009

Richard Alba's "Blurring the Color Line"

Richard D. Alba is Distinguished Professor of Sociology, the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America is part of a discussion of the growing diversity at the top of the American labor market. That is, there is an “increasing representation, especially blacks and Hispanics, among younger workers” in the best-paying occupations. This change is the fruit of changing demography: the young adults entering the labor market come more and more from minority groups, and this shift is reflected at all levels of jobs. This diversity, however, does not appear to reflect a decline in discrimination, according to the analysis.

Could such a decline occur in the near future? My answer is: yes. The next quarter of a century will feature an unusual opportunity to narrow the cleavages that separate Americans into distinct and unequal ethno-racial groups. This little-comprehended opportunity will arise from a massive and predictable demographic process: the retirement of the baby boom. The turnover in the labor market will produce what might be called “non-zero-sum” mobility: a situation where minorities can advance socioeconomically without threatening very much the opportunities that whites take for granted for themselves and their children.

Non-zero-sum mobility is a critical element in my new theory of ethno-racial change. I find the foundations for the theory by looking back to another period of profound social change: the mass assimilation of the so-called white ethnics, Irish Catholics and southern and eastern European Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews, in the decades following World War II. These changes also took place during a period of massive non-zero-sum-mobility, originating then in an extraordinary period of prosperity.

However, for minorities to be able to benefit from the opportunity ahead, the nation will have to address the barriers that stand in their way, chief among them unequal educational attainments. It is worthwhile nevertheless to attempt to envision how ethno-racial distinctions might appear if U.S. society becomes much more diverse in its middle and upper strata, and the book ends with such a sketch.
Read an excerpt from Blurring the Color Line, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue