Is something new happening in race relations in America? Are the fringes of Black and white society beginning to meld together to create a new, racially mixed blend of people that will bring these groups together?
If you judge by recent trends in advertising, a change is definitely afoot. In a relatively short period of time, companies like General Mills (Cheerios), Procter & Gamble (Swiffer) and Burlington have included interracial couples in their advertising. Swiffer even took it a step further by including a one-armed man, half of an inter-racial couple, in a TV spot to demonstrate how their product makes his life easier.
Advertising-industry executives have been self-congratulatory about this progressive approach, but the truth is, they are only just beginning to catch up to the changing face of America.
As part of an interracial couple, I have been fascinated by this emerging trend. While my partner and I have both long stopped noticing our differences, I am constantly struck by how the outside world views us. In major cities, no one seems to notice. But in less diverse environments, I catch sidewise glances of both benign acceptance and withering disapproval.
Surely they have seen the commercials as well, and whether they approve or not, they cannot deny the reality of an increasing number of people who don't see race as a barrier to relationships. What has long been common among celebrities has now become commonplace among average everyday folks, and maybe those of us in interracial relationships owe a vote of gratitude to people like Sammy Davis, Jr., Robert DeNiro, Seal, Robin Thicke and Bill DeBlasio.
In our time together, my partner and I have not encountered any outward rudeness or discrimination. Our families have been accepting, even approaching the topic with good humor. After meeting me, his aunt commented to his mother with surprise: "She's very nice, but she's white!" His mother laughingly responded, "No she's not, she's just light skinned!"
Recently, we visited a place where racial diversity is the norm. Known as the happy island, Aruba is both multicultural and multiracial. Having been conquered at various times in its history by the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch, Arubans speak Papamiento, a blend of conquering languages, as well as Spanish, English and Dutch. Its people come in a variety of colors and range from Black to white, even within the same family.
It has caused me to ponder why this mashup of cultures and races works so well in Aruba and why we still have such imposed, as well as self-imposed, segregation in this country. Could it be that being conquered, many times over, forces blending in this way? Or perhaps, it is the necessity of living together on a small island that creates such acceptance. Maybe it's just easier to get along with constant sunshine and cool tropical breezes.
I'm sure there is some historical precedent for the impact of invasion on diversification. But the question remains: Why, with the influx of people from all around the world, is progress so slow in this country? Over the long term, one can point to many promising changes. But within one's lifetime, change sometime does not come fast enough, depending on what side of the power divide you sit on. While it was not necessarily my intent, I am glad to be part of the change rather than being apart from it.
I remain hopeful that the current trend in advertising portends better times for race relations in America. So while controversy continues to swirl around our African-American president, New York City calmly welcomes a mayor whose family is interracial. And maybe that's where the answer lies. Average everyday folks just quietly move towards a diversified state of being that will hopefully, and eventually, make us a happy island too.