This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

What Does Diversity Do For You?

Today's NYTimes has a very interesting Op-Ed piece by Moises Velasquez-Madoff on "What Biracial People Know." He summarizes academic research from the U.S. pointing to the conclusion that people who are themselves biracial, or even who grow up with people of other races, are less "tribal" and this can translate into greater success economically, socially, and politically. This is not unlike what happens to people who grow up being bilingual:
Consider this: By 3 months of age, biracial infants recognize faces more quickly than their monoracial peers, suggesting that their facial perception abilities are more developed. Kristin Pauker, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and one of the researchers who performed this study, likens this flexibility to bilingualism.
Early on, infants who hear only Japanese, say, will lose the ability to distinguish L’s from R’s. But if they also hear English, they’ll continue to hear the sounds as separate. So it is with recognizing faces, Dr. Pauker says. Kids naturally learn to recognize kin from non-kin, in-group from out-group. But because they’re exposed to more human variation, the in-group for multiracial children seems to be larger.
This is, by the way, one of the major points made by RubĂ©n Rumbaut and his collaborators (who include Marta Tienda, Past President of the Population Association of America and also Professor Rumbaut's sister-in-law) in a recently published volume from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences titled "America's Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century". Being different and knowing people who are different, and knowing more than one language, are all ways in which people enhance their capacity to solve problems. 

There is a limit to the value of differentness, however, and culture is the problem. Looking different and speaking a different language are one thing, but having a different cultural world-view can be much more problematic. Velasquez-Madoff hints at this issue when he talks about an experiment carried out a Duke University.
Closer, more meaningful contact with those of other races may help assuage the underlying anxiety. Some years back, Dr. Gaither of Duke ran an intriguing study in which incoming white college students were paired with either same-race or different-race roommates. After four months, roommates who lived with different races had a more diverse group of friends and considered diversity more important, compared with those with same-race roommates. After six months, they were less anxious and more pleasant in interracial interactions. (It was the Republican-Democrat pairings that proved problematic, Dr. Gaither told me. Apparently they couldn’t stand each other.)
If we could minimize racism on the basis of skin color and language, we would have made great strides in this country, as in any country (and here I am reminded of Mara Loveman and Jeronimo O. Muniz's interesting paper in the American Sociological Review a few years ago (2007) about "How Puerto Rico Became White: BoundaryDynamics and Intercensus Racial Reclassification"). But getting past cultural patterns such as how women are treated in society is a bigger next step.

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