Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Browner Shade of Pale

It’s funny…inside the space of one week Cheryl and I watched two movies that got me thinking about the same subject, but in different ways. The first was The Green Card Tour, the latest video from Indo-Canadian comedian Russell Peters. This performance was filmed in England, and as he looked around at the multicultural crowd, he said, “England, what happened? You used to be the factory that made white people.”

The second was William Shatner’s documentary The Captains, which had interviews with everyone to play the role of a leading captain in all the shows and movies of the Star Trek franchise. In the interview with Avery Brooks, who played Commander Benjamin Sisko, he said that he decided to do this show because it “showed a future where there were still brown people.”

The two didn’t come together in my head until about a week later. As I thought about what Brooks said, I was reminded of what demographers have said for the past few years, and what Russell Peters noted about England: by the year 2050, the United States will be a “minority majority” country. That is to say that no one group will be in the majority; there will be a number of pluralities, but the one very certain thing is that white people will no longer be the dominant group.

Avery Brooks need not have worried.

Then I thought about the map…or rather…the globe; and as I thought about the globe, I found it remarkable that there was a 500-year span of time when white people were thought to be in the majority in the first place. I mean think about it…look at the globe yourself. In Africa the indigenous people are various shades of brown. In North and South America you have the same thing, with a little red thrown in. In Asia you have brown with a touch of yellow. And then…in this one little corner of the world called Europe, you have some people who aren’t brown at all. In fact some are so pale that they’re translucent.

The simple fact of the matter is that the world has always been majority minority, it’s just that that’s not where the power was for the past 500 years. All things considered, but for a bloody nose in Asia or an alert baker in Vienna…not to mention a few smallpox infections in Central America…things could’ve looked very different. But somehow the tiny countries in one tiny continent of the world ended up populating and taking power in places where they had never been before…far out of proportion to their populations in the places they originally came from. And for centuries, they thought this was not only normal, but the way it should be.

But a funny thing happened in the 20th century: increased travel and the emancipation of the indigenous peoples who had in one way or another been under the power of the European minority. And with the increased ability to travel, instead of the whites going to the lands of the browns, the browns were going to the lands of the whites.

And with this new migration another thing started happening: increased intermarriage between groups, which led to many white families having brown grandchildren. It seems that the white population isn’t going to decrease just because of the greater fecundity of the brown populations, but also because they’re helping to add to that brown population themselves.

Now, we’re pretty used to this concept as Americans. The gradual browning of America, or even Canada, is really no surprise to us; and I’ve already talked about the browning of England. But imagine…and it will happen eventually…the browning of France, of Spain, or…of Germany (can’t you just see Hitler spinning in his grave like a turbine?).

Knowing this, I suppose it was William Shatner who should’ve wondered, when he took on the part of Captain Kirk 44 years ago, about a future where there would still be white people.

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