The Supreme Court, in the delightfully named case of Loving v. Virginia, unanimously disagreed, striking down antimiscegenation laws in Virginia and 15 other Southern and border states. Ever since, interracial unions have been permitted just about everywhere in America, save at South Carolina's Bob Jones University. In late February BJU posted on its website an explanation of the "Bible principle" behind its longstanding ban on interracial dating and marriage among students. "God wanted a divided world, not a federalized world," the statement read, echoing Judge Bazile. "The University wishes to give God the benefit of any doubt and avoid pursuing any direction that would give assistance to the renewed efforts of man to create a one-world community consisting of one religion, one economy, one government, and one race."
Mighty white of them to give God the benefit of the doubt. On March 3, however, BJU president Bob Jones III?stung by criticism from George W. Bush, among others?announced on CNN's Larry King Live that his institution was lifting its ban. The same day, the zany apologia disappeared from the BJU homepage, replaced by a bland statement that began: "We are not racists in any shape, form or fashion. We do not hold one race over another." But last week Jones issued a caveat, telling students that they would need written permission from their parents before the university would allow them to date outside their race.
If BJU hasn't quite entered the 20th century, the U.S. Census Bureau is about to do so. The 2000 census, which takes place April 1, will be the first that officially acknowledges the inevitable result of mixed-race marriages: mixed-race children. Suppose your mom is half Haitian and half Irish, and your dad is half Filipino and half Cherokee. In 1990 you'd have had to decide which box to check: black, white, Asian or American Indian. In 2000 you can check all four.
This means that when the census is tabulated and the racial categories are added up, the total will be more than 100 percent. What an inspiring thought: America is greater than the sum of its parts. For those of us with complicated ethnic backgrounds, the new census form is a welcome change. Finally, the government is allowing us to affirm every aspect of our heritage.
Well, not quite. Some ethnic groups turn out to count more than others. The whole enterprise underscores the folly of categorizing people by race.
Example: My mother, Ulla-Britt Taranto (nee Johnsson), is an immigrant from Sweden. But we Swedish-Americans don't merit our own census classification. There isn't even a "Scandinavian" category. Instead, we're lumped in with the likes of Belgians, Serbs and Bulgarians, all crowded into the "White" box.
Asians, by contrast, get nine separate "racial" categories, ranging from "Chinese" and "Japanese" to "Samoan" and?my personal favorite?"Guamanian or Cha-morro." But my paternal grandfather, Vitali Taranto, was born in Asia?Izmir, Turkey, to be precise. The census form has no "Turkish" category. Asian-Americans, however, unlike European-Americans, get a write-in option. I can check "Other Asian" and identify myself as Turkish.
Those who are "Spanish/ Hispanic/Latino," too, can cast a write-in vote. There are separate boxes for Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cuban-Americans, but everyone else has to check "Other" and stipulate his group. Since Vitali Taranto's ancestors were from Spain?expelled, with other Sephardic Jews, in 1492?I can write in "Spanish."
Other parts of my heritage get ignored altogether. My paternal grandmother, Goldina Taranto (nee Feldman) was born in Istanbul to Romanian Jewish parents. And Vitali's ancestors lived in Italy for a time in the 15th and 16th centuries?hence my Italian surname. Romanians, Italians, European Turks? Forget it. To the bean counters at the Census Bureau, we're all "White."
A census that took full account of America's endless diversity would be staggeringly complex. It would require separate categories for Basques and Lapps, for Hutus and Tutsis, for Cuban Jews, Peruvian-Americans of Japanese extraction, and hundreds of other groups and subgroups. Why not, pray tell, a single category for Swedish-Turkish-Romanian-Italian-Spanish-Jewish-Americans? In my family alone, three people fit that bill.
Here's a better solution. According to the Census Bureau website, you are free to forgo all the standard racial categories and identify yourself simply as American: "Mark the 'Some other race' box and enter the response in the space provided."
When you fill out your census form, forget "white, black, yellow, malay and red." The only colors that matter are red, white and blue. Dear reader, join my write-in campaign for America. Don't lose that Loving feeling.
James Taranto is deputy features editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.
Confessions of a McCain Marxist by Marc Cooper I'm not ashamed to admit I'm going to miss Johnny Mack. I felt a real sense of loss as I watched McCain stand before that breathtaking sweep of the Sedona highlands and announce what he politely called the "suspension" of his campaign.
Oh yeah, I know the rap on McCain. My colleague at The Nation, Katha Pollitt, recently laid down the correct line for any and all of us who might have been entertaining impure thoughts about McCain: he is an "outright reactionary," Katha reminded us. "He's anti-choice and pro-gun, pro-military, pro-vouchers, pro-NAFTA," and so on ad nauseam.
Duh! As my teenage daughter would say. Like I hadn't noticed that McCain was, um, like y'know, a conservative Republican.
So what? I still liked him. And, by the way, so did a lot of my liberal and lefty friends?some of whom even reregistered Republican to make sure their vote for him counted in our quirky California "blanket" primary. When McCain would stump and repeat that great line that all were welcome in his campaign, including "Independents, Democrats, Libertarians, vegetarians and Trotskyists"?I would look over at my bookshelf sagging with Leon's collected works and know that he was speaking directly to me.
I suppose I liked McCain for much the same reasons that motivated more than five million others to vote for him during his brief primary run. Certainly not because of his stands on abortion, guns, NAFTA or vouchers?I'm on the other side of all those arguments. I rooted for McCain because he is one helluva troublemaker. After watching Clinton-Gore for eight years do their best to morph into Republicans, here was at least one presidential candidate who had the balls to kick his own wretched party publicly in the ass?and during the hallowed primary season no less!
Not only did he flay the Twin Ayatollahs of the Christian right, McCain also pissed all over the near-sacred Republican tax cut proposal by calling it exactly what it is: a hand-out to the wealthiest. He railed against the Iron Triangle of special interests And, yes, while he hypocritically catered to the same, he also brought out hundreds of thousands of new or reticent voters to the polls energized by his message of reform.
Without McCain in the race, there would have been no public debate during this cycle of the fundamental ill of the American political system: not guns or abortion or vouchers but rather the power and influence of Big Money. Just at the precise historical moment when the punditocracy had decreed that the American electorate was too fat and happy to be bothered over such arcana as campaign finance reform, McCain proved them dead wrong. Thanks to John McCain there will never again be an American presidential contest that won't have to deal front and center with the issue of political reform.
But McCain's greatest allure was that he just wasn't supposed to be winning. This is where those who wish to cast his attraction in simplistic ideological terms miss the entire point. Real ideology is born of real experience. And the reality of the McCain campaign is that he prospered even though the entire system was rigged against him: Bush's $70 million, the endorsements of all the GOP mandarins, the early media forecasting, the whole supposed "inevitability" of Shrub. So millions of Americans?whether they formally identified themselves as right, center or left?all rejoiced and, yes, even identified with underdog McCain as he beat the system stacked against him?stacked against all of us. McCain's stand on social issues was frankly irrelevant. The very phenomenon of his rising campaign spoke directly to a much more fundamental issue. In this era when everybody knows that political outcome is rigged and predetermined by the most powerful of invisible special interests, how could you not squeeze some inspiration from McCain's successful insurgency?
I write this in the past tense, because it is obvious now that this particular incarnation of John McCain is no longer with us. The media made much of the ambiguity of McCain's withdrawal statement last week. "He wished Bush well, but refused to offer him support," went the mantra. Some friends of McCain wistfully suggested he might be considering an independent, third-party run.
Wrong. That's not who McCain is. He is much smaller than the campaign he inspired. And in the end, John McCain is a conservative Republican. And his rhetoric about the GOP having to adapt itself to reform aside, the truth is that fundamental political reform in modern America requires the destruction?or at least the displacement?of the Republican and Democratic parties.
McCain emerged from the jungle of the Senate Commerce Committee that he chairs, and to that jungle he will return. To those so naive to have believed that McCain was committed enough to see this through?that he would break with his own party and risk marginalization and ridicule as the third-party champion of radical reform?you better brace yourselves. Remember the Democratic convention of 1988, when Jesse Jackson took the podium to evoke every noble ideal long abandoned and betrayed by his party only to conclude the speech by endorsing Michael Dukakis? You're about to see a mirror redux by McCain on behalf of Bush. Or worse. Unlike Jesse, McCain might actually get and accept the vice-presidential spot.
That's all bad news for those of us who had our fun this past handful of weeks. What a dreadful notion to think of what lies ahead. Eight months of George W. trying to figure out what plank to run on that Bill Clinton hasn't already implemented. Will he be a "compassionate conservative"? Or just a "reformer with results"? Or both? Or neither? One thing for sure, this spoiled daddy's boy in the pay of every CEO and magnate between Beverly Hills and Bangor will be pissing and moaning about Big Labor underwriting the Democrats.
And Al-pha Gore? He'll do little more than claim that W is a bit to the right of Haider. I can already see Big Al unfurling that fearsome Confederate stars and bars, scaring the party faithful into the voting booths as they obediently bay, "Roe! Roe! Ro-oe!"
In those dark moments to come I know I'm really going to ache for old Johnny Mack. But I guess we'll always have New Hampshire.
Marc Cooper is a contributing editor to The Nation.