With a median household income twice the national average and nearly three quarters of its population holding college degrees, Hoboken is known as an affluent community. But few people are aware of it diversity. Nearly 15 percent of Hoboken’s population was born outside the United States and a fifth speak a language other than English at home. Nearly 17 percent of its businesses are minority owned.
More than that, Hoboken reflects the sociocultural changes occurring around the country, in which racial and ethnic identity are becoming more difficult to define, and where we are forced to see people as people. Although racial classifications continue to be a part of the nation’s social structure, perceptions of racial identity are becoming increasingly less defined.
Beginning in 2000, the federal government allowed Americans to choose more than one racial category for the census count. When responding to the 2010 census, millions of people changed their racial identity from what they had selected 10 years earlier. Researchers who examined the results found no hard evidence to explain the change, but they surmised that evolving self-identity might have accounted for many of the changes. Remember Rachel Dolezal, the Caucasian woman in Spokane, Wash., who drew national attention for pretending to be African American? The fact that she could mislead so many people for so long shows how complicated race is in 21st century America.
Increasing ethnic and racial diversity resulting from record immigration and increasing rates of interracial marriages makes demographics more complicated. Children adopted by parents from ethnic backgrounds different theirs can struggle to reconcile how are seen by others outside their families with the world in which they grow up.
Race can make a great deal of difference in our daily encounters or it can make none, which despite all its complications shows race to more a social construct than physical trait. So what purpose does checking that checkbox make? Is it to perpetuate stereotypes, or to create division when none exist.