Mixed-Race in America: A Case Study in Our Own Backyard

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Growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., I never thought of nearby Columbia, Md., as any kind of "case study." Columbia meant outdoor concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion, oddly named streets and an upscale shopping mall.

This summer, my News21 group was dispatched to report on the mixed-race experience in America. As one of the nation's fastest-growing demographics, this group is literally changing the face of our country.

During the spring Carnegie Seminar, I waded through reams of data on voting patterns and attitudes of African-American voters. But as I delved into the scant data available on mixed-race Americans, it became clear that this is not a group that can be considered a bloc. Their experiences and leanings are as varied as their backgrounds.

The story, then, was individual, personal stories. Columbia emerged as a great place to hear these stories, since it was one of the nation's first planned communities -- based around a commitment to racial diversity rather than cul du sacs. Jim Rouse set out to build the integrated Columbia in the late 1960s, at a time when racial tensions ran high. His vision of a multiracial, shared future was decades ahead of its time.

To hear those early Columbia residents tell it, the dream played out -- and still lives today. Columbia's mixed-race population is double the national number. It has one of the highest standards of living in the country. It's been a CNN/Money Magazine "Best Place to Live" pick  two years running.

But one piece of Census info led me to my story's turn: A quarter of the U.S. mixed-race population is foreign-born. Immigration continues to influence our melting-pot nation, and Columbia as well. The number of foreign-born people there has steadily climbed over recent years. What is the experience of Rouse's dream for these newest residents? How will their contributions influence "Columbia 2.0"? Will their voices be heard?

I've been fortunate that one of our case studies is just a 40-minute drive from our newsroom, since telling this story has involved a lot of on-the-ground reporting. I certainly have a new respect for this town, which has quietly been proving out the promise of a multiracial America right in our own backyard.

Post by: 
Shauna Miller
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