Subscribe Today
Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

The Diversity Paradox: Immigration and the Color Line in Twenty-First Century America

reviewed by Duke W. Austin - January 31, 2011

coverTitle: The Diversity Paradox: Immigration and the Color Line in Twenty-First Century America
Author(s): Jennifer Lee and Frank D. Bean
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation, New York
ISBN: 087154041X, Pages: 234, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com

W.E.B. Du Bois predicted that the problem of the twentieth-century will be the problem of the color line (Du Bois, 1903/1997, p. 45). Even as he was making that prediction in the early 1900s, editorials in white-owned newspapers in the Southern United States were denying that any such problem existed. Half a century later, the civil rights movement resulted in several landmark decisions meant to eliminate the vestiges of racial discrimination and prejudice. Within a few years of those decisions, doubts about the existence of an entrenched color line resurfaced, and legal attacks on civil rights legislation began. In their book The Diversity Paradox (2010), Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean evoke Du Bois in their examination of intermarriage and multiracial reporting across major ethnoracial groups to determine if, where, how, and to what degree color lines are being drawn in the age of Obama.

The first section of the book provides readers with the historical background, theoretical framework, and sociodemographic context. Following the introductory chapter, the authors review four theoretical perspectives concerning color lines in contemporary U.S. society. The first perspective holds that a white-nonwhite divide continues to exist and that Asians and Latinos fall on the nonwhite side of the line. Scholars from the second perspective propose that a tri-racial divide is emerging in which whites, honorary whites (including many lighter-skinned and more assimilated Asians and Latinos), and collective blacks (including blacks and darker-skinned and/or less assimilated Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans) constitute the three primary ethnoracial groups. A third group of scholars posits that a black-nonblack color line is emerging in which blacks occupy a separate and inferior social position apart from both whites and other nonwhite ethnoracial groups. Finally, the fourth perspective asserts that the U.S. is entering a postethnic era in which color lines are disappearing altogether. Lee and Bean address the theoretical debate by reviewing the existing scholarship on ethnoracial divisions and by introducing two new kinds of data. First, the authors analyze population information from official government sources, especially the U.S. census. In addition, they report the findings from their in-depth subjective interview data on the ways that Californians experience and view intermarriage and multiracial identification.

In Chapter Three, Lee and Bean use census data to examine how the U.S. has measured race throughout its history, concluding that the construction of ethnoracial boundaries has been largely influenced by the black-white color line and immigration. In Chapter Four, co-written with James Bachmeier and Zoya Gubernskaya, the authors use quantitative data from the 2007-08 American Community Survey to communicate that immigration has led to a great deal of ethnoracial change in the U.S. and that the changes have varied considerably across localities. Lee and Bean also reveal the cities and states in the U.S. where the greatest proportion of intermarriage, multiracial reporting, and diversity are located. In doing so, they identify four categories of states based on the level and type of diversity within each state. Black-white states are those in which the old black-white racial divide is still evident, and Latino-white states are those in which Latinos constitute the bulk of the minority population. New diversity states are states where three ethnoracial groups constitute at least five percent of the states population, and a designation of hyperdiversity is used for states in which four or more groups make up at least five percent of the population. California, the site of the authors in-depth interviews, is one of the hyperdiverse states.

In the second section of the book, the authors analyze individual experiences with diversity by interviewing people in mixed-race marriages, multiracial individuals, and parents with multiracial children. In Chapter Five, they conclude that Asian-white and Latino-white intermarried couples find few racial differences between the spouses of those couples, and many Asians and Latinos associate marrying a white person with becoming more American. In comparison, black exceptionalism is strong in the marriage market, meaning that black intermarried couples experience the highest amount of opposition to their unions. In Chapter Six, the authors find that the parents of Asian-white and Latino-white children often try to instill a multiracial identity in their sons and daughters, but feel that they will eventually identify as white due to the push of incorporation into the non-Hispanic white culture. Meanwhile, the interracial black parents are least able or least willing to transfer an ethnoracial identity other than black to their children. In Chapters Seven and Eight, the authors conclude that the one-drop rule continues to operate on a cultural level. Cultural forces push multiracial Asians and Latinos toward a white identity while multiracial blacks are pushed toward a black identity. At the same time, the everyday lives of multiracial Asians and Latinos are not structured by their nonwhite identity, suggesting that they are closer to whites than blacks on the ethnoracial continuum.

The final section of the book concludes with a look at the empirical and policy significance of diversity. In Chapter Nine, Lee, Bean, and Bachmeier use nationally representative data to triangulate their findings of boundary-loosening social-structural shifts and boundary-dissolving cultural change (p. 157). Their analysis suggests that boundaries are loosening for all the ethnoracial groups studied, but that the loosening of boundaries for blacks is not large enough to make up for the negative effect of their relative group size vis-à-vis whites. In conclusion, the paradox of diversity is that diversity in the U.S. is higher than ever before, yet the authors find a consistent pattern of black exceptionalism in the marriage market and in multiracial identification (p. 186). Thus, the authors argue that ethnoracial boundaries are dissolving more rapidly for Asians and Latinos than they are for blacks, leading them to conclude that the United States is moving toward a black-nonblack racial divide. As such, the authors suggest that theories concerning black-white racial divisions not simply be applied to Asian-white or Latino-white interactions and that race-based policies reflect these changing structural and cultural patterns.

All told, Lee and Bean (with the assistance of Bachmeier and Gubernskaya) have written a methodologically solid, theoretically important, and empirically interesting book that documents contemporary ethnoracial boundaries in the United States. Their decision to use mixed-methods to study ethnoracial boundaries through intermarriage and multiracial reporting causes the reader to consider ethnoracial relations in a profound new way. At the same time, as with all good works of sociological research, some questions remain. For example, if Asians and Latinos appear to be moving in the direction of previous European immigrant groups such as the Irish, Italians, Jews, and Poles, then what is to say that Asians and Latinos may not one day also become white, indicating that the United States is moving toward a white-nonwhite divide instead of a black-nonblack divide? In addition, while Lee and Bean defend accusations that their conclusions are limited to the hyperdiverse state of California (pp. 190-91), and while their quantitative data lend evidence to that end, this reader feels that additional in-depth qualitative exploration is warranted for other regions of the country besides California. Is it possible, for example, that ethnoracial boundaries are loosening more quickly for Asians and Latinos than for blacks across the U.S. as a whole, but that local trends are different in the black-white or Latino-white states that Lee and Bean identify?


Du Bois, W.E.B. (1903/1997). The souls of black folk. (D. W. Blight & R. Gooding-Williams, Eds.).  Boston: Bedford Books.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 31, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16320, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 1:50:01 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Duke Austin
    Yale University
    E-mail Author
    DUKE W. AUSTIN is a postdoctoral associate in the Urban Ethnography Project at Yale University. He studies the intersection of race, class, and gender using ethnographic and mixed methods. His peer-reviewed research on race relations following Hurricane Katrina has appeared in Racing the Storm (2007, Lexington Books) and Learning from Catastrophe (2006, Natural Hazards Center). Currently, he is collaborating with Elijah Anderson on an ethnographic study of the legacy of slavery in the southern United States.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue