The end of Intergroup Relations?

By Burt Siegel The most important development in American intergroup relations of the decade may be that many people born in this decade will think very little about the very term. For them relations will exist among individuals but not groups. To older generations, the sense of being a member of an identifiable people remains strong. Of course, being part of a community identified by race, nationality or faith has often led to xenophobia and a belief in one's own group's superiority. And we all know that being a member of a minority group, even one that has suffered from majority prejudice, is no prophylactic against harboring those identical feelings about someone else. Yet it is in the United States, a nation thought by many Europeans to be more racist than they, that such sensibilities seem to be dying.

Certainly racial and religious prejudice is not dead. There are still ugly incidents of anti-Semitism, and no doubt some who might have voted for Barack Obama if he only had two white parents, did not do so because he is bi-racial. But it was astonishing to many older folk that the race factor was so small in the 2008 Presidential election. Arguably the most popular entertainer of the era was Michael Jackson, the most influential and admired cultural arbiter of the decade is Oprah Winfrey and millions of white teenagers and young adults proudly wear the names of African American athletes on their backs. In spite of the accusation often made by Muslims that America is Islamo-phobic, according to the FBI far more incidents of religious based vandalism and harassment are directed against Jewish individuals and institutions than against Muslims and mosques. Indeed, considerable evidence suggests that both Fort Hood attacker, Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan, and alleged Christmas day attempted bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, were given less scrutiny than warranted due to fear on the part of governmental officials that they not appear to be unfairly targeting Muslims. I once asked my son why he never mentioned that a friend of his was gay, and he said that was about as relevant as if he were blonde and he would never have told me that. Given the number of openly gay people in prominent roles in American society, his attitude probably reflects the thinking of most young adults. The same holds true for their attitudes about race and religion. This attitude no doubt vastly contributes to the high rate of interfaith marriages involving Jews, also indicating that the barriers that kept Americans apart are rapidly falling. Real social change often happens so slowly that we don't notice it until what was once an anomaly has become the norm.