Richard Alba – Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America

Richard Alba, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, presented his new book Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America at this CCIS research seminar October 20th. The audio of his talk is available below or subscribe to our podcast to automatically receive audio of CCIS research seminars.

[podcast]http://ccis.ucsd.edu/audio/Richard_Alba.mp3[/podcast]


The next quarter century will offer an unusual chance to undermine ethno-racial divisions and to narrow the social cleavages that separate Americans into distinct and unequal ethno-racial groups. This little-comprehended opportunity will arise from a massive and predictable demographic process: the exodus from the labor market of the baby boom. The turnover in the labor market will produce what might be called “non-zero-sum” mobility: a situation where minorities can advance socioeconomically without threatening very much the opportunities that whites take for granted for themselves and their children.

Non-zero-sum mobility is a critical element in new theory of ethno-racial change. We can identify the empirical foundations for the theory by looking back to another period of profound social change: the mass assimilation of the so-called white ethnics, Irish Catholics and southern and eastern European Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews, in the decades following World War II. These changes also took place during a period of massive non-zero-sum-mobility, originating then in an extraordinary period of prosperity.

However, for minorities to be able to benefit from the opportunity ahead, the nation will have to address the barriers that stand in their way. It is worthwhile nevertheless to attempt to envision how ethno-racial distinctions might appear if U.S. society becomes much more diverse in its middle and upper strata.


The seeds of Richard Alba’s interest in ethnicity were sown during his childhood in the Bronx of the 1940s and 1950s and nurtured intellectually at Columbia University, where he received his undergraduate and graduate education, completing his Ph.D. in 1974. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Besides ethnicity, his teaching and research focus on international migration in the U.S. and in Europe, and he has done research in France and in Germany, with the support of Fulbright grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the German Marshall Fund, and Russell Sage Foundation. His books include Ethnic Identity: The Transformation of White America (1990); Italian Americans: Into the Twilight of Ethnicity (1985); Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration (2003), written with Victor Nee; and, most recently, Blurring the Color Line: The New Chance for a More Integrated America (September, 2009).

He has been elected President of the Eastern Sociological Society (1997-98) and Vice President of the American Sociological Association (2000-01).