If sci-fi’s predictions are correct, the future belongs to white people. Classic series like Lost in Space, Babylon 5, and even Star Trek, which deserves credit for taking an early stab at diversifying network television, had largely white casts. Ditto more recent movies like Ex Machina and The Lobster. Among all the predictions made by these properties — including that the loveless will be transmogrified into animals — the weirdest may be the continued existence, even dominance, of Caucasian people.
The breeding habits of IRL Americans would seem to indicate that humanity has a more colorful future: Interracial marriages are rapidly becoming the norm in the U.S., with over 9 million Americans proudly identifying as mixed-race. The future is looking very beige right now. So much so that one can’t reasonably accept that the whiteness of deep future science fiction could be achieved without either a cataclysmic event or an intentional effort. Given that none of the stories reference a race war, it’s logical to assume that the continuation of whiteness is an end reached by scientific means.
CRISPR gene editing technology may make adjusting phenotypical characteristics possible, allowing future parents to guarantee “white” traits in their mixed race offspring. Last year, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing last year put nearly 500 experts in one place for the sole purpose of debating the ethics of using science to change the way we look and feel. While no consensus was reached on how much genetic manipulation is acceptable, there seems to be an understanding that using the techniques to change skin-deep traits is potentially culturally damaging and without real upside.
The designer baby scenario posited by the film Gattaca goes a long way toward illustrating the issue. Optimization leads to massive social divides. The normalization of that behavior implies a shift in attitudes about genetic technologies that seems implausible without a momentous political movement or leader. Gattaca is a movie about genetics, but the real sci-fi element is actually the authoritarian regime under which the main characters suffer.
The conflation of “white” and “optimized,” however, is at odds with current trends. There’s plenty of evidence suggesting that attitudes about race are relaxing even if the old rhetoric hangs in the air like a burp.
Ever since the U.S. Census Bureau made it possible for people to choose more than one racial category at the turn of the millennium, the number of people identifying as black/white biracial Americans has more than doubled, according to the agency’s 2013 survey. Those identifying as Asian/white? A massive 87 percent. Almost all other minority groups have shown similar patterns, leading demographers to predict that interracial marriages are only going to become more common in the decades to come.
In 2013, National Geographic’s “The Changing Faces of America” featured a striking collage of mixed-race faces, a gloriously caramel-colored soup ladled from the great U.S. melting pot. But though the vision it imagined for America’s future implies even greater support for interracial marriage, it was careful not to be too idealistic: It also predicted that, although we may be a majority minority (think about that one for a bit) nation by 2060 — when non-Hispanic whites will no longer be the majority, the way we think about race might not have changed as dramatically.
How might the all-white future predicted by, say, 1965s Lost in Space come to be? A Trump 2016 win would be a good start: Over the past year, he’s voiced interest in putting various restrictions on Muslim, China, Japan, “the blacks,” Native Americans, Jews, Mexicans although he insists he loves Hispanics — and countless other racial minority groups. What his presidency could do is preserve old-school ideas about racial divisions and, in so doing, build walls.
Even if scientists do become comfortable using gene-editing software to reverse engineer eugenics (there’s no reason to believe they will) divisive language and regressive politics are still the only path to stopping what the ill-informed sometimes call “White Genocide.” Thinking of white as good and non-white characteristics as bad is itself racist. Science is rarely applied without purpose and cosmetics almost never are.
When Star Trek’s original series premiered in 1968, marriages between blacks and whites were still prohibited in 16 states. As such, one can argue that the demographic makeup of the Enterprise was plausible. If it looked the same now — and it kind of does in the movies — that would be less plausible. And that really isn’t just a matter of too many white people. People with the phenotypical traits associated with specific races should stand out the science fiction viewers. They should wonder how those traits were preserved. The future, after all, is not a place for redheads.
Will Trump’s America share the same views? Let’s hope we don’t find out.