Race and racial discrimination are a very large part of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, but they do not manifest in the way we would expect. In Stephenson's future world, race becomes defined more by who you work for rather than what your genetics are. Residents and employees of the various Franchises are granted a sense of exclusive community as per their "citizenship," and come to distrust and even feud with those from other Franchises.
Hiro Protagonist is genetically half African, half Japanese, and the people he deals with on a regular basis are just as culturally diverse. Hiro's very roommate, Vitaly Chernobyl, comes from a very different background: "Vitaly Chernobyl and the Meltdowns arrived in Long Beach on one of those hijacked ex-Soviet refugee freighters, they fanned out across southern California looking for expanses of reinforced concrete that were as vast and barren as the ones they had left behind in Kiev," (104). Japanese and Russians have never been on very friendly terms, and I have no idea of the contact levels between Russians and Africans, but I don't imagine they are long time allies. Yet the two can get along perfectly fine. Similarly, Italians and Hiro, Chinese and Japanese, and other individual interracial relationships occur without problem. This is because racial divisions have moved from original ethnicity to gained citizenship within franchulates.
The most predominant franchise in the novel is The Mafia, an organization unchanged from reality to novel in its power structure. The Mafia is a very welcoming organization to the individual, evidenced by their advertisements, which portray the head of the franchise, Uncle Enzo, with "his arm around the shoulders of a young wholesome-looking black kid," or another that says: "NO WAY, JOSÃ‰! Uncle Enzo holding up one hand to stop an Uzi-toting Hispanic scumbag; behind him stands a pan-ethnic phalanx of kids and grannies, resolutely gripping baseball bats and frying pans," (146). But when it comes to inter-franchulate relations, the Mafia, like most other franchulates, is not particularly fond of the opposition. "Most of the franchises are yellow-logoed, wrong-side-of-the-tracks operations like Uptown, Narcolobia, Caymans Plus, Metazania, and The Clink. But standing out like rocky islands in this swamp are the Nova Sicilia franchulates â€“ beachheads for the Mafia's effort to outduel the overwhelmingly strong Narcolobia," (145). Sure, they could be called rival companies, but their power and operations extend way beyond that of what one would consider corporate. Franchises even have passports, making them even more like a country than a business: "They don't want to let him in. He flashes his passport; the doors openâ€¦ Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong is an open country, always looking for new citizens, even if they are the poorest Refus," (328). Alliances are even formed between them, as the Mafia and Mr. Lee's people get together in an attempt to overthrow another superpower, L. Bob Rife.
This separation of Ethnicity from a biologically determined factor to an issue of allegiances and subscription is an interesting proposition by Stephenson. People are learning to classify less along genetic lineage and be less racist I feel, but the idea that something will arise to replace this is a frightening idea. Stephenson seems to be hinting at ingrained structures of hate and rivalry, which are hard to deny, especially when examining our past as a species, but to say that our future just holds more of the same is a rather pessimistic view, and one I hope does not come to pass.