17 May 2012


We've passed a significant turning point ~ today's NYTimes announced that "white births are no longer a majority in the United States.  Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended last July, according to Census Bureau data made public on Thursday, while minorities ~ including Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and those of mixed race ~ reached 50.4 percent (see chart above, click to enlarge), representing a majority for the first time in the country's history.

"Such a turn has long been expected, but no one was certain when the moment would arrive ~ signaling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race, from the days of slavery, through a civil war, bitter civil rights battles and, most recently, highly charged debates over efforts to restrict immigration.

"While overall, whites will remain a majority for some time, the fact that a younger generation is being born in which minorities are the majority has broad implications for the country's economy, its political life, and its identity.  'This is an important tipping point,' said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, describing the shift as a 'transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.'

" .... A more diverse young population forms the basis for a generational divide with the country's elderly, a group that is largely white and grew up in a world that was too.  The contrast raises important policy questions.  The United States has a spotty record educating minority youth.  Will older Americans balk at paying to educate a younger generation that looks less like themselves?  And while the increasingly diverse young population is a potential engine of growth, will it become a burden if it is not properly educated? .... A college degree has become the most important building block of success in today's economy, but blacks and Latinos lag far behind whites in getting one.  According to Mr. Frey, just 13 percent of Hispanics and 18 percent of blacks have a college degree, compared with 31 percent of whites.

" .... Educating young minorities [is] of critical importance to the future of the country and the economy .... Immigrants took several generations to assimilate through education in the last large wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century.  But [economic] mobility was less dependent on education then, and Americans today cannot afford to wait, as they struggle to compete with countries like China."

The NYTimes commentary was supplemented later in the day on the PBS Newshour, where the "white births are a minority" news was the lead story.  Check here for both video and a transcript of the discussion with a Brookings Institution demographer and a professor of globalization at New York University.  There is some overlap in commentary, and some additional perspective.

I am one retirement-age white male who welcomes our transformation to a more culturally diverse nation.  For too long, the white majority has virtuously celebrated America as a melting pot of immigrants ~ all the while violently resisting the latest wave of immigrants.  It is deliciously ironic that the change we've so long resisted comes from within.  As the white baby boomer generation passes out of its child-bearing years, Latino and other minorities are entering their child-bearing peak.  When you think about it, that should be reassuring to those who worry about who will be around to fund the Social Security, Medicare, and other support for aging Americans.

But for me, it's about far more than financial security.  I've lived in multicultural, multilingual settings over the years, and they are always more vibrant and interesting than lily-white cities or regions.  There are so many traditions to experience in this world, why would anyone be content with just one?  We all can teach and learn from each other, while retaining our own ethnic identity (if we wish), or adopting those aspects of other cultures which please us (if we wish).  Life is rich.  Those places which already are experiencing the majority/minority shift ~ cities like New York, Las Vegas, and Memphis, and states like Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and California ~ have sometimes made the news when some whites have to struggle with their racism or their insecurity.  But in the long run, that struggle will be seen as growing pains.  You can't stop the tide.

But don't tell that to the men who run the Republican Party.  Increasingly they give every appearance of seeing themselves as the last bastion of white male superiority.  And increasingly, they are alienating women and minorities, at a time in the party's evolution when they can least afford the numerical losses.  The party is adrift, with no rescue in sight, and clinging to the perceived lifeboat of radical Tea Bagger ideology, which is only hastening their highly vocal drift away from the American mainstream.  The Washington Post recently published figures which support the idea of entrenched racialized parties ~

  • More than three-fourths of African American voters identify with Democrats
  • Hispanics favor Democrats 47 percent to 24 percent
  • Among whites, the Republican Party has an 11-point edge
  • Among white men, the GOP advantage rises to 21 points.  Barely a third of white men consider themselves Democrats
"If the GOP is becoming the new 'white man's party', the Democrats are reliant on women and people of color .... It's hard to see much future for a GOP that has minimal support from blacks and Latinos, especially when the latter are such a fast-growing part of the population.  Though the growth of the Latino population appears to favor Democrats, the party can hardly afford to write off white men altogether.  An optimistic view is that party racialization is approaching the point of diminishing returns ~ and that the losing party in 2012 will conclude that it must broaden its base, or die."

We live in complex and interesting times, nationally and internationally.  Those who can adapt to change, will likely survive.  Those who cannot, will become mere shells of their former selves, and when you put them to your ear, you can hear the ocean.

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