Sometimes, you just gotta admit when you’re wrong.
In several posts on this site, I’ve referenced Census projections pointing toward a tipping of the racial scales in the U.S. around the year 2042. The claim is that around that time whites will make up only a minority of the U.S. population. A Race Files reader questioned the accuracy of this claim, pointing me to an AlterNet article disputing that projection.
That article put me on the trail of more information. At this point on my journey, I find myself scratching my head over how easily I got sucked into drinking the Kool-Aid. I guess it was wishful thinking. The optimism I felt over shifting demographics whacked my understanding of how race works right out of my head.
Note to self, race is a political system. Census categories play to the system, not against it.
Because race is all about politics, it is a system that’s flexible, or at least manipulable by the white power elite.
This manipulation is direct in some cases, such as the imposing of a color line through the U.S. by way of slavery and Jim Crow, or indirectly, through extending white privilege to those who, knowingly or not, strengthen white supremacy. Such was the case with the whitening of the Irish and Italians.
The majority-minority projections manipulate race by counting only non-Hispanics among whites. The reality is that around 27,000,000, or slightly more than half of those who identified as Latino or Hispanic in the 2010 Census, also identified as white. If you count them as they count themselves, that alone indicates that whites aren’t headed toward minority status any time soon.
Then you gotta consider Asian Americans. While many disadvantaged Asian ethnic minorities are not being invited along for the ride, there are some pretty powerful indications that certain Asian groups are being whitened.
According to the Pew Research Center’s highly problematic report on the Rise of Asian Americans, 61% of recent Asian immigrants ages 25-64 have at least a bachelor’s degree. This is true in part as a result of fast tracked visas that are provided to Asian business investors and “highly skilled” workers who wish to immigrate to the U.S.
Those coming from Asia on fast tracked visas may not identify as white, but I’m guessing they identify with whites far more than they identify with African Americans or undocumented Latino immigrants. According to the same report, 37% of all recent Asian-American brides wed a non-Asian groom, and in the vast majority of cases “non-Asian” means white, an indication of a powerful trend toward assimilation, and not in the direction of brown folks.
Now, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here. I’m raising this issue because while many who’ve made the majority-minority claim are, like I was, looking at the upside of that equation, many others are using fear of a brown planet as a dog whistle to agitate older, race sensitive white voters. You know, the group who were young voters in 1963 when 75% of whites responded to polls concerning the Civil Rights Movement by saying the movement was asking for too much? 1963 was the year Medgar Evers was assassinated and the 16th St. Baptist Church was bombed by racial terrorists resulting in the deaths of four Black girls.
For many among this group, the idea of a majority-minority demographic is downright terrifying. So, wanna get them to approve Voter ID restrictions or support tighter border controls? You tell them minorities are about to become the majority any minute.
So best to be careful with the rhetoric, right?
It’s also important to note that the racial system isn’t entirely fluid. Whiteness has expanded over time to maintain white privilege, but Black is and always has been on the downside of unjust racial relations in the U.S. Similarly, Native Americans are treated as a conquered people whose status as political inferiors by race is described in treaty agreements and delineated by the borders of reservations. So far, those realities have remained largely fixed and rigid, even as the identity of the latest group of evil outsiders has shifted around some.
And, as author Joshua Holland pointed out in that article I referenced earlier,
It’s long been argued that various groups of lighter skinned immigrants have only truly been assimilated into the fabric of the nation once they began to see themselves, as a group, as superior to African Americans.
So even as the meaning of whiteness changes, there’s still a color line and we gotta decide which side of it we’re on.
The question as we move towards the future is, I propose, not how many of us there are by color, but how many of us there are by allegiance. And we need to define our allegiances in terms of whether or not we identify with and define our own status in relationship to the political status of Blacks and Native Americans.* If not, I fear, our allegiance defaults to white supremacy, regardless of demographics.
*Note: I said with Blacks and Native Americans, not “as” so please, no white folks turning Native American on us or Asian Americans deciding they’re Vanilla Rice, okay?