18 June 2021

No, the US is not going to become "majority-minority"

For some years now it's been a common claim that the US, within a few decades, will become "majority-minority", meaning that whites will be outnumbered by non-whites.  The idea persists because it's useful to elements on both sides of the political divide.  For many on the left, who view practically all issues through the prism of race and racism, it provides a reassurance that the Republicans are ultimately doomed because non-whites mostly vote Democratic.  For the fear-mongers on the right, it helps inflame their voting base with anxiety and hysteria about being reduced to a minority, fueling support both for draconian limits on immigration and for laws to obstruct voting by non-whites.

Well, this shift to a "majority-minority" country is not going to happen, and moreover it's foolish and counterproductive for the left to keep claiming that it is going to happen.  I've been meaning on and off for years to write a post about this, but never got around to it.  Now an article in The Atlantic has appeared which makes makes somewhat the same case, though I believe there are actually two reasons why the majority-minority idea is a fallacy, and the article emphasizes only the one I consider the less significant of the two.

(Yes, I'm fully aware that talking about race at all makes some people uncomfortable, but obviously it's impossible to discuss this issue in any detail without doing so.)

To start with the more important point, which the Atlantic article does not emphasize:  Most people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA*), and a large part of the population of Latin America -- two of our country's major sources of immigrants -- are actually white, and Americans think of them as non-white only due to cultural differences which have nothing to do with race (it is in this sense, and only in this sense, that the "race is just a social construct" nonsense has some truth to it).  Most people in MENA are racially indistinguishable from most southern Europeans, and it was only when the rise of Islam divided the Mediterranean basin into two mutually-hostile occupation zones that the basin's inhabitants started thinking of themselves as two sharply-distinct groups.  Much later, in the time of colonialism, Europeans re-interpreted this distinction as MENA people being "non-white", like most colonized peoples elsewhere in the world; the modern liberal heirs of colonial racial thinking have substituted the term "people of color" for "non-white", but the error is the same.  What differences in physical appearance exist between people in MENA and in southern Europe are mostly a matter of different traditions in clothing and facial hair, and as immigrants from MENA in Europe or the US become assimilated and lose these cultural differences, in most cases they register as "white" by all the same visual cues by which people of southern European ancestry do.

The same applies to some of the population of India, though India is far more racially diverse than the Middle East.  Nobody would look at, say, Nikki Haley and think "not white" if they were unaware of her ancestry.

(As a further example of this point, modern genetics has recently confirmed what historians always knew -- that most of the population of Turkey is descended from the original Greek and Greek-related population of ancient Anatolia, who adopted Turkish language and culture and the Islamic religion after the Turkic conquest in medieval times.  We think of Greeks as "white" and Turks as "people of color", but the differences are purely cultural -- the actual racial stock is the same.)

As for Latin America, the original colonizers who gave the region its dominant languages and cultures were from Spain and Portugal.  Today the region's population is a mix of descendants of immigrants from many areas, plus descendants of the original Indians, in varying proportions in different countries.  A large part of it is still of mostly Spanish or Portuguese or other European (or Middle Eastern) ancestry, who are thus "white" by any reasonable definition.  Again, it is culture and geographical origin which leads Americans to classify very racially-diverse immigrants from Latin America as an undifferentiated "non-white" or "of color" category, ignoring whether their ancestors were mostly Maya, mostly Spanish, or anything else.

The US Census Bureau, by the way, acknowledges these facts.  It defines "white" as "having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa" and recognizes that "Latino" or "Hispanic" do not refer to a race and that people who self-identify by those terms may be of any race.

The significance of all this for the "majority-minority" delusion is that Latinos are the largest "minority" in the US, and among the fastest-growing.  It's largely the growth of the Latino population that fuels the claims that "people of color" will outnumber whites in the US in two or three decades.  But a huge part of the US Latino population, probably the majority, actually is white, and as Americans of Latino ancestry assimilate generation by generation, they more and more come to self-identify simply as "white" and also to be perceived as such by other Americans.  I've known people who had distant Mexican ancestry but knew no Spanish and registered visually and culturally as entirely "white".  The same process applies to descendants of immigrants from MENA over time.

This is just a continuation of what has been happening throughout American history.  In the nineteenth century, immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and eastern Europe were widely perceived as racially inferior and as threatening to overwhelm the "superior" Anglo-Saxon dominant population of the US.  Today the descendants of those immigrants think of themselves as "white" and are seen as such by everyone else.

One can even see the same pattern in some other countries.  In the British Isles, for centuries, many of the English viewed the Irish, Welsh, and Scots as inferior peoples and subjected them to horrific bigotry and brutality.  Modern genetics has shown that all four peoples are actually of the same ancestry.

If you look at the Census Bureau's 2019 estimated racial breakdown of the US population, the category "white alone, not Hispanic or Latino" is 60.1%.  This is the number people have in mind when they claim the US is going to become "majority-minority" in two or three decades.  But the figure for "white alone" -- the actual racial category -- is 76.3%.  A majority that large is not going to become a minority by 2050, and probably not ever, especially since immigration from Latin America actually contributes to it.

This is politically significant for two reasons.  First, the "majority-minority" myth is a powerful force driving white voters toward the Republican party and right-wing views generally.  If they realized that it is just a myth, many of those who now vote right-wing might be less inclined to do so -- which is why liberals' triumphalist embrace of the myth is foolish and self-defeating.  Second, the myth fuels a dangerous complacency on the left, because of their perception that minorities overwhelmingly vote Democratic.  This is not even universally true, but my point is that as white Americans of Latino or MENA descent merge indistinguishably into the broader white population (as Italian- and Irish-Americans did generations ago), their voting patterns become more similar to those of white Americans generally.  Please read this, and prepare to be a bit shocked if you're on the left.  We cannot count on a shift in the country's racial make-up to overwhelm and defeat the Republicans, because that shift is not happening the way liberals believe it is, and even the country's racial make-up itself is not what liberals believe it is.

So that's one of the two main flaws in the majority-minority myth.  The other, to which the Atlantic article devotes the bulk of its attention, is that racial differences -- real or perceived -- are becoming blurred over time due to intermarriage:

In reality, racial diversity is increasing not only at a nationwide level but also within American families -- indeed within individual Americans. Nearly three in 10 Asian, one in four Latino, and one in five Black newlyweds are married to a member of a different ethnic or racial group. More than three-quarters of these unions are with a white partner. For more and more Americans, racial integration is embedded in their closest relationships.

Both right-wing racism and the left-wing obsession with race share the error of thinking of races (and pseudo-racial categories like "Latino") as sharply-bounded, immutably-distinct groups, like separate species.  Even mixed-race people are perceived as a new group or lumped in with one side or the other of their ancestry.  The reality is that all humans are of the same species, and intermarriage and blurring of racial distinctions is inevitable as the cultural taboos against it erode away.  In fact, the US of 2050 will not be a country with a clearly definable percentage of white vs non-white people at all, but rather one which can no longer be fully described by such categories, however much the racial essentialists of all political stripes will still struggle to do so.  And that, as those of us who are not racial essentialists must surely recognize, will be a good thing.

[*This abbreviation is widely used in academia.  Sorry if it looks odd, but repeatedly typing out "Middle East and North Africa" gets a bit cumbersome.]


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

"... but my point is that as white Americans of Latino or MENA descent merge indistinguishably into the broader white population (as Italian- and Irish-Americans did generations ago), their voting patterns become more similar to those of white Americans generally."

The oppressed become the oppressor. Not to mention that European-looking immigrants, when they belong to higher socioeconomic status, tend to emigrate under much different circumstances than those of their less-affluent counterparts.

Also, White Anxiety is a good money maker. The Repugs keep stirring the pot because it gives them money. Hell, even IMPOTUS2 keeps getting money while using his tried and true racist scare tactics. It's all about the dough.


18 June, 2021 04:34  
Blogger Dave Dubya said...

We can see radical Right white conservatives are more likely to be "racists". And yes, Trump could win the majority of only white voters.

But race and racism often become vague and flexible terms. We would be better off accepting we are one race. The human race.

Two more easily understood and definable concepts are bigotry and authoritarianism. It's not surprising that both are common to the racists of the radical Right. But bigotry is more rampant than racism. It exists within all races, cultures and communities.

The same is true of authoritarian personalities. It comes in all colors.

Former Nixon counsel John Dean has written two books that address authoritarianism: "Conservatives without Conscience" and "Authoritarian Nightmare:Trump and His Followers", co-authored by Bob Altemeyer.

About a quarter to a third of every population has an authoritarian personality. That had evolutionary value in prehistoric tribal/clan security, but it has become toxic in the modern or civilized world. (Maybe this means we're not there yet?)

The roots of bigotry and authoritarianism are tribalism, nationalism, xenophobia, ignorance, even class, privilege, and economic status. Monarchy, extremism, dictatorships, colonialism and imperialism are all expressions of authoritarianism and bigotry.

We could say they are also expressions of "racism", but that narrows the scope of what divides us.

Authoritarians who gain power divides us, and always impose their minority rule.

It's much more than, and quite different from, "race".

18 June, 2021 09:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: The Repugs keep stirring the pot because it gives them money

And I can see why they do that, though I think it's more about getting votes than money. What I can't see is why some liberals want to help them stir it by promoting this "majority-minority future" idea.

I'm not saying (or agreeing) that white people in general are oppressors. Obama and Biden couldn't have been elected without tens of millions of white votes, and the Republican share of the minority vote is surprisingly high and trending upward. We need to get away from thinking of people as being in racial blocs. But unfortunately the left is now obsessed with race and racism to the point of self-parody, and this issue is an example of how it's harmful.

18 June, 2021 13:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Dave: There's some truth in all that, but in all honesty it's mostly irrelevant. This post is specifically about the claim that the US will become majority-minority in the future, and why that claim is (a) false and (b) unwise to promote. And that is a race-centric topic.

18 June, 2021 13:10  
Blogger Mike said...

Every once in a while there will be a documentary on why there is no such thing as race. And then we all go back to talking about race.

18 June, 2021 22:41  
Blogger Bohemian said...

Great Post... we are all one Species. A Geneticist Friend of mine once told me that there is no Race DNA, our DNA will just tell us what Species we are. Just as Dog DNA will ascertain a Canine and not whether it was a German Shepherd or a Chihuahua. My Family is a Heinz 57 Blend already for generations now, so perhaps Race hasn't been The Issue for us for a long time due to that... it just seems to so many people to be this Big Deal that I've never clearly understood at all! As distinctions blur, perhaps as a Species we'll be better off and less divisive, one can only Hope so regardless of where insane Politics take us...

18 June, 2021 23:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mike: On the one hand so many leftists insist everything is about race and racism when it actually is or not, and tell you that if you say "I don't see color" you're naïve and a terrible person. Then in other contexts the same people turn around and say it's all a "social construct" and doesn't exist. It's crazy.

Bohemian: Thanks! About DNA, though, unfortunately that can't be the case. Racial characteristics are inherited from parents to children, so they must be encoded in the DNA. Modern genetics can distinguish genetic markers that differentiate, for example, northern Germans from natives of the British Isles -- groups so similar that there aren't really even visible racial differences.

I really hope that as intermarriage produces a more mixed population, people will move beyond the race-based thinking which has engulfed the country. That doesn't require denying biological reality, just recognizing that in most situations it isn't relevant.

19 June, 2021 01:51  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I've heard people say that before and I never pay much attention to it.

19 June, 2021 10:39  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Well, now you know you were right to not pay attention to it.

19 June, 2021 11:12  
Anonymous Annie said...

This is a thoughtful and persuasive essay, and I share your belief that it will be a good thing when blending and blurring decrease the existence of/need for racial identity.

I enjoyed the history you’ve included both here and in your earlier post about your English heritage.

It’s comforting to look 30 years ahead. Near term, I fear, the hate-mongers for whom the very concept of intermarriage is a call to arms will not recede behind the rocks from which they’ve crept. At the same time, as The Atlantic article reminds us, we will as a society have to address institutional racism. But we must do it in an inclusive way that doesn’t arouse “zero sum game” thinking, as Biden said effectively in his Tulsa massacre speech.

21 June, 2021 19:56  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks: An awareness of history helps make it clear how absurd and naïve most modern identity politics is. How different some of the history of the last few centuries in Greece and Turkey might have been, for example, if the Turks hadn't forgotten that their own ancestors were mostly Greek! If people get one take-away from this post, I hope it will be that the majority-minority myth is a potent recruiting tool for the right wing, and the left would be well advised to recognize reality and stop parroting it.

22 June, 2021 00:28  
Blogger CAS said...

Love your post. I have to admit that while I know that most Middle Eastern, N. African, and Latino people identify as white, I realize that I'd also bought into the political narrative that whites will occupy a minority of the population. I'm glad to have my view adjusted.

I agree with your analysis that the left is doing itself no favors by parroting the right on this point. It is indeed heartening to see that more and more people couldn't care less about such racial/ethnic distinctions when it comes to choosing a partner. My nephew is a very dark-skinned Indian man who is about 5'5". His wife is white and over 6'. Unions like that didn't exist when I was young on both the skin color and height scales. I'm glad that more and more young people today are cutting through the BS.

And yes, what should their two beautiful sons identify as? It's a totally bogus distinction.

23 June, 2021 11:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Carol: Thanks! It seems to me that this particular illusion offers the worst of both worlds for the left -- they're pinning their hopes on a demographic outcome which won't actually happen, while at the same time creating a powerful recruiting tool for the right wing. I hope your grand-nephews will resist the pressure from the race-obsessives throughout the political spectrum to choose one group or the other to identify with.

24 June, 2021 03:24  
Blogger CAS said...

I hope they will too. Perhaps by the time they're heading off to college or seeking employment, the practice of identifying one's race will have gone away.

It's a tricky situation, however, because doing away with this demographic marker makes it more difficult to track racist attitudes. For example, how do we know how many African American officers belong to a particular police force? Do you have a suggestion for how to obtain that kind of data without people providing it?

25 June, 2021 14:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Carol: I don't believe it will ever actually be illegal to collect information by demographics, as it is in France. What I'm hoping is that as there are more people of mixed ancestry who don't strongly identify with one race or another, questions like "what percentage of the police force is black" will become increasingly meaningless.

26 June, 2021 01:15  
Blogger CAS said...

That is definitely the ideal outcome. Looking forward to the day.

26 June, 2021 06:06  

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