The Colors That Matter
by Kelvin Wade
Are whites the oppressed minority today? A recent study by Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Samuel Sommers of Tufts University showed that white respondents believe that anti-white bias is a bigger problem than anti-black bias in America.
If you look at the objective measurements, the reality is clear. African-Americans are worse off than whites. Since the 1950s, black unemployment has ran almost double that of whites. Today, in some cities, black unemployment has reached Depression-era levels. In education, health care and housing, African-Americans lag behind whites. How many white folks would voluntarily become black if they could in search of better treatment? I bet that number is small.
But objective reality isn’t what’s driving the response to that survey. The anxiety revealed by that response is the uncertainty of a white majority that’s coming to grips with the fact that their majority status is temporary. California, like Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas, is a majority-minority state. And demographers believe that by 2040, the United States will be a majority-minority country.
The birth rate of Hispanics and Asians in California, coupled with immigration, has swelled their numbers. The numbers of blacks has held steady. In addition to “white flight” — whites leaving the state for neighboring states — the white birth rate has fallen.
Last year saw Hispanic children outnumber white children in California for the first time since statistics have been collected.
This demographic shift is driving a lot of what we see in this state as well as the country. The shift portends big changes politically. California beat back the massive Republican wave last November with Democrats sweeping all statewide races. Since the white vote is split between the parties and minorities skew to the Democrats, our demographics just aren’t conducive to far right wing ideology. This same dynamic will eventually play out in Texas, turning a solid red state into a blue one.
This political shift will have great consequences. Remember that Barack Obama won the presidency with just 43% of the white vote. The majority of whites voted for John McCain.
Part of the fear is of racial payback. But again, I see this fear as more of a boogeyman than the reality.
The anxiety that many whites feel (that they read as anti-white bias) is the fear that the influx of (non-white) immigrants and births is going to change America. This fear of losing what it means to be an American is rampant. That fear was enunciated loud and clear in the 2008 campaign’s talk of “Real Americans,” the cry from the right to “take our country back,” the paranoia in the health care debate about covering immigrants, to the ranting of talking heads like radio host Michael Savage. This anxiety is manifest in the oft-heard lament that folks don’t like having to “press 1 for English” when calling a business.
Most of the changes we’re seeing in America have nothing to do with the changing demographics of the country. The global economy, the Wall Street rip-off, the mortgage crisis, the debt and other problems can’t simply be laid at the feet of Pedro sneaking across the border or the Hispanic birth rate.
I understand the fear. We fear we’re going to lose our language, traditions and values. But this is nothing new. This has been Americans’ lament for generations. The Italians are going to ruin us! The Irish! The Jews! The Chinese! The blacks!
But Hispanic Americans’ gain doesn’t have to mean white Americans’ loss. African-Americans used to be the largest minority in America. Now, we’re second to Hispanics, yet we’re no less American.
The fear is real. Going from a white majority to a minority is something white Americans have no experience with. But we have to have faith that our union is strong enough, our laws ironclad enough and our commitment to our ideals deep enough that we will continue being the great nation that we’ve been. We will continue trying to build a more perfect union.
These challenges won’t be easy. They never are but we, as Americans, will meet them head on. Call me a dreamer, but I long for the day when the only colors that matter in this country are red, white and blue.