This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, November 23, 2018

Is There a Looming White Minority in the U.S.?

A front page story in today's NYTimes by Sabrina Tavernise has the obviously provocative headline:
"Why the Announcement of a Looming White Minority Makes Demographers Nervous." At issue is the Census Bureau's classification of race and ethnicity, and how that factors into their population projections, and then how people interpret those data. Is the fear (stoked by Census Bureau projections) that Whites are on the verge of becoming a minority group in the country one of the things that has ramped up populist rhetoric?
In a nation preoccupied by race, the moment when white Americans will make up less than half the country’s population has become an object of fascination.
For white nationalists, it signifies a kind of doomsday clock counting down to the end of racial and cultural dominance. For progressives who seek an end to Republican power, the year points to inevitable political triumph, when they imagine voters of color will rise up and hand victories to the Democratic Party.
But many academics have grown increasingly uneasy with the public fixation. They point to recent research demonstrating the data’s power to shape perceptions. Some are questioning the assumptions the Census Bureau is making about race, and whether projecting the American population even makes sense at a time of rapid demographic change when the categories themselves seem to be shifting.
This is not a new topic of conversation. You may recall my blogging about it a few months ago. As Dowell Myers at the University of Southern California said back then, and again in today's story, the Census Bureau defines "white" in a very narrow way that does not take into account the kind of intermarriage that is going on and which, in essence, is continuing to have a "melting pot" effect. The way racial/ethnic categories are defined creates the image of a reality that doesn't reflect the real world. On that point, here is my favorite quote from the story:
Mary Waters, a sociologist at Harvard University [more about her at this blog post], remembered being stunned when she saw the research. “It was like, ‘Oh wow, these nerdy projections are scaring the hell out of people,” she said.
"The question really for us as a society is there are all these people who look white, act white, marry white and live white, so what does white even mean anymore?” Dr. Waters said. “We are in a really interesting time, an indeterminate time, when we are not policing the boundary very strongly."
Why does the Census Bureau even ask these questions? When Richard Nixon was President he wanted to get rid of them, but the argument then, as now, is that they help us track discrimination and other kinds of inequalities. But, are these data more dangerous than helpful? The country needs to have a big discussion about this.

A closely related problem is the extent to which the concern about race/ethnicity gets mixed in with the migration policy issue. Read the interview with Hilary Clinton about migration in today's NYTimes and see what you think...

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