How white people can stay in the majority

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that non-Hispanic whites, now a majority of the U.S. population, will become a minority within the next 40 years.  I don’t think this will happen.  White people will remain in the majority the way they have down through American history, by continually expanding the boundaries of “white.”

In the years immediately following the American Revolution, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were the majority of American citizens, and Irish and German immigrants were minority groups.  African slaves and American Indians were excluded from citizenship, and did not even have that status.  Americans and English were considered the two branches of the “Anglo-Saxon race.”

By the time I was born in 1936, the white Protestant majority had dropped the “Anglo-Saxon” part, and defined Negroes, Jews and Catholics as minority groups.  I was taught as a boy that I should George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Co., would not knowingly hire an Italian-American, which is why so many Italian-Americans in Rochester, NY, have British last names.  As recently as 1960, there was uncertainty over whether a Catholic could or should be elected President of the United States.  Now Jews and Catholics are included in the non-Hispanic white” majority.

I predict that by 2050, the majority group will be broader still.  Instead of the majority being defined as “non-Hispanic white,” it will be simply “white.”  It will include all the white Hispanics and all the people of mixed race who consider themselves white.

The U.S. Census defines four broad racial groups, whites, blacks, native Americans and Asians.  Hispanics can be of any race, and more than half of all Hispanic Americans identify themselves as “white” on the census.  Hispanics once were defined as people with Spanish last names.  Now they are defined as people whose forebears came from a Spanish-speaking country, such as Mexico or Cuba, or from Puerto Rico.  I know people who are immigrants from Spain.  It would be absurd to consider them other than white.

In the days of slavery and segregation, a person with one known black ancestor was considered black.  That included mulattoes, with one white parent; quadroons, with three white grandparents; or octoroons, with seven white great-grandparents.  I don’t think that is true now, and I think it will be less true in the future.  People of mixed heritage will be able to choose which heritage, if any, is their primary identity.

Finally I think prejudice against people of Asian ancestry has disappeared, or greatly diminished, since I was young, and Asians will be assimilated to the majority group or closely allied with it.

Mixed marriages, especially between Asian-Americans and whites, and between Hispanic Americans and non-Hispanic whites, are on the increase.  My guess is that most of their children will identify with the majority group, whatever it is called “white” or something else.

Some black people glumly predict that by the end of the century, there will be only two racial groups in the United States—blacks and everybody else—since white Americans have always come to accept members of every other ethnic group except African Americans.

This is highly possible, but not certain.  During my lifetime, I’ve seen more progress than I ever expected toward a society in which people are judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  Given the ethnic conflicts and massacres in much of the world—Africa, southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent—and the racial tensions even in European countries, I think we Americans have much to be proud of.  We’re not where we should be, but we’re on a good road, and I believe we can stay on it.

Click on Adjusting to the ‘Browning’ of America for thoughts of black columnist Clarence Page.

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