One thing that I'm convinced of is that things constantly change. Understanding that doesn't necessarily make it any easier to accept change at times, but change doesn't need my acceptance, or anyone else's, to keep doing its thing.
One of the most profound changes happening in our nation right now is its ethnic makeup. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2044 there will be more so-called minorities than non-Hispanic (northern European) white people in the United States. We will then be a "majority minority" nation. Today, those we typically refer to as white people make up 63 percent of the population; by 2045 that will drop to 49.3 percent, and by 2060 it will be just 43.6 percent.
Unless we start changing definitions, by 2060 there will be 23 million fewer white people and about 118 million more minorities and immigrants roaming the country. These trends have been known for a long time, but the reality is now staring us in the face, no longer an abstract concept of the future.
"This is clearly going to be a century where minorities and immigrants dominate our growth," said William Fry of the Brookings Institution in an analysis of the Census Bureau projections.
That has already frightened many, particularly Republicans, who have more and more thrown their fortunes in with the well-off to do what old white guys have done on numerous issues over the past few decades. They have taken steps to hold on to political power in the face of change, including recent laws suppressing opportunities to vote, and gerrymandering congressional districts has guaranteed Republican governing majorities.
In addition, the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case has enhanced the ability of rich corporations to maintain political leverage with money. Mitt Romney's declaration that "corporations are people" in the last presidential campaign represents that effort. All of that is about keeping minorities in their place as social and political underdogs.
There is a fear among the ruling class that they will not fare well in a changing ethnic world. Malcolm X pointed to this as far back as 1963, when he spoke at the University of California Berkeley, saying, "Whites fear being treated the way they have treated others."
These days it's not so much whites in general — studies have shown the Millennial generation to be quite progressive — but old-guard regressive Republicans who want to hold back democratic change. They've been in charge for so long they believe it is the natural order of things.
Ruy Teixeira, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, points to one in a recent post at thinkprogress.org titled "The hidden demographic shifts that are sinking the Republican Party."
Now, that might be news to folks who look at the Republican majorities in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures across the land. For instance, the Michigan Republican majority in the state house got even bigger in the last election. But these long-term trends are clear and definitive, and the big brains in the Republican Party know they will not reverse. But what does it all mean?
For one thing, there are going to be a whole lot more Latinos around here — about 28 percent of the population. Blacks will be about 13 percent of the population, and Asians will comprise about 8 percent. Mixed-race people will make up 4 percent, with Native Americans (who once ruled the continent) and Pacific Islanders coming in at only 1 percent.
So the change is going to be largely driven by Latinos, who basically look white but have a strong cultural identity that is anything but European. I'm down with that. I've always identified as African-American, but my great-grandfather came from Santo Domingo and spoke Spanish. Oye como va, mis hermanos!
The feel-good line that most of us grew up with is that America is a vast melting pot of world cultures. That has been replaced with a somewhat more accurate idea of a tapestry of influences where the many maintain their identity to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Although the reality is that America has been a highly stratified society from the beginning, with mostly rich white people at the top and the rest of us, including poor white people, more or less banging each other to get what is dribbled down to us.
It doesn't have to be that way, and the coming majority minority population is an opportunity to create a more equitable society. The established power structure looks at the coming changes and tries to figure out strategies to maintain power. Change is scary, especially when it means you have to give something up.
But this will be a different world, and young people are already growing up in it. Living the change, it would seem. Of course they are also growing up in a world where climate change could bring society as we know it tumbling down around their ears. The whole climate thing is another example of the powerful denying change in order to maintain a status quo in which they have the advantage. So maybe this coming majority minority will inherit a badly damaged and crippled nation.
But with change there is possibility. And maybe with a more diverse population we'll be able to draw upon the true strengths of diversity in creating something that works for many more of us than it has in the past.
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