Why Whites Should Fear Demographic Change

Yesterday a New York Times article ran under the headline Census Benchmark for White Americans: More Deaths Than Births. I’m guessing that story read something like Tornado Strikes Minutemen Border Patrol Headquarters: Millions in Guns and Ammunition Lost among America’s growing ranks of white nationalists.

But, before further panic ensues, the article also made it clear that demographic change is not exactly right around the corner, saying,

The disparity [between white births and deaths] was tiny — only about 12,000 — and was more than made up by a gain of 188,000 as a result of immigration from abroad. But the decrease for the year ending July 1, 2012, coupled with the fact that a majority of births in the United States are now to Hispanic, black and Asian mothers, is further evidence that white Americans will become a minority nationwide within about three decades.

Thirty years to stew in the fear of a brown planet is a pretty good long time. Most white baby boomers won’t feel the change at all, especially since changing demography does not equate to desegregation, nor does it mean that the racial income and wealth gaps will be eradicated. As an April 28, 2013 New York Times article reported,

As of 2010, white families, on average, earned about $2 for every $1 that black and Hispanic families earned, a ratio that has remained roughly constant for the last 30 years. But when it comes to wealth — as measured by assets, like cash savings, homes and retirement accounts, minus debts, like mortgages and credit card balances — white families have far outpaced black and Hispanic ones. Before the recession, non-Hispanic white families, on average, were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families…By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy.

The racial wealth gap is growing, not shrinking, even while the percentage of people of color within the population is increasing. And since your parents’ wealth is the strongest indicator of your financial success (and the biggest factor in determining wealth is inheritance) the real advantage of white skin privilege achieved as a result of historically prohibiting property ownership among people of color is increasing.

And, don’t get it twisted, reports that Asian American median household incomes are higher than for whites are deceptive. Median household incomes are only higher because Asian families tend to include more incomes that, measured per capita, are lower than white per capita incomes. And this situation is compounded by the fact that Asian Americans are concentrated in the most expensive cities on the coasts where wages tend to be higher to keep up with the high cost of living. This exaggerates Asian American buying power, creating the impression that we’re richer than we are.

As long as you have the wealth to influence political outcomes, you don’t need to be the numerical majority by race to control politics in the U.S. That’s why the 1% is able to lord it over the 99%, forcing us to cover the losses resulting from their reckless disregard for the majority of us in 2008, even as the majority grew poorer as a result of that same recklessness.

There are other reasons whites ought not fear demographic change. As The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith writes,

We’re told over and over again that race is a social construction. It is not a fixed category. If you simply allow more people to identify as white, problem solved.

In other words, whites have faced similar though less dramatic “crises” of political power before. Each time, whiteness expanded to include groups like the Irish, Jews, and Italians. Racism is flexible. It adapts in order to survive. Colorblind racism, the refusal to recognize the power of race in determining social outcomes that has become so popular in our post-Obama, post-racial era, is an example of racism adapting.

Many argue that in the age of colorblind racism, Asian Americans’ success relative to other communities of color will lead us to become “honorary whites,” enveloped by white privilege conditioned on supporting the agendas of white elites. The fact that most Asian Americans identify by ethnic groups and resist being grouped together as a race seems to give credence to this argument.

And what should be even more reassuring to whites is the fact that around 27 million Latinos, or slightly more than half of those who identified as Latino or Hispanic in the 2010 Census, also identified as white. So, if we count Latinos as they count themselves, the statistics concerning the growth of the non-white population are somewhat exaggerated.

So, maybe whites don’t have much to fear.

However, these arguments ignore a few important facts. First of all, there’s a big difference between Irish, Italian, and Jewish Americans and “non-white” Hispanics and Asians.

While the relatively small numbers of Asian Americans in the U.S. make us less of a threat to whites than, say, Latinos, Asia looms large as a perceived threat to (white) American political and economic interests on the global stage. That’s likely to stand in the way of many white people’s willingness to view Asian Americans as white, much less as Americans, and Asians are likely to take notice. For evidence of how global concerns can play out domestically, one need look no further than to the rabid Islamophobia faced by South Asian Americans.

Latinos have similarly been stigmatized and persecuted in ways that won’t be easy to take back, at least not in the next thirty or so years. Do you think this little Mexican American boy who was heckled and threatened for singing the National Anthem is ever going to forget that he’s not white? So the groups folk suggest are most vulnerable to being whitened might not be so easily incorporated by white America. In fact, efforts to whiten us may be the wedge that splits the white voting bloc.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, white Americans are no more a monolith than are any other group by race. Remember that race is a social construct that envelopes whiteness too. Most white people in the U.S. aren’t rich and powerful. That status is reserved for a privileged few. And more and more white people are entering the ranks of the impoverished every day.

In the post-recession economy, the majority of new jobs are temporary, part-time, and low wage. Being temporary and part-time means being without benefits for most, and it also means being exempted from certain labor protections. Viewed in a historic context, in terms of labor, working class whites are being blackened, as in subjected to the kind of labor conditions that have historically been reserved for people of color, especially black people.

And if history is any guide, the browner the ranks of ordinary wage earners become in the U.S., the more remote the humanity of those workers will be to white elites, even if working class whites are increasingly represented in the kinds of jobs normally reserved for brown people. So demographic change could just be the lever that finally gets working class whites to recognize that structural racism works to their disadvantage too. And if working class whites are able to see past race to their real economic interests, white elites may well have much to fear.

 

 

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14 Responses to Why Whites Should Fear Demographic Change

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  1. Rex Bruce Burkholder June 14, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Scott, shouldn’t your headline read: “Why Whites Shouldn’t Fear Demographic Change” ?

    You correctly point out that the danger to American quality of life isn’t changing racial/ethnic demographics but rather the continuing shift of wealth and power to a few. Carlos Slim is hispanic but I bet that doesn’t change his attitude towards the 99.999% of Mexicans who are poorer than him. And that Euro-Americans have very divergent political points of view.

    Hope you are well. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Check mine out at http://www.gettingto2100.org that looks at the challenges and opportunities we face in the next 100 years. Maybe you’d like to add this to the mix.

    Rex

  2. Manju June 19, 2013 at 2:44 am #

    The racial wealth gap is shrinking, if you use medium instead of mean….which you should. Paul Campos of LGM makes the case.

    http://www.racefiles.com/2013/06/14/why-whites-should-fear-demographic-change/#nav-below

    Long/short, using the Urban Institute figures…In 1983 Whites had medium net worth of about 9X that of blacks and Hispanics. By 2010, it was down to 8.

    • Duke of SaMo June 25, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      “In 1983 Whites had medium net worth of about 9X that of blacks and Hispanics. By 2010, it was down to 8.”

      When you also consider the aging of the White population from 1983 to 2010, Whites’ avg smaller families, and their later formation, the shrinking of the gap is much more dramatic.

      • Scot Nakagawa
        Scot Nakagawa June 26, 2013 at 7:06 am #

        Yes, which should be good news except that one factor contributing to this shift is erosion in white wealth. The mortgage crisis plays a role here. So, if we’re concerned about poverty, we still have a problem, and having more whites in the group living in relative poverty doesn’t make matters better.

        • Duke of SaMo June 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

          If we’re concerned about poverty on the macro level, nationally, it doesn’t make sense to encourage immigration, let alone amnesty. Off shoring plus net immigration leads to depressed average wealth and increased poverty levels.

          If we’re concerned about poverty globally, the few million immigrants into first world economies is merely a drop in the bucket. Globally, more people are born into poverty annually than the entire population of the US.

          • Scot Nakagawa
            Scot Nakagawa June 26, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

            Actually, the metrics you’re referring to are totally manipulated and dishonest, and for pretty cynical, even sinister reasons. But then, I’m guessing you know that already.

  3. Manju June 19, 2013 at 2:53 am #

    “The racial wealth gap is growing, not shrinking, even while the percentage of people of color within the population is increasing. ”

    I would think an increase in the % explains the gap, be it increasing or not, rather than make it more problematic.

    I mean, we don’t have a mass influx of wealthy folks. Even high-earning professionals come here with the proverbial $10 in their pocket. BUt we do have a rather massive influx of low-skilled immigrants.

    Thats good. They are clearly better off. But what’s the point of advocating a policy that allows for the world’s poor to come here. then turn around and say: “OMG, we have so much poverty in America!”

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa June 19, 2013 at 11:36 am #

      Thanks, Manju. I’ll follow that link. Always appreciate your research tips and data. Even if you are a libertarian:) You know, some of my best friends are Republicans…okay, I take that back. None of my best friends are Republicans, but I do appreciate you.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa June 26, 2013 at 7:10 am #

      Um, because we drive so much of the world’s poverty. Mexico is the perfect example of this, don’t you think? The Philippines is another. We should address global inequality and the role of so-called highly industrialized nations in promulgating it. And we should be lifting the wages of those on the bottom of the U.S. economy.

      I’m guessing we don’t really disagree here, but I think the point needs to be made. It’s simply inhumane to create policies that allow capital to freely cross borders, and then build fences so that people can’t follow that capital. It’s just wrong, short-sighted, bad economic policy.

      • Duke of SaMo June 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

        “We should address global inequality and the role of so-called highly industrialized nations in promulgating it. And we should be lifting the wages of those on the bottom of the U.S. economy.”

        At whose expense?

  4. Chy Sprauve June 21, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    I think that this post does a good job of examining the complexities of the era of colorblindness and what that may mean for people of color. I think it’s true that if poor Whites developed alliances with people of color it would upset the status quo–however, history has shown us that whenever these alliances begin to form, they get thwarted pretty quickly. During slavery (before it became exclusively Black), White and Black indentured servants began to devise ways to overthrow wealthy White planters. When planters caught wind of their plans, they began offering White servants manumission and land–and, just like that, the alliance was over. In the early 20th century, Black and White factory workers had the opportunity to come together to fight for unions, but that didn’t happen (W.E.B. DuBois discusses this in his book Black Reconstruction). When people stop voting against their own interests, a real rupturing could happen. Well…I look forward to the day!
    Insightful post!

  5. Edge June 24, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Whites are the racial minority in many countries but they are worshiped and held to a higher regard then other foreigners and above even the local citizens. They are provided both an economic and social leg up for just being white. They have nothing to fear.

  6. EyobBlk July 24, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    90% of people WORLDWIDE are people of color. Whites been the recessive, young race. 400 yrs compared to thousands?

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