It appears the white majority in America will soon be a relic of the past.
The 2018 midterms ushered in a wave of diversity, with some historic “firsts” making their way to Capitol Hill. The first two Native American women elected to Congress. The first Hispanic women from Texas, where Hispanics make up nearly half of the state’s population. The first two Muslim women, one of them a Somali refugee. The youngest woman to ever serve in Congress, who also happens to be Latina.
Even with this diverse group coming in, Congress is still disproportionately white. Some may ask why it matters, and many will decry bringing up that fact as identity politics. (The fact that white men have played identity politics throughout our history by marginalizing literally every other identity both legally and socially is a whole other article. But yeah.) But considering how the demographics of America are changing, the ethnic makeup of our representatives is worth examining.
According to a new report by Pew Research the percentage of Americans who are part of the white majority is shrinking. And for the post-millennial generation, that majority is barely a majority at all.
Almost half of Americans age 6 to 21 are racial or ethnic minorities—a far cry from the Baby Boomers’ 18%.
America’s demographics are changing, and they’re changing fast. My mother’s generation was 18% non-white, and my children’s generation is 48% non-white. That matters, especially when it comes to representation in our government.
It’s an indisputable fact that American politics has been dominated by white men throughout our country’s entire history. White men have held the power, made the decisions, and determined the direction of this country for centuries. We see that slowly but surely changing; the question is whether it’s changing fast enough to keep up the makeup of America.
It seems pretty clear the answer is no. But America’s changing demographics raise other questions as well.
Could the rise in hate crimes and surge of white supremacist violence be driven by fear of becoming a minority?
According to the New York Times:
“Data compiled by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database shows that the number of terror-related incidents has more than tripled in the United States since 2013, and the number of those killed has quadrupled. In 2017, there were 65 incidents totaling 95 deaths. In a recent analysis of the data by the news site Quartz, roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies, like radical environmentalism, were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks.”
Many Americans like to claim colorblindness as a way to ignore the racial reality of our country, but there are facts that cannot be ignored. White people have been the significant majority for hundreds of years, and white supremacy was both the accepted social norm and the actual law of the land for most of that time. White Americans have automatically had power and privilege afforded to us by our skin tone, and have never experienced what it’s like to be part of a historically oppressed racial minority in our own country. Though we have made legal strides to create equality, we have not as a society dealt with that racial reality in any productive, significant way.
Is it possible that some white Americans may worry what will happen when those historically oppressed minorities become the majority? Is it possible that some white Americans—consciously or subconsciously—fear not only a loss of power and privilege, but also a reckoning of sorts? Is it possible that some white Americans can’t fathom a world of equality, but assume one group will always try to dominate and oppress another? These are questions worth asking as our ethnic and cultural diversity expands, so we don’t remain oblivious to internal threats to our country.
We can celebrate diversity by emphasizing the beauty, richness, and creativity that comes with it.
Ethnic and cultural diversity brings with it some natural challenges, but those are far outweighed by the economy-boosing creativity and innovation, as well as the personal and cultural enrichment, that go along with engaging with diverse people. America’s increasing diversity is a strength, especially if we consciously consider it one.
Many of us see these demographic shifts as a welcome change and a natural outcome of a shrinking global neighborhood. If we do it right, America can serve as an example of celebrating differences and working together for a brighter future for all.
Please, America. Let’s do this right.
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