Towards a White Minority
Did you see those demographic stats in the New York Times last week?
The Census Bureau estimated yesterday that from July 1, 2005 to July 1, 2006, the nation's minority population grew to 100.7 million from 98.3 million … Nearly half the children under age 5 are Hispanic, black or Asian … 80 percent of Americans over age 60 are non-Hispanic whites, compared with only 60 percent among those in their 20s and 30s, and 58 percent among people younger than 20 …
(Some of the quotes in what follows are from the NYT story; the others are from the actual U.S. Census Bureau News Release from which the story is abstracted.)
It is not news that white Anglo (i.e. white non-Hispanic — I am using "Anglo" just as a linguistic marker) Americans are heading for minority status. Bill Clinton was exulting over the prospect a decade ago. Interesting to see the numbers in detail, though, and the state-by-state disparities.
Four states and the District of Columbia are "majority-minority." Hawaii led the nation with a population that was 75 percent minority in 2006, followed by the District of Columbia (68 percent), New Mexico (57 percent), California (57 percent), and Texas (52 percent).
The economic sidebars are interesting, too:
[Demographer Dr. Mark] Mather said the three most homogeneous states — Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia — spent the highest proportion of their gross state product on public education.
This reinforces a number of findings from recent years suggesting that people are much more willing to be taxed for the benefit of people like themselves, than for the benefit of the Other. Old people already grumble about paying taxes to support extravagant educational establishments. As the racial generation gap opens up, with the oldsters being noticeably more white and Anglo than the kids being educated, the grumbling will escalate into action — most likely, the simple action of yet further residential segregation, the old and white-Anglo living here, the young and dark-Hispanic living there.
Though of course, the unwillingness to be taxed to support the Other cuts both ways. How will a majority nonwhite young workforce feel about paying out income and social security taxes for the sustenance of old white Anglos? Don't tell me, reader, that you never have, as I have, looked forward glumly to your last days stuck incapable in some cruddy nursing home with a bunch of other helpless white geezers, your daily needs in the hands of resentful black and brown orderlies whose scant educations featured long catalogs of the wrongs done to Them by Us.
Back of all that is the question: As white Anglos decline into a minority, shall we see the rise of white-Anglo race consciousness? The common understanding at present is that open expressions of race consciousness are taboo for white-Anglo Americans, but just fine for everyone else. A leading black presidential candidate subtitles his best-selling biography "A Story of Race and Inheritance"; the main lobbying organization for Hispanics carries the proud title "National Council of the Race"; and so on. This word "race" is, however, not available to white-Anglo Americans in reference to themselves, and white-Anglo Americans are indoctrinated from childhood to believe, or to pretend to believe, that race is an empty category.
This taboo is left over from the old pre-1960s order of unassailable (as it then seemed) white-Anglo supremacy. It was really just a form of noblesse oblige, a patronizing courtesy from the vast-majority race, who owned and ran pretty much everything in the U.S.A. up to about 40 years ago, to minorities about whom they nursed a mildly guilty conscience.
Noblesse oblige is a wonderfully satisfying, self-flattering attitude: "Look at me — not only powerful and rich, but gracious and kind, too!" Whether it can survive as white Anglos dwindle to minority status is not clear to me. It might: it runs strong today among the white-Anglo inhabitants of Washington, DC, even though they are (see above) only 32 percent of the population there. I suppose it depends how the economics shakes down.
Hispanics accounted for almost half (1.4 million) of the national population growth of 2.9 million between July 1, 2005 and July 1, 2006 … The Hispanic population in 2006 was much younger, with a median age of 27.4 compared with the population as a whole at 36.4.
It is quite possible that Americans alive today will live to see the nation become majority Hispanic. Did anyone ever think this would happen, prior to a few short years ago? Well into the 1960s, Mexico was an inconsequential place, a joke place, while the other Central American nations simply did not register at all. You went to Acapulco for an exotic vacation, got a nasty case of Montezuma's revenge, and came home with some colorful handicraft trinkets to put on your mantel shelf. That aside, you never thought about Central America from one year's end to the next. The highest level Mexicans rose to in the American imagination was the vaguely sentimental portrayals in the works of southwestern writers like Willa Cather.
The inconsequentiality was numerical, too. In midcentury there was one Mexican per four or five Americans. The place was underpopulated. The few thousand Mexicans who drifted across the border looking for work could easily be rounded up and deported if they became an inconvenience, as in Eisenhower's famous "Operation Wetback." There were no limits at all on legal immigration from the Western hemisphere until the 1965 Immigration Act, none being thought necessary. An annual quota of 120,000 was imposed by that Act; but this was just a low-value bone thrown to key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (Everett Dirksen and Sam Ervin) by Teddy Kennedy to get the bill through. Nobody cared about Hispanic immigration; no-one thought it consequential.
Now there are 110 million Mexicans to the U.S.A.'s 300 million, with corresponding numbers of Hispanics further south. If you count the 20 or 30 million Mexicans actually living here, legally or illegally, the Mexican-American ratio must actually be about one to two. Unfortunately Mexico's great late-20th-century population boom was boomier, and longer-lasting, than that nation's economic boom, which fizzled out around 1980. Not only were mid-20th-century Central American populations numerically insignificant until recently; the economic gap between their sleepy, stagnant economies and our vibrant one was less then that it is today, after several more decades of sleepy stagnation on their part, but of vibrancy on ours.
And so white-Anglo America slips into minority status. Probably we never wanted it to happen. Probably, if asked around 1970 whether it ought to happen, most of us would have said no. The topic never rose to the status of a major political issue among the mass of Americans, though. The coming presidential election will be the first in my lifetime to have immigration as a major theme.
If Americans minded what was happening, they didn't mind enough to stop it. To be sure, their indifference was aided and abetted by the late 20th-century browbeating campaigns by cultural elites on behalf of "diversity," "political correctness," and racial guilt; but Americans didn't seem to mind those much, either — not enough to rebel against them in any significant way.
If there is any large general historical lesson to be taken from all this, it is that a population as prosperous, secure, well-employed and well-entertained as the white Anglos of late 20th-century America, and as confident of its own cultural superiority, cannot be made to care much about matters of ethnic identity, and may altogether lose the habit of thinking in such terms.
Whether this ethnic insouciance will survive the coming great demographic changes, I don't know. Things have gone so far now that there is very little we can do but wait and see.