Clarence Page: America's uneasy 'browning'

BY CLARENCE PAGE Published: May 25, 2012
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White babies are no longer a majority of new births, according to the Census Bureau. America is quietly “browning,” it is said, like dinner rolls in a warm oven. Yet, such change does not come without resistance from those who prefer to remain unbaked.

White supremacist groups have been having a “meltdown,” says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. In an ABC News report, he called the demographic trend “the single most important driver in the growth of hate groups and extremist groups over the last few years.”

To the haters and the racially paranoid, even President Barack Obama's historic election is just one more piece of mounting evidence that whites are losing their majority in America's population. The Census Bureau now expects the nation will have no racial majority in 2042.

Two opposing visions shape our national debate about this demographic development, which largely has been driven by immigration trends. One fears that dramatic cultural change will tear the nation apart. The more hopeful view sees our younger generations, unburdened by historical baggage, leading America to a transformative integrated and postracial era.

The truth probably lies in between those scenarios. Today's immigrants are assimilating over time in much the same way as earlier generations, driven by the traditional American dream of opportunity and upward mobility. But I don't expect ethno-cultural differences to lose all value.

The element of race adds a new complication to assimilation in a country that seldom has undertaken racial change easily. As much as Americans have benefited from a national identity that is based on ideas, not a single racial or ethnic tribe, white supremacy was embedded in law for most of our history. Every naturalization act from 1790 to 1952 included language that reserved citizenship to a “white person,” although standards as to who is considered “white” constantly have changed.

Even today, slightly over half of those who checked “Hispanic” for ethnicity on the 2010 census forms also checked “white” for race. To the census, you are whatever you say you are, even if others see something different when they look at you.

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