Friday, May 18, 2012

The New Minority

Numbers of Births in the United States, April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011
Source: US Census, Table 4. Cumulative Estimates of the Components of Resident Population Change by Race and Hispanic Origin for the United States: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011 (NC-EST2011-04)

The U.S. Census Bureau reported yesterday that  non-white babies (under 1)  in the United States outnumbered white babies for the first time. Although a Wall Street Journal article on this phenomenon denies that this is due to immigration, attributing it instead to higher birth rates among non-whites, I think it can ultimately be traced to post-1965 changes in immigration.  This is because many of the native-born children of Hispanics and Asians (who make up the overwhelming majority of immigrants) are children or grandchildren of immigrants. The consequences of the change are less evident than the causes. Our racial and ethnic categories may simply shift. Many white Hispanics, the largest category of supposed "non-whites," may become effectively indistinguishable from the historic majority population as younger generations of Hispanics adopt English as their dominant language or lose the ability to speak Spanish altogether. Increasing intermarriage, especially among whites and Asians, could well blur the boundaries between those groups, as a co-author and I argued not too long ago.

Our changing demographics do pose some dangers, though. The greatest of these is the threat of ethnic Balkanization. While I see nothing wrong with individuals being proud of a particular heritage, a politics of ethnic identities can only set people against each other. A spoils system of distributing resources and opportunities to achieve some ideal of "diversity" works badly and encourages resentment when it involves only a single historically disadvantaged group and a historically dominant group. When it involves many different groups, consisting of individuals struggling for politically bestowed preference on grounds of categorical underrepresentation, it is a recipe for disaster. In a society consisting of many "minority" groups, the politicization of ancestral identity has real potential to pull the nation apart. 

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