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Over the next 18 months, CSI’s Senior Fellow, Deepa Iyer, will be contributing to a new blog series called Destination 2043: An Inclusive America. By 2043, America will become a nation in which people of color will comprise the majority population for the first time in our history. What does the demographic transformation mean in terms of policies and practices that improve the lives of people of color? How are we building intersectional racial justice movements and solidarities?
Destination 2043: An Inclusive America will be addressing issues such as how we move beyond diversity and multiculturalism, how we shape and strengthen multiracial solidarity, how various sectors – from government agencies to institutions of higher learning to non-profits – are responding to the demographic changes around us, and how we push back against misleading narratives of becoming a colorblind and post-racial nation.
Below is a link to our first post on Destination 2043: An Inclusive America. Join our Twitter Chat tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 9th from 1-2 PM EDT, by visiting bit.ly/destination2043 or using the hashtag #Destination2043. Panelists will include:
- Glenn Harris, Center for Social Inclusion (@glennharriscsi)
- Marisa Franco, Not 1 More (@marisa_franco)
- Tia Oso, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (@tia_oso)
- Janelle Wong, Asian American Studies program, University of Maryland (@ProfJanelleWong)
- Linda Sarsour, Arab American Association of New York (@lsarsour)
The Majority-Minority Myth
Like many children around the country, my five-year-old started kindergarten this month. His classroom is a reflection of America’s changing racial landscape. In schools and workplaces, we are already experiencing dramatic demographic changes as we head towards 2043, when people of color will comprise the majority population for the first time in our nation’s history.
The Census Bureau tells us that in 2012, about 116.2 million people belonging to minority groups lived in the United States, constituting 37 percent of the total population. But by 2060, people of color will represent approximately 57 percent of the total population, numbering 241.3 million out of a total population of 420.3 million. At the same time, the White population will stay the same until 2040, when it will begin to decrease. Latinos and Asians are driving the demographic growth among minority groups. According to the Pew Research Center, the Latino population is on the rise due to a record number of U.S. births, while immigration is the primary reason behind Asian American growth.
But: there’s no need to wait till 2043 because these changes are already happening.
In September 2014, the U.S. Department of Education reported that the number of students of color surpassed that of White students in public schools for the first time. Additionally, many of our counties and metropolitan areas have become multiracial jurisdictions already. As of 2013, the ten largest metropolitan areas where the percentage of people of color was greater than 50 percent of the overall population included New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Dallas, the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, Riverside, Atlanta, San Francisco, and San Diego.
What do the Numbers Really Mean?
The data can be deceptive, especially if we use it as a means of assessing the conditions of communities of color in America. Sheer numbers will not drive racial equality, economic equity, or political power. Put another way, the numerical dominance of people of color will not mean that attitudes and systems that lead to racial oppression will automatically disappear or that people of color will be able to exercise power over their political and economic conditions.
Racial justice advocates have our work cut out for us though because the “majority-minority nation” is becoming code for a post-racial and color-blind society.
There will be many forces who will certainly rely on the myth of the “majority-minority nation” to shift public attention away from the tremendous systemic inequities that continue to exist along racial lines. They will point to the demographic changes as proof positive that we are transforming into a colorblind or post-racial nation. They will argue that efforts to understand and eliminate racial disparities through policy changes, affirmative action, or disaggregated data collection can be disbanded. They will call attention to the existence of minority representation in political, corporate, entertainment, and media sectors as markers of the growing influence of communities of color. But conservatives are not the only ones likely to reinforce the myth of the majority-minority nation for political purposes.
Progressives, including people of color, are not immune to buying into the assumption that racial politics will change and that racial injustice will disappear as demographics shift. In focus groups I held in preparation for my forthcoming book with people under the age of thirty, I heard many people of color state such opinions. One participant said, “Once people of color have the numbers, we will have power in every arena. Racism won’ t be an issue. We won’t need to talk about race anymore.” Other participants mentioned that as people of color ascend to leadership in various sectors, from politics to corporate America to the media, they will take on the responsibility of changing systems that have historically been rife with racial disparities. Still others placed their faith in the ability of the rising American electorate—which includes women, people of color, and millennials—to flex their political muscles and use the ballot box to bring about solutions to racial inequities.
We must critically examine these assumptions.
What’s Our Message?
We can start by calling into question the term majority-minority and what it implies. The phrase mistakenly suggests that minority populations will gain power and influence due to their numbers. Unless we meaningfully confront the institutional and systemic racial disparities in America, it is highly unlikely that minority populations will occupy a markedly different status in coming decades than they do today. Racial inequities show up in various contexts, from education to housing to income levels. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, in 2013 the wealth of White households was thirteen times the median wealth of Black households and ten times the wealth of Latino households. Similarly, in the context of education attainment, while 8.3 percent of the White population had less than a high school diploma in 2013, the numbers are significantly higher for some minority populations, such as 18.3 percent for American Indian and Alaska Natives and 12.7 percent for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. And while Asian Americans are often held up as an example of high educational attainment, there are many Asian ethnic groups who are struggling. For example, the 2013 American Community Survey shows that Bangladeshi, Burmese, Hmong, Laotian, and Cambodian groups have high percentages of community members with less than a high school diploma. Limited English proficiency, immigration status, and higher poverty rates could contribute to lower rates of educational attainment among some Asian ethnic groups.
Unless government, civic, philanthropic, and community stakeholders tackle the roots of these disparities through responsive public policies and the reallocation of resources, people of color will continue to experience inequitable outcomes regardless of population changes. We must recommit ourselves to identifying and implementing creative solutions to systemic racial inequities instead of glossing over them in the belief that they will automatically disappear as our nation’s demographics shift. As we move towards 2043, racial justice advocates, government agencies, policymakers and public stakeholders have the opportunity to create collaborative visions of a more inclusive and equitable America.
Thank you for reading. Interested in engaging on Destination 2043: An Inclusive America? Here are three ways you can do that:
- Share this piece using #Destination2043 and tweet @theCSI and @dviyer.
- Join our Twitter Chat with Deepa and advocates around the nation on the issues in this post on Wednesday, September 9th at 1:00 PM EST using #Destination2043.
- Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in being featured as a best practice of #Destination2043, writing for us, or including us in your work.