CNN: Protesters hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2012
The Census Bureau projects that by the 2040s the United States will become a “majority-minority” nation, in which no racial group makes up more than half of the population. A look into America’s public school classrooms works as tangible evidence to support the Census Bureau’s findings. As of 2014, children of color became the new majority within the public school system. Additionally, in 370 counties across 36 states and the District of Columbia, non-Hispanic whites accounted for less than half the population as of July 2015. Regardless, the prospect of a “majority-minority” nation does not mean issues of race will cease to exist.
Within a more racially and ethnically diverse nation, a wide array of situations may develop—some might skew positive, while others may skew negative. Since the idea of a “majority-minority” nation comes from census data, we must remember that racial group classification is flawed. As Professor Richard Alba of City University of New York said, “The census suffers from binary thinking…some people are both, majority and minority.” While the census allows for self-identification, it’s the Census Bureau—not the respondent—that decides each person’s racial category in some situations. For example, if a child has a white parent and a black parent, or if the child’s parents identify themselves as white but do not check the box for “not Hispanic or Latino,” the child is categorized as a minority. Race will become even less palpable and more of what it is: an imaginary classification system of blurred lines.
Different situations may ensue in a “majority-minority” nation concerning race and racism. The most ideal, but also unlikely, is that racial minorities band together to achieve equal political recognition and representation. In this America, diversity is embraced and discrimination is exiled. The crux of this idyllic situation lies within the fact that we cannot assume all racial minorities have the same interests or start with the same advantage and/or disadvantages. Even within an America that “believes in diversity”, racial advocates will still need to serve as holistic educators for the privileged and champions for the disadvantaged.
The next possible—and what I believe most likely situation—is that the racial hierarchy is simply reformulated and those minorities who are believed to be “white enough” climb, while those who are historically disadvantaged or currently marginalized stay put. This could really happen. In 19th and 20th century Irish and Italian immigrants endured trial, tribulation and racial and ethnic based discrimination, but are now considered white in sociopolitical sense. African Americans have not received the same social uplift. Why?
The last and most frightening scenario, is that the racial hierarchy doesn’t evolve or budge. While many public schools are now “majority-minority” systems, we must also remember that white children are over-represented in tuition based, private schools. A “majority-minority” population does not mean that educational opportunities and economic power follow. As Isabel V. Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution stated, “It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much mobility as most other advanced countries…I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that”. A browner America will not suddenly be a diverse utopia of social mobility. It might even bring a further rise in white identity politics and populism as we saw in the 2016 Presidential Elections. In this scenario, we will need racial advocacy more than ever to combat both subvert and overt racism.
Even in a “majority-minority” America, racial advocates will still be a necessity. We need advocates to educate themselves and others about oppression, discrimination, privilege and other social justice issues, and combat these issues on a personal level. We need advocates to confront individuals and groups who disparage others by using language that negatively targets any facet of another’s identity. We need advocates who provide a safe and confidential environment for persons from underrepresented populations in schools and the work place. We need advocates who fight for legal change and inclusive public policy that addresses social issues surrounding racial discrimination.