America’s Persistent White Majority

John O'Sullivan, National Review, January 15, 2016

Two months ago I was invited to a radio discussion of the forthcoming U.S. primary elections by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It was a lively show–listen to it here–and, by media standards here and in Oz, both balanced and civil. At one point, however, the speaker informally representing the Democrat side made the familiar argument that demography was now clearly tilting the electoral scales against the GOP, as minorities–in particular the growing Hispanic minority–were splitting heavily toward the Dems and in addition going to vote in ever-larger numbers.

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Fair enough. I could hardly dispute the long-term prognosis because I had made precisely the same argument in National Review back in the dim and distant mid-1990s when I wrote a piece forecasting an incredible shrinking Republican majority. Within a few issues, National Review published a more statistically sophisticated version of the same argument in a cover story by Peter Brimelow and Edwin S. Rubenstein under the title “The Emerging Democratic Majority.” And this thesis became fully respectable within the year when John B. Judis and Ruy Texeira published a book of the same name that cheerfully welcomed the prospect.

But as the ABC debate brought out, this Democratic majority was taking a devil of a time to emerge. {snip}

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{snip} Issues such as immigration and multiculturalism could become matters of ethnic loyalty rather than economic well-being, increasing Latino naturalization, voter registration, and electoral turnout. After all, Latinos are a fast-growing minority, America is becoming a minority-majority nation, and the hitherto white majority is moving inescapably into minority status.

Or is it? Are all these claims–which are almost universally accepted and serve as the intellectual backdrop to almost all discussions of political strategy and national policy–true? Or are they instead very complicated mistakes that mislead us into believing that America is changing more that it is (or ever has) and in directions different from those in which the nation is really headed? They are, the distinguished sociologist Richard Alba argues in the winter 2016 issue of the liberal American Prospect.

Professor Alba does not deny demographic change or that it has serious consequences in altering the ethnic balance of the U.S. population. Quite the contrary. What he points out, however, is that the change is seriously distorted by how it’s presented by the Census Bureau and other surveys, which has the effect of, among other things, presenting the lowest possible estimate of whites as a percentage of the total population.

This happens as follows. In the first place, the Census Bureau, the Pew Research Center, and others distribute Americans into different ethnic categories as follows: If you are the child of white parents, you are placed in the category “white.” The rule that applies here is, ironically enough, the old white racist “one-drop rule”: If you had one drop of black blood in your veins under Jim Crow, you counted as black. In today’s ethnic statistics, That has been expanded into the rule that if you have one drop of minority blood (or culture, or language, etc.), you are assigned to one of the several non-white categories.

So if you are anything other than white-bread white–if you are culturally Hispanic, say, or the child of a white father and an Indian mother–you are placed in a minority category. A child of “mixed” race, ethnicity, or culture–say, a boy with a white father and an Asian mother–is not classified as white by the Bureau even if he, his family, and his neighbors all think of him, consciously or unconsciously, as white. And though such children can (and increasingly do) opt for a “mixed”-race category, that is counted as a minority category as well.

All of which minimizes the number of people in the white category, maximizes the numbers of those in all other designations, and means that Senator Elizabeth Warren is non-white. Yet if we were to adopt a reverse one-drop rule so that one drop of white blood meant a child counted as white, then, according to Professor, Alba whites would account for about three quarters of the American people well into the remainder of this century. And Senator Elizabeth Warren would be white.

To think along these lines is to mistake a statistical artifact for a much more complicated reality of social mixing and ethnic assimilation. In America’s past, “minorities” that included the Irish and the Italians were long ago fully subsumed under the category “white.” Today minorities include Hispanics, Asians, blacks, and “others” alongside the persisting white “majority.” Alas, for social scientists none of these groups stays obediently within its assigned category either in the maternity ward or later.

Professor Alba estimates that fully three quarters of children of mixed parentage born in 2013 were in families with one white parent. Many of them, maybe most, identify as “white.” They are more likely than others to intermarry on their own account, and they have income patterns similar to those of whites. Indeed, the highest incomes enjoyed within the 14 ethno-racial family combinations listed by Alba are those of mixed, Asian-white households. These score higher than either white-white or Asian-Asian homes.

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