John Blake, CNN, September 4, 2021
Some political myths refuse to die despite all evidence the contrary. Here’s another:
When White people are no longer a majority, racism will fade and the US “will never be a White country again.”
This myth was reinforced recently when the US Census’ 2020 report revealed that people who identify as White alone declined for the first time since the Census began in 1790. The majority of Americans under 18 are now people of color, and people who identity as multiracial increased by 276% over the last decade.
These Census figures seemed to validate a common assumption: The US is barreling toward becoming a rainbow nation around 2045, when White people are projected to become a minority.
That year has been depicted as “a countdown to the White apocalypse,” and “dreadful” news for White supremacists.” Two commentators even predicted the US “White majority will soon disappear forever.” It’s now taken as a given that the “Browning of America” will lead to the erosion of White supremacy.
I used to believe those predictions. Now I have a different conclusion:
Don’t ever underestimate White supremacy’s ability to adapt.
The assumption that more racial diversity equals more racial equality is a dangerous myth. Racial diversity can function as a cloaking device, concealing the most powerful forms of White supremacy while giving the appearance of racial progress.
Racism will likely be just as entrenched in a browner America as it is now. It will still be White supremacy, with a tan.
There is a yearning embedded in my DNA that a demographic tide will overtake White supremacy — the belief that White people are superior and they should maintain political, social and economic power over other races.
This yearning is not driven by some wish that people of color will someday rule over Whites. It’s a hope for a more just America, a hope that we can somehow escape the tribalism that tore other countries apart.
White supremacy isn’t just more resilient than many assume. It’s also elastic.
Consider how Whiteness has been defined. It’s a prime example of how White supremacy adapts.
The census suggests that White Americans will be a minority by 2045, but as several commentators have already noted, that date can easily be postponed. Whiteness isn’t a fixed identity; it’s like taffy — it expands to accommodate new members, if they have the right look.
The US has broadened its definition of White people throughout history enough to maintain power over Black, Asian and Latino people, writes political scientist Justin Gest in a recent essay, “What the ‘Majority Minority’ Shift Really Means for America.”
Why do so many racial groups gravitate toward Whiteness? The answer is both pragmatic and psychological.
It’s due to a racial hierarchy that places Whiter-looking people at the top and darker-skinned people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
“Sometimes looking White puts money directly into your pockets,” says Tanya K. Hernandez, author of the forthcoming book “Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias and The Struggle for Equality.”
“You get access to jobs, opportunities and being viewed as competent. But there’s also a psychological benefit, that feeling of having enhanced status, of being part of Whiteness.”
This racial hierarchy is the foundation of White supremacy. Europeans created it around 500 years ago to justify slavery and colonialism. This hierarchy is where we get the modern conception of race — how a person’s inherent worth, intelligence or attractiveness can be determined by the pigmentation of their skin.
For those who fret about the “disappearing White majority,” I say look at history:
The numbers and types of people who are defined as White may change, but the status and power that comes with being White has remained the same.
In the 2010 Census, for example, researchers discovered that some 1.2 million Americans who had identified as “Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin” a decade earlier had changed their race from “some other race” to “white.”
“The data also call into question whether America is destined to become a so-called minority-majority nation, where whites represent a minority of the nation’s population,” said the The New York Times. “Those projections assume that Hispanics aren’t white, but if Hispanics ultimately identify as white Americans, then whites will remain the majority for the foreseeable future.”
That number, however, plunged in the 2020 census. It revealed a drastic drop in the number of Latinos or Hispanics who identify as White. That drop may be due to Black Lives Matter protests and former President Trump’s well-documented hostility to non-White immigrants and his administration’s unsuccessful attempt to reduce the count of Latinos by manipulating the 2020 Census.
The future of Whiteness in America may rest with Latino people.
It could go either way. A study suggests that Latino identity fades across successive generations as immigrant connections fade away. If large numbers of Latino people identify as White in the future, Whiteness will expand. The enhanced status and socio-economic benefits that come from identifying as White will be too tempting for many to ignore.
The link between Whiteness and status is already a reality in some Latin American countries.
In places like Brazil and Cuba, mixed-race people and interracial marriages are common. Latin Americans tend to think of themselves not in terms of race, but nationality.
Yet discrimination against darker-skinned and indigenous people is common there and many other Latin American countries. There’s still a widespread belief that the Whiter a person looks, the better it is for them.
These countries offer proof that a country can have a large and expanding population of Black, brown and multiracial people — and still be governed by the same racial hierarchy that gave us slavery and colonialism.
But many Brazilians’ economic and educational prospects are still shaped by colorism — the notion that a person’s inherent worth is determined by their skin color, according to an article in Foreign Policy that looked at the country’s racial landscape. Some 80% of the country’s one-percenters are white, the article said.
“Today, Brazilians see themselves as falling across a spectrum of skin colors with a dizzying assortment of names: burnt white, brown, dark nut, light nut, black, and copper,” Cleuci De Oliveira wrote in the article. “What ultimately binds these definitions together is an awareness that the less ‘black’ a person looks, the better.”
In a recent twist, the percentage of Brazilians who identify as Black or mixed race has risen slightly because of affirmative action policies and because they identify with the racial protests in the US that followed the murder of George Floyd.
Some people pin their hopes for a more racially tolerant future on multiracial people. That issue hits even closer to home for me.
Here’s the hard truth we must face about the future: We may live someday in an America where there are no racial majorities, but Whiteness can still reign supreme.
Nothing will change, though, unless we go after the racial hierarchy that makes Whiteness such an exclusive club.
That requires radical change. It would involve uprooting systemic racism embedded in our public schools, neighborhoods and justice system. It would involve a more equitable sharing of power and resources — not out of White guilt or compulsion but out of the knowledge that “We all do better when we all do better.”
It will ultimately require that we discard the modern notion of race, the biological fiction that there is something called a “Black person” or a “White person” or an “Asian person.”