Immigration

Why Fearmongering About a White Minority in America Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Those obsessed with Northern European 'racial purity' will be in the minority, but they already are.

Whites are projected to become a minority in the United States in the year 2050. It’s a terrifying prospect for Americans who fear the loss of their privileged status. 

But the truth is that in 2050, “whites,” as most people understand the term, will still make up 74 percent of the population (if the projections are right). Only “non-Hispanic whites” are expected to become a minority. But there’s little chance that the designation -- which the Census Bureau only added in 1980 -- will live until that time. History tells us that “white Hispanics” -- light-skinned people with an Hispanic heritage -- will soon become, simply, “white people,” as part of the American “mainstream.”  

In 2050, white people will not only remain a majority, but they’ll also retain their disproportionate cultural, political and economic influence. In other words, people freaking out about the loss of white privilege have no cause for alarm -- it is safe. As Chauncey DeVega put it, “whites are by definition the majority group in the United States,” and “while heavily policed,” the definition of “whiteness as a racial grouping is ever expanding.” 

So when that date comes around, it’ll be Y2K for white people in America -- expect plenty of teeth to be gnashed and then brace yourself for nothing to happen.  

The category of non-Hispanic whites allows people to distinguish between lighter, more assimilated people of Hispanic origin and darker, recently arrived immigrants -- it’s a means of social stratification. (Which we do anyway -- a 2006 study by Vanderbilt University economist Joni Hersch found that legal immigrants who had darker complexions or shorter statures earned significantly less than their light-skinned and taller counterparts with similar jobs, training, language skills and backgrounds.) 

The best historical parallel to today’s “white Hispanic” was probably the distinction Americans made between Northern and Southern Italians during the post-Civil War era. Earlier Italian immigrants had come primarily from the North, but in the middle of the 19th century, strife and economic stress in Southern Italy sent a new (and much larger) wave to America’s shores. In 1902, the periodical World’s Work summed up the sentiment of the day, editorializing that “the North-of-Europe people make better citizens than those from the South of Europe. …the Italians from the southern portion of the peninsula also make poor citizens; but those from the northern part of Italy rank with the Swiss and other desirable nationalities.” In the 1920s, the U.S. government drew a line between Northern Italians and darker, “Mediterranean” Italians, and limited the influx of the latter with “race”-based quotas. Today, such distinctions seem bizarre, and the descendants of immigrants from Milano or Salerno are all “real Americans” (or Italian-Americans). 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries we thought of race as a biological reality but today we know it as a flexible social construct. Most “white Hispanics” (about 7 in 10) see themselves simply as “white” -- 29 million Americans of Hispanic descent identified themselves as such in the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey. They’ll insist that other Americans consider them to be white as well, and history tells us they’ll get their way by 2050.  

Scholars have long understood that the concept of race has been highly malleable throughout American history. In Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race, Yale historian Matthew Frye Jacobson showed that while the idea that white people are uniquely suited to lead the nation has been a constant in our political culture, Americans’ view of just who belonged to that group has evolved over time. Nobody would deny that John F. Kennedy was a white guy according to the modern American standard, but formerly disparate “white races” such as Celts, Slavs and Semites were at one point considered to be separate from, and less capable than Caucasians.  

In The History of White People, Nell Irvin Painter argued that many white Americans have come to believe in a mythic pale race whose ancestry can be traced back for centuries. She, too, went on to detail the many twists and turns that the majority’s views of who “white people” are have taken as new lighter-skinned immigrants came to our shores bearing the burden of “minority” status, and then pushed themselves into the mainstream and demanded -- and eventually got -- the privileges that accompany whiteness in American society. It’s long been argued that various groups of lighter skinned immigrants have only truly been assimilated into the fabric of the nation once they began to see themselves, as a group, as superior to African Americans. 

2050 will only be a terrible year for those white folks who hold a rigid, 19th-century definition of whiteness -- white supremacists, in other words. They will become a minority, but, fortunately for the country, they already are (at least the ones who are open about it).   

Here’s how Pat Buchanan, one of the few white supremacists offered a big media forum, views this ticking demographic time-bomb: 

By countries of origin, America will be a Third World nation. Our cities will look like Los Angeles today. Los Angeles and the cities of Texas, Arizona and California will look like Mexico City. 

When we all belong to "minorities," what will hold us together? With the rise of group rights and identity politics, we are already falling out and falling apart over racial preferences and ethnic entitlements.   

Among white nationalists less polished than Buchanan, the coming non-white majority is nothing less than an act of deliberate “genocide” against the Caucasian “race.” As one of them explained it, “social engineers have in fact orchestrated the demise of white people.” And since “many of these ‘social engineers’ are actually white themselves,” the shift represents a betrayal of “their own people out of a sense of self hatred.” 

Of course, white supremacists are still the best evidence there is against the superiority of white people. What they fail to grasp is that only whites who fit their uniquely narrow definition of the term -- descendants of Northern and Western European nations (it varies depending on whom you ask) -- are in decline.

That America’s white majority will endure will no doubt disappoint anyone hoping that a demographic shift might mark the end of racist “dog-whistle” politics in the United States, yet it is the reality. But perhaps we shouldn’t tell people like Pat Buchanan that they'll remain comfortably in the majority. Watching them freak out for the next 40 years over nothing but a bit of short-lived demographic trivia might be entertaining. 

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.