A No Majority Future

I came across a Brookings Institute interactive map of a racial breakdown by age cohort (via Fred Shelley). It lets you look at each county or metropolitan area. It gives the total racial breakdown for the population and then shows it for each age bracket.

In my state of Iowa, it shows the data for both the county I live in (Johnson) and the metropolitan area I live in (Iowa City). They are basically the same thing and so the data is approximately the same. With the two youngest age groups (0-4 and 5-19 years old), the population here is already more than a quarter minority. For comparison, there are only a few percentage of minorities in the 80+ demographic.

The local media has obsessed about blacks. However, the largest segment and the fastest growth is seen with Hispanics. There is a definite increase of blacks along with an increase of Asians (and those who identify as 2 or more races), but the Hispanic population is nearly equal to the combined populations of blacks and Asians.

Still, it’s not too unevenly divided around here in terms of minorities. What is interesting is that both blacks and Asians get more attention as being somehow foreign. The former is presumably from the distant land of Chicago and the latter are largely students from other countries (at least in the case of the Asians, the perception of their being foreign largely matches the reality, as most are only living here temporarily). The local population, for some reason, seems less concerned and bothered by the Hispanic population. This reinforces my sense that Hispanics might find it an easier pathway into white assimilation, which would throw off the demographic numbers as many Hispanics might entirely stop identifying as Hispanic and simply identify as white.

The Hispanic growth and dispersal is increasingly typical (here is another good interactive map). Hispanics are the fastest growing racial/ethnic population in the US, and this is most starkly seen in the traditionally majority white Heartland (especially in the rural areas and in the most rural states) where Hispanics are drawn to the agricultural work and meatpacking plants. Many of these rural farming states tend to have smaller populations and so the increase of Hispanics is much more noticeable in terms of per capita.

Iowa is a typical state where the white population is aging, as younger whites move elsewhere. At the same time, young Hispanic families are moving in. This is how they will have a disproportionate influence much more quickly than otherwise would have happened. Hispanics aren’t just a big part of the future for the Southwest, but for many diverse places all across the country.

What caught my attention more than anything, though, was just the growing minority populations in general. I’ve been long fascinated by the emerging minority-majority. However, the name is a bit misleading. It’s just another way of saying there won’t be any majority at all.

The Brookings’ map that is in the first link is based on data used for a newly published book, Diversity Explosion by William H. Frey. He explains how significant of a change this is (Kindle Locations 137-141):

“The shift toward “no majority” communities is already taking place as the constellation of racial minorities expands. In 2010, 22 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas were minority white, up from just 14 in 2000 and 5 in 1990. Sometime after 2040 , there will be no racial majority in the country. This is hardly the America that large numbers of today’s older and middle-aged adults grew up with in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and civic lives. One implication of these shifts will be larger multiracial populations as multiracial marriages become far more commonplace.”

We’ll all be minorities before too long, assuming we don’t die in the next couple of decades. The youngest kids are already a minority-majority, but it will take a while for that generation to be representative of the entire country. Fairly large parts of the country, as Frey explains, are already majority-minority (here is a map of counties over all and another map showing which minorities for which counties). But there is a big difference between majority-minority and minority-majority, although I suspect many people mix the two up, especially white people fearing that one particular group will become the new majority in the country, which if it does eventually happen it won’t be any time soon.

* Bonus factoid: “As of 2010, Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood is the most diverse census tract in the entire U.S. In fact, three of the top 10 most diverse are in Anchorage, followed mostly by a handful from the borough of Queens in New York.”

To Become Radical in a Time of Change

I’ve identified as a liberal, ever since I was old enough to think about such things. My liberalism means a number of things. I’m most fundamentally psychologically liberal, and so it is a personal sensibility and identity. But I’m also socially and culturally liberal, which is the basis of my worldview and the way I relate to others. As far as ideology goes, I’m broadly liberal in supporting democracy.

All combined, I don’t know how not to be liberal. It is my fate. It is the core of my being.

I’m consistently principled in my liberalism. It isn’t about party politics. For this reason, I’m more radical than and more critical of what goes for liberalism in the mainstream. Also, my radicalism has increased over time. I’ve become more radical precisely because of my liberalism. I’m not radical by predisposition. It’s just that, according to my liberal values, radicalism naturally follows as a moral response to present conditions in our society.

I see no way of genuinely being liberal without becoming radical. I’d rather be a moderate, if I lived in an ideal world and a just society. But I have to deal with this world I was born into.

This puts me into an odd position. I defend my liberalism because it is core to who I am, for good or bad. I understand the complaints against liberalism and often agree with them. My values of liberalism are what make me critical of the liberalism I see that contradicts those values. Much of what gets called liberalism doesn’t seem liberal to me, by any fundamental sense of the word, at least to my liberal mind.

What got me thinking about this is the recent Ferguson protests. Because of social media, I’ve been more connected to the local activist community. This led me to get more involved than I normally am, at least in recent years. There aren’t many blacks in this small Midwestern liberal college town (Iowa City), but there presence is significant enough. We have one of the highest racial disparities for arrests in the country. The local rallies and marches have been organized by the blacks who live here, most probably being college students.

I’ve been closely observing events and discussions. I’m always curious about what things signify at a deeper level.

This town is atypical in many ways, including the type of black living here, especially in terms of activists. There are poor blacks here, often referred to as “those people from Chicago”. But I’m not sure about the backgrounds of the local black activists, probably less likely to have come from the most impoverished inner city neighborhoods. What has stood out to me, in interacting with them, is how lacking in radicalism they are, as far as I can tell so far. Their demands seem completely in line with a simplistic identity politics narrative. Most of the local radicals, instead, are white (see here and here). One local left-winger I’ve been talking to does know of one black radical in a nearby city, Cedar Rapids, who is critical of identity politics… but he apparently hasn’t yet spoken out publicly.

I know black radicals are protesting in other cities and doing so vocally. I know black radicalism has a long established history in this country. Yet the black leadership, just like the white leadership, is typically moderate. Most of the protest messages play right into the mainstream racial narrative.

What I also have noticed is the absence and/or silence of other minority perspectives in this town (with 17.5% total minority population, about equal parts black, Hispanic, and Asian; along with a small percentage of other non-white races/ethnicities). I’m not sure that these non-black minorities are actually being silent or just getting lost in the noise. There are some Native Americans in the area with, for example, the nearby Meskwaki settlement (not a reservation, for they bought the land); although there are fewer in Iowa City. More significantly, there is a fairly large Hispanic community around here.

As far as I know, no minorities besides blacks were involved in any of the local organizing around recent events. These other minorities aren’t being heard or even acknowledged. The organizers said they were creating one particular rally as a safe place for black voices. But what about a safe place for Hispanic voices? Where is the solidarity among the oppressed? Why do blacks dominate the narrative even when there are also other minorities impacted? Hispanics are regularly targeted, profiled, harassed, brutalized, and killed by police. Why do the voices of Hispanics get ignored not just by the mainstream media but also by mainstream activists, both white and black?

This is how identity politics ends up dividing and isolating people.

Like poor whites, Hispanics don’t fit the mainstream racial narrative. Part of the reason is because Hispanics aren’t a race. They are split between those who identify as black and white. Yet they also experience all the same problems blacks experience. As far as that goes, there are more whites in poverty and these are concentrated in specific ethnic populations that have been in poverty for centuries. They also are part of the permanent underclass that has existed for longer than the social construction of race as it developed out of colonial thought.

There has always been state violence, social control, and a permanent underclass. All of that existed long before racism, long before a racial order, long before racialized slavery. But race gets conflated with everything in American society. It is the metaphorical hammer with which everything looks like a nail. Racism is a real problem, and yet few understand what it really means. Our language is too simplistic and our knowledge too lacking.

Class divisions and oppression preceded race issues. Racism was created to serve old class divisions and social control, not the other way around. Racism is built on and dependent on classism. There is no way of getting around that fact.

Racial ideology obscures more than it clarifies. Certain poor white populations have rates of social problems and incarceration as high as any poor minority population. There is no monolithic white population. Many of these poor white populations have always been impoverished and isolated, but they haven’t always been considered white. The legacy of their questionable whiteness persists. They also are victims of an oppressive racial order. For all intents and purposes, the poorest isolated rural whites aren’t ‘white’ in how the mainstream media uses that word in contrast to ‘black’. They don’t fit into the story that typically gets told about American history.

The territory between Hispanics and poor whites is a nether region in the American psyche. It is also a growing sector of the society. Poverty, of course is growing at present. Also, as the minority-majority emerges, the most quickly growing demographic is that of Hispanics. I suspect it is this shift that is throwing the social order off keel. Hispanics, in their communities, embody the full range of the racial order. No other population in the US is like that. Hispanics aren’t just a threat to WASP culture but to the entire racial order and its concomitant racial narrative. Blacks fit nicely into American understanding of race. The Civil Rights movement can be made sense of without challenging the racial status quo. This is why blacks can never represent an equivalent threat to mainstream society and the dominant class.

That is what so many activists don’t understand. And, as long as they are committed to the racial narrative, they will never understand. This is also what keeps the typical black activist and leader from a truly radical vision. This is what disconnects so much of black activism right now from the message Martin Luther King, jr. was preaching near the end of his life. There are important black radicals to be found, such as Angela Davis, but the mainstream doesn’t pay them much attention, at least for the time being.

What many have noted is that racism arose in a particular context and has been tangled up in other factors. The twin forces of modern history has been the racial order and the capitalist order, i.e., racism and classism. Capitalism, however, was a unique brand of classism that didn’t previously exist. It formed out of colonialism and globalization. We are experiencing the results of a centuries old project. The racial aspect evolved during that time and continues to evolve. A new racial narrative no doubt will form, but it won’t be what we can expect based on the past.

A shift is happening. We have to look at the clues to see what this means. We can’t simply force new challenges into old narratives and think we’ve got it all figured out. Mainstream rhetoric and bourgeois politics aren’t helpful.

I don’t know what this shift is. I’ve been following the trends for more than a decade now. I see a shift or shifts happening, but heck if I know what it all adds up to. What I do feel sure of is that it will be a game changer.

This is what draws my mind in the direction of radicalism. We need new thinking and language, new narratives and visions, new ways of organizing and forcing change. We meed to get to the root of what is happening. We need to harness this change with new understanding, rather than being harnessed by our own ignorance.

We are beyond the hope of minor reform. Activism needs to become radical again. Our complacency will not last, whether or not we are ready for what comes next. We might as well embrace change with open arms for change already has its grip on us.