The Census and Right-Wing Hysteria

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tags: census



Herbert J. Gans, a professor emeritus of sociology at Columbia, is the author of the forthcoming “Sociology and Social Policy.”

Several years ago, the Census Bureau began to predict that the United States would become a majority-minority nation by the 2040s — that African- and Asian-Americans, as well as Latinos, would outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Last year the census underlined its prediction by announcing that non-Hispanic white babies under the age of 1 were already in the minority.

These numbers have become a handy data point for whites fearful that they are being threatened and “overwhelmed” by a growing tide of darker-skinned people. In this way, the census may have unintentionally increased white racism, thereby justifying the longstanding Republican strategy of turning itself into a whites-first party. White fears probably even helped Donald Trump win the 2016 election.

Nonetheless, the “minority-majority” forecast, as it is commonly interpreted, is likely to be proven wrong. Not only could whites remain a majority well past midcentury, but they will retain political, economic and cultural control of the country long after that.

Simply put, the demographers have not taken into account how the perception of race is likely to change in the coming years. For example, whites are already seeing the descendants of some Asian and Latino immigrants as being similar to them. Consequently, whites treat them as white. This “whitening” process will only increase in the future.

The census prediction is based on at least five mistakes, all of them correctable. In an article last year in The American Prospect, the sociologist Richard Alba showed how the first three mistakes underestimated the likely growth of the population that views itself as white.





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