Anxiety Over Racial Changes: Nothing New

Browner America: But demographic shifts might not mean more black political power, Jelani Cobb says.

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TR: As more Americans have nonwhite ancestry, will the definition of whiteness itself be affected?

JC: No. I think the definition of whiteness in this country has always been fluid. It's always been subjective, and these dynamics won't make it change any more than it already has. There's never been a unified idea of whiteness. For example, a person who's white anywhere else might not be white in New Orleans.

Even well into the 20th century, there were restrictive covenants that would prevent Jews from living in certain areas. There was residential segregation. Now, in America, people think of Jews as just one particular variety of white person -- just like a person of Italian descent, Irish or Eastern European. The definition has always been fluid. It's hard to predict how it will change in the future, but that it will continue to change is not that hard to see.

TR: Do you see the demographic trends continuing, and if they do, will that affect the work you do?

JC: Besides, of course, that there will be more people in the African-American-studies department, I honestly don't know whether they will.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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