(The Root) — Recent census data reveal that, for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half of all children born in the United States, with 50.4 percent of children under age 1 identified as Hispanic, black, Asian American or members of another ethnic minority group.
In terms of the overall population, African Americans are the second-largest minority group in the nation (after Hispanics), with a 1.6 percent increase between 2010 and 2011. Minorities now make up nearly 37 percent of the overall U.S. population, and it’s predicted that by 2042, a minority of Americans will be non-Hispanic whites.
What do all of these numbers mean for our understanding of race, for the issues that affect communities of color and for our very concept of who is a “minority” in this country? The Root has gathered a variety of perspectives on the significance of America’s becoming a browner nation for a series of interviews on whether, and why, we should pay attention to these demographic changes.
For the fifth in the series, we spoke to Jelani Cobb, Ph.D., an associate professor of history and Africana studies at Rutgers University and author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress. He explained that a national focus on — and anxiety about — a decrease in the country’s white population is nothing new for the United States, and cited historical examples to prove that an increase in the population of blacks and Hispanics will by no means necessarily translate into an increase in political power for either group.
The Root: For the first time in U.S. history, most of the nation’s babies are members of minority groups, and the census has forecast that non-Hispanic whites will be outnumbered in the United States by 2042. What might be the positive and negative effects of these changing demographics when it comes to issues affecting communities of color?
Jelani Cobb: It’s hard to summarize it as positive or negative. I think a lot of things will be different. One, in raw numbers, large populations should translate into a larger share of political influence and cultural power. But that’s not necessarily the case. For instance, the number of Hispanics in the country is technically larger than the number of African Americans, but the Congressional Black Caucus is larger than the Congressional Hispanic Caucus because a large portion of the Hispanic population has not been organized. So, in and of itself, the demographic change doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
TR: The idea that America will be a “majority minority” nation gets a lot of attention. Is there anything you wish people would focus on instead of, or in addition to, the numbers?
JC: Oh, sure, there are other things, like what proportion of people are going to college? What proportion of people are going to prison? What are the median-income comparisons? What is the degree of political organization in communities? There are a ton of variables that are much more important.