The New Word for ‘Minority’ Is ‘American’

Browner America: But, says pollster Cornell Belcher, demographic changes will spur political tumult.

Cornell Belcher (The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Cornell Belcher (The Washington Post/Getty Images)

(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 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 fourth in the series, we spoke to Cornell Belcher, president of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies, a boutique polling firm based in Washington, D.C., where he designs opinion and market research for political, policy and corporate clients. Belcher served as a pollster for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and is the first African American to serve as a pollster for either national party. He told us why that he thinks threats to voting rights in the South are the “opening shots” in a period of political turmoil set off by the country’s demographic changes, and that those changes are a call to action to acknowledge the “value threads that hold us together,” versus those that divide us.

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?

Cornell Belcher: From a political standpoint, you’re going to see monumental shifts over the next decade, and we’re going to see a period in politics as tumultuous as the 1960s. We’re going to see a shift as far as who, demographically, we are. Political power is never given up without a fight. This is already starting to unfold in the South, in central battleground states like Texas. We’re seeing the purging of people of color from voting rolls in places like Florida. These are the opening shots in the battle, as the demographics are changing rapidly. You’re going to see a browner electorate, and an electorate that is ideologically different than it is right now. So, I’m optimistic, but I think we’re going to see a very tumultuous decade politically because of these changes.