The Future of the 'Tan Generation'

Browner America: Marcia Alesan Dawkins says an increase in nonwhite births doesn't mean more social justice.

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Courtesy of Marcia Alesan Dawkins

(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 second in the series, The Root talked to Marcia Alesan Dawkins, visiting scholar at Brown University and author of the forthcoming Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity. She describes her extensive writing on racial identity as an expression of her interest in "how people figure out who they are and how they connect with others," and has warned against rushing to assume that demographic changes will do away with America's troubled racial past.

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?

Marcia Alesan Dawkins: As with any demographic shift, there will be positive and negative outcomes we can anticipate. On the positive side, this new "tan generation" might have a broader and more progressive view of social and political issues -- such as immigration reform, education reform and civil rights -- based on changing ideas about race and ethnicity. There will also be cultural changes, as there have been in recent years with changing definitions of who or what is an American, for example.

The increased numbers of people of color also represent a larger potential pool of candidates who will be eligible to run for political office and enter fields like law, technology and education -- or start new businesses aimed at meeting new needs -- where some changes can be enacted.

On the negative side, we must know now how many of these children are born into economically disadvantaged environments and make sure that proper reforms are enacted today to ensure equality of opportunity for the tan generation. In addition, we must account for a sharp rise in white-supremacist groups who feel that they are now acting on behalf of all white Americans as a besieged minority group.

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?

MAD: Yes, two things: vocabulary and power. In terms of vocabulary, the phrase "majority minority" just isn't accurate. Not only is it an oxymoron, but it also subtly implies that the balance of power has shifted along with the ratio of white-to-nonwhite births. Using the term "majority minority" implies that white supremacy disappears, but that's just wishful thinking. All we have to do to see evidence of this is to look at South Africa, where, even though whites are in the numerical "minority," they hold the most political power.