Don't Put All Nonwhites in One Bucket

Browner America: Rashad Robinson says that demographic shifts won't affect ColorOfChange.org's mission.

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Rashad Robinson (Sonia Recchia/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 third in the series, The Root talked to Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, which is the nation's largest online African-American political organization. His professional mission focuses on making the government more responsive to the concerns of black Americans and ensuring that the voices of all Americans, regardless of race of class, are heard.

With a perspective grounded in the idea that "black people have never been a majority in this nation, and that's not changing anytime soon," Robinson explains his gripe with the term "people of color," why it's a mistake to think the interests of all nonwhite people are aligned, and how to keep the discussion of racial equality focused on political and economic power rather than numbers.

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, from your perspective, might be the positive and negative effects of these changing demographics when it comes to issues affecting communities of color?

Rashad Robinson: As our community grows, there are opportunities for increased political power, and to have greater numbers means the opportunity to have greater influence on the type of issues that are taken up in this country. The challenge is if we simply concentrate on the numbers and don't focus on how to mobilize or engage the voices or everyday people.

Also, it's critical not to think that any of these groups are going to be monoliths. It's going to be important for us to organize and engage to do the kind of tough work within our communities to make sure that people are participating politically and are engaged in their communities.

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?

RR: The numbers only tell part of the story. It's important to focus on -- as much as the country is changing -- [the fact] that all the various communities are different. To just sort of lump folks who are not white into ... a bucket and to say that they all share the same hopes and dreams, and their communities [face] the same challenges, would be a mistake. As much as there are opportunities for collaboration and connection between various communities, it's important that we're not painting all nonwhites with the same brush.

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