(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.
There are differences in the issues that are priorities for our community — issues like criminal justice and immigration to different parts of the country where our number might be greater, and the different challenges geographically that come with that. It's important that when we're talking about similarities, we also hold up the uniqueness of our differences — and it's important that we don't create this paradigm that it's people of color versus white folks.
White people will still be the largest racial group in the country; they still hold the majority of power, both politically and economically. There's been a tremendous shift in wealth through the economic crisis, where black wealth and Latino wealth has decreased; black wealth is at its lowest point in the past 25 years. The numbers mean nothing without economic and political opportunity.
TR: Are we going to need a new vocabulary, a new word for "minority," when people of color become the majority?
RR: I guess I sort of want to push back against this term "people of color" itself. It's great from an organizing perspective, but our communities are unique, and we're just as unique to one another as we are to white folks.
TR: Do you see the demographic trends continuing, and if they do, will that affect the work you do or the issues you focus on at all?
RR: For ColorOfChange, our goal is to empower the voices of black folks and make sure that democracy works for them, and I don't think that's gonna change. Black people are nowhere near the majority in this country, and there's no sign that that's coming anytime soon.
Our work will continue. And that will require us to engage other communities — our Latino, Asian and white sisters and brothers who want to stand with us and make our voices heard. We'll have to do real work to make sure we're engaging people from all backgrounds on the issues facing our communities.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.