(The Root) — Is it time to start saying goodbye to majority-white America? Maybe, according to census data and estimates out on Thursday.
The highlights that are getting the most attention: a prediction that, based on current rates of growth, whites in the under-5 age group are expected to slip to a minority this year or next; and another that in five years, minorities will make up more than half of all children under 18.
Plus, there's the finding that last year, for the first time, more non-Hispanic white people died than were born. And a reiteration of the prediction that the country's white majority will likely be minority by 2043.
The news inspired Gawker's Hamilton Nolan to write the tongue-in-cheek "Weep, Weep, for White America Is Dying" ("It is all very scary and sad. So please be sensitive on this somber day. If you see a white American such as Dick Cheney or Gawker staff writer Max Read crying today, embrace them in sympathy. They are contemplating perdición," he says), but no doubt there are some people out there who are legitimately fretting about these changes to what they know as the "real" America.
And what about nonwhite people? Are we supposed to be celebrating or something? That would be a little premature (and probably a lot misguided), according to the thinkers and leaders The Root spoke to for our Browner America series on America's demographic shifts. Here's what they had to say when we asked them what people should be focusing on more than the bare "majority-minority" numbers:
Professor and author Jelani Cobb:
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.
Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher:
I wish people would pay more attention to the idea that whether you're black, brown, white or what have you, we have far more in common than not. We have more value threads that join us together than people realize. It's important over the next decade or so for us to really connect those value threads and use those threads to pull us all together, as opposed to what you see from the Tea Party, for example. Regardless of what some might say, what you see there is not about the deficit; it is about some people being very uncomfortable with the way the country is changing …
Scholar and author Marcia Alesan Dawkins:
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.
Increasing rates of nonwhite births today in the U.S. does not automatically equal increasing social justice for tomorrow. More accurate ways to predict the end of inequality, for instance, would be the present-day elimination of disparities in income, employment, health care, education, housing, crime, punishment and family structure for this new generation, as well as their parents.
ColorOfChange.org Director Rashad Robinson:
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.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.):
… Here's what I believe people need to work on: We need to identify pockets of Americans who remain structurally left behind. And what I mean is, the [difference in the] rate of incarceration between blacks and whites is still very high. The [difference in the] rate of unemployment is still very high. We need to find ways to deal with that.
And we might not need a race-specific remedy to solve that problem. For example, if we just invested in transit in my district in Minnesota, it would allow communities of color to access jobs in suburban areas. It would allow minority contractors to be in on constructing the transit …
Read the entire Browner America series here.