For the first time in U.S. history, non-white births accounted for the majority of all births in 2011, according to data recently released by the U.S. Census. Minorities, which include Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and those of mixed race, made up 50.4% of all babies born in the 12-month period ending in July 2011. “Whites” still represent 63.4% of the total U.S. population but the census data marks a significant tipping point in the demographic structure of the country, and will set off a wave of questions about how this trend will affect national policy.
The big question is can America handle shifting from a nation with a white majority, to a majority-minority country? History has shown that within the same geographic boundaries, as one particularly dominant group is threatened by the growing rise of another, political and social struggles often ensue. How will the majority react over the next several decades as its status changes to “minority"? Also, will the fact that a more diverse young population will be paying for the Social Security and Medicare entitlements of a predominantly “white” elderly population exacerbate any tension?
At the end of the day, despite being predominantly white, the U.S. has always been a heterogeneous country made up of homogenous enclaves -- people forming communities based on pre-conceived identities. Places like the North End, the Castro, Harlem, Olvera Street and Kiryas Joel are testaments to that. Additionally, America is not inexperienced with the situation of shifting demographics. Let’s not forget that many of the people included in the “white” category today—Italians, Jews, the Irish, and eastern Europeans—were perceived as minorities less than 100 years ago. There were certainly moments of xenophobia, violence, and social injustice, but in the end, there was acceptance, tolerance, and eventually integration. Half of Hispanics already self-identify as white, according to research conducted by the Pew Hispanic center.
All of this really begs the question of what “white” means in this country. Or for that matter, what "race" is in general? Historically, it has been a social construction used to categorize people based upon external phenotypes for the purposes of division and oppression. Perhaps the sooner we realize that, the sooner data like this will become less important.