The “Coming White Minority”: Brazilianization or South-Africanization of U.S.?

To understand the so-called “browning of America” and “coming white minority,” we should accent the larger societal context, the big-picture context including systemic racism. “Browning of America” issues have become important in the West mainly because whites are very worried about this demographic trend. Black-British scholar, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, has noted that whites are fearful

because for such a long time the world has been their own. . . . There is an underlying assumption that says white is right. . . . There is a white panic every time one part of their world seems to be passing over to anyone else. . . . There was this extraordinary assumption that white people could go and destroy peoples and it would have no consequence.

Let us consider a few reasonable, albeit speculative, extrapolations of current social science data to social changes from now to the 2050s:

(1) Dramatic demographic changes are coming: According to US Census projections this country will become much less white, with the greatest relative growth in the Latino, Asian, and multiracial populations. By 2050 it will be about 439 million people, with a majority of people of color (53 percent), the largest group being Latino (30 percent). Long before, a majority of students and younger workers will be of color. Over coming decades immigrant workers of color and their descendants will keep more cities from economic decline. Census data for 2050 indicate the oldest population cohort will be disproportionately white and younger cohorts will be disproportionately people of color–thereby overlaying a racial divide with a generational divide, probably generating racial-generational conflicts (See William Frey, The Diversity Explosion).

(2) This growing population of color will likely mean significant increases in an array of significant US socio-racial patterns, including interracial relationships and marriages, number of multiracial Americans, more diversity in media presentations, and a major religious shift in direction of (Latin American) Catholicism and Asian religions. (In 2050 white Christians will probably be only about 30 percent of the population.)

(3) Uneven changes in still high racial (residential) segregation will occur: At the census tract level, we will likely see variable but decreasing group segregation within cities (for example, Latino replacement of whites or blacks, scattered white gentrification). At the larger metropolitan area level, we are likely to see continuing, substantial racial segregation (less-white inner suburbs or central city areas versus disproportionately white outer suburbs, exurbia, smaller cities). (On this macro-segregation, see D. Lichter et alia here) Likely thus is significant white migration favoring these segregated, white-run political entities, such as in the inner areas of the West. Likely too is significant continuing migration of immigrants and other people of color to coastal cities, but also increasingly to cities across the country. These migrations will increase regional diversity, but not necessarily at the metropolitan area level within them.

(4) The growing fear of ordinary whites about increases in Americans of color seems based substantially on concern about losing much racial privilege and related social status, and probably about more egalitarian interactions with those deemed inferior. Social science research has long shown that the relative size of black or nonwhite populations correlates not only with occupational, income, educational, health inequalities, and voter suppression efforts, but also with white racist attitudes, support for public programs, and votes for conservative candidates. With growing populations of color, many ordinary whites are likely to continue to insist on what W. E. B. Du Bois called the “public and psychological wage of whiteness” (white privilege, racial inequalities) as they accept more elite white actions harming them socioeconomically.

(5) Modest change will occur in a still oligarchical society. Elite white men will still run this country in their interest, with increased elite representation of white women. For centuries they have ruled as a minority and conceivably can do that for many more years. In the capitalistic economy there will be continuing large-scale inequality and control by a mostly white corporate elite, with token infusions of executives and professionals of color. Just below that elite, important professional and managerial spheres will remain disproportionately white. Great technological change will continue, substantially rooted in computerized automation of perhaps half of current U.S. jobs, thereby probably increasing unemployment–especially for the then majority of working and lower middle class workers of color). Income and wealth inequalities along racial/class lines will likely stay very substantial. Internationally, however, the U.S. is likely to lose some of its dominant position economically and politically as the world becomes more polycentric, with other countries becoming more powerful, most predominantly of color.

(6) Some significant changes in a firmly oligarchic government system are coming: We will have a majority of voters of color in many areas, but continuing undemocratic political institutions—nationally, an unelected Supreme Court, unrepresentative Senate, and unrepresentative Congress controlled directly or indirectly by the white elite’s political-economic power. Major political organizations will see more diversification as people of color participate more; the Democratic Party will probably become the major political party in numerous legislative bodies. (Liberal representatives of color will likely often replace white liberals, with less net change in liberal political influence.) U.S. foreign policy is likely to shift to a greater emphasis on Latin America, Asia, and Africa, because other countries are becoming more economically and militarily powerful.

At the local political level, we will likely observe significant political change, with many places having majorities of voters of color and greater representation for them and their perspectives. Some whites will try to create political coalitions with more “acceptable” middle class people of color. At local, state, and national levels, we will likely see conflict between (often younger) voters of color seeking greater political representation and necessary public services (e.g., good schools) and disproportionately older white voters (led by the white elite) who view many public services as “black/brown” services and fight as propertied taxpayers to keep government taxes and regulation low–preserving white political-economic interests. Impoverished communities of color will continue to suffer disproportionate overcrowding, poverty, and environmental racism (aggravated by major climate change). Over coming decades, white political and economic leaders will persist in a “neoliberal” emphasis on government austerity, deregulation, privatization, and lower taxes, protecting their elite interests. (See the pioneering work of Randy Hohle on racism and neoliberalism)

Additionally, the demographic trend toward a “majority minority” country will itself do little to redress the major effects of past racial oppression. Huge losses in people and resources suffered by Native Americans, the first victims of genocidal oppression, and of African Americans, the first whose labor was stolen on a large scale, top the list, but the oppression costs suffered by other groups of color, including Asian Americans and Latinos, are also massive. Few costs are likely to be dealt with by government redress in a world where whites still have disproportionate political-economic power. Generationally inherited unjust enrichments for whites from past oppressions will make major structural change very difficult.

A Panoramic View: Brazilianization or South-Africanization?

In recent years numerous scholars and media analysts have suggested the idea of significantly greater racial intermediation coming as the U.S. becomes much less white. Taking a panoramic view, they suggest a future that involves a “Brazilianization” or “Latinization’ of the United States.

Brazil’s racialization process has distinguished large mixed-race, mostly lighter-skinned groups and placed them in a middling status between Brazilians of mostly African ancestry and those of heavily European ancestry. Middle groups are relatively more affluent, politically powerful, and acceptable to dominant white Brazilians, who still mostly rule powerfully at the top of the economy and politics. About half the population, darker-skinned Afro-Brazilians and indigenous Brazilians, remains very powerless economically and politically. Possibly, in the U.S. case by 2050, a developed tripartite Brazilian pattern—with increasing and large but white-positioned intermediate racial groups, such as lighter-skinned middle class groups among Asian Americans and Latinos, moving up with greater economic and socio-political power and providing a racial buffer between powerful “whites” and powerless “blacks” and other darker-skinned people of color. Even then, it seems likely that many in U.S. middle groups will find their white-framed immigration, citizenship positions, or other inferiorized status still negatively affecting additional mobility opportunities.

An alternative future for the United States is somewhat different, at least in emphasis, what one might term “South-Africanization.” Both scenarios see whites in substantial economic control, but South-Africanization suggests, even if people of color gain large-scale political power, they will be severely handicapped by whites holding economic power. With the downfall of apartheid in South Africa two decades ago, black South Africans gained direct political control, but very modest increases in economic power. (Black South Africans are substantial majority of the population but control maybe 10 percent of the corporate economy.) From its beginning as a European colony, a large black African majority has been economically controlled by a small white minority. South Africa has an essentially two-category system, since intermediate groups of Asian and mixed-race citizens remain relatively small (if more powerful than blacks). This pattern might be an alternative U.S. future, with ever increasing Americans of color eventually gaining very substantial political power in local and national political systems, especially in areas where they are large majorities. Yet that political system will be one where the mostly white economic elite remains firmly in control of the national economy and will also directly or indirectly control most important policymaking by top officials, white or not-white, especially on major economic developments. As in South Africa, Americans of color will not gain major control at the top of the capitalistic system where much societal power lies. That has not happened in South Africa, and seems very unlikely for the U.S. over coming decades.

In my view, thus, the so-called “browning of America” and “coming white minority” will mostly mean a major demographic shift and probably modest political-economic changes, rather than a major departure from this country’s systemic white dominance in all its major, mostly undemocratic institutions.

Test-ocratic Merit vs. Democratic Merit?

What are the benefits of a college education in a diverse democracy? Research indicates that these benefits include the ability to strengthen critical thinking, to provide students with the capacity for leadership, problem-solving, and creativity, and to strengthen social agency and pluralistic orientation for careers and citizenship in a global society. Yet is the inordinate emphasis on college entrance aptitude tests really a measure of merit and of the abilities of potential college students to develop these needed competencies?

Lani Guinier’s new book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (Beacon Press, 2015) describes how higher education has drifted from a mission-driven to an admission-driven system, focused almost exclusively on the predictive value of the SAT-type tests for success in the first-year of college. In fact, as she notes, the SAT only has a modest correlation with freshman-year grades, whereas grades in the four years of high school are a much stronger predictor of academic success. Guinier asserts that the SAT’s most reliable value is as a proxy for wealth in its norming to white, upper-middle class performance, as shown by the average SAT test scores based on ethnicity.

Alluding to the “Volvo effect” in Andrew Ferguson’s book, Crazy U Professor Guinier refers to the inordinate amount of funding and effort placed by wealthy parents on preparing their children for college entrance exams. As she explains, “Aptitude tests do not predict leadership, emotional intelligence, or the capacity to work with others to contribute to society” (p. 26). As a result, she calls for a culture shift in terms of how we evaluate merit in terms of “democratic values” rather than “testocratic machinery.”

An important insight from this thought-provoking book is that democratic merit within an institution of higher education is defined by context. As such, the definition of merit crystallizes the mission and purposes of the institution and necessarily involves choices about which characteristics of the applicant pool are valuable. This definition is particularly germane to discussions about affirmative action in the wake of the 2013 Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin Supreme Court case that will be reheard this fall on appeal.

In the Fisher ruling, the Supreme Court has determined that colleges and universities must exhaust race-neutral alternatives before consideration of race-conscious factors in a holistic admissions process. Guinier indicates that Fisher and other affirmative action opponents have singled out race, before any other admissions criterion such as musical ability or athletic accomplishment, as undeserving of consideration. A perhaps unintended benefit of the Court’s ruling, however, is that colleges and universities must proactively re-examine their mission statements for the ways in which these statements articulate the importance of diversity. As Alvin Evans and I point out in our new book, Affirmative Action at a Crossroads: Fisher and Forward (Jossey-Bass, 2015) the Fisher decision brings the institutional context for diversity into the foreground, since a college or university’s specific rationale for a diverse student body needs to be framed in the context of mission, vision, and values statements.

In Guinier’s view an “obsessive culture of testing” obscures the emphasis on developing student potential and results in institutions that lack meaningful race and class diversity. From this perspective, the attainment of democracy learning outcomes in the undergraduate experience cannot rely on a single, weak predictor of first-year success such as the SAT, but instead requires an educational focus consistent with institutional mission that nurtures individual talent and fosters the access and success of a diverse student body.

Least Equal States: New Mexico, Arizona at Top

Matt Bruenig at Demos has spreadsheet/map (disposable income) of least egalitarian states, with the most inegalitarian ten all in South and Southwest, with New Mexico, Arizona, California in the top three. He concludes thus about the ventiles (ventile=1/20)and percentiles (see @billmon1 for nice map):

Mississippi is quite poor. In both equivalized and per capita income, Mississippi is in last or second-to-last place for every ventile except the 5th percentile in equivalized income where it is in third-to-last place.

New Hampshire outperforms everywhere except the top. In both equivalized and per capita income, New Hampshire is ranked number one at every ventile until you get to the 70th or 75th percentile, at which point it gives way to New Jersey and Connecticut. Even at the higher percentiles, however, New Hampshire remains in the top 5 or 6 states.

Vermont is the most equal. In both equivalized and per capita income, Vermont has the lowest P90/P10 ratio, the second-to-lowest P90/P50 ratio (behind Minnesota), and the lowest P50/P10 ratio.

New Mexico is the least equal? In equivalized income, New Mexico has the highest P90/P10 ratio, the highest P90/P50 ratio, and the second-to-highest P50/P10 ratio (behind Arkansas). In per capita income, New Mexico has the highest P90/P10 ratio, the highest P90/P50 ratio, and the fourth-to-highest P50/P10 ratio (behind Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma in that order).