Thursday, December 17, 2009

The emerging white minority

A press release from the AP claims that
The estimated time when whites will no longer make up the majority of Americans has been pushed back eight years — to 2050 — because the recession and stricter immigration policies have slowed the flow of foreigners into the U.S.
Sadly, this prediction, if true, will not necessarily beckon the end of racism in America. If anything, it might--absent other changes--make racism that much more egregious. At least when whites are in a majority, one might plausibly, if unapprovingly, that one reason for pro-white/anti-person of color racism is the "natural" result of whites being in the majority. But I suspect that whites becoming the minority would not erase white privilege. It might still be, even 40 years from now, easier to be white in terms of getting a job than it would be to be a person of color. (All other things being equal, of course: in some sectors, it is sometimes easier for women and persons of color to get hired, but the end result appears to be systemic marginalization of the non-white.)

Of course, demographic changes change things. And my view is one of pessimism.


Laura(southernxyl) said...

My daughter's workplace is heavily Hispanic. It's led to some funny experiences. My daughter has blue eyes and (naturally) blond hair; and the color of her skin has caused some of her coworkers to tell her "White like paper! White like the wall!" and to shake their heads, "Blanco, blanco, blanco!" They have teased her that she couldn't be an American, that she is too white - "Scandinavian? Czechoslovakian?" And yet the other day another coworker asked her, seriously, if she is white. I cannot imagine her being asked that question back in Memphis b/c it would seem to be self-evident.

It must be that "white", like "happiness" in that old song, means different things to different people. It can mean having light skin, or it can mean self-identifying as white rather than something else, or it apparently can mean privilege and insisting upon privilege. I think sometimes people conflate these things - assuming that a person with white skin is selfish, clueless, and entitled, for instance, because "white" in one sense must mean "white" in the others - and I think that is one of the many things that hold back improvements in race relations.

theolderepublicke said...


I like the example of your daughter, and it is somewhat relevant to a point I wanted to make, but was only tangentially related to what I was trying to say in the post: what counts as "white" can vary from time and place, and census categories are by necessity artificial. I believe "hispanic" as an ethnic-racial category was added only in 1970 or so, although I stand to be corrected on which census exactly was the first to use it. Not to mention that "hispanic" refers to such a wide array of cultures and phenotypes that it's hard to pin down.

On your last point, that people sometimes conflate white skin implies that a person is automatically selfish, entitled, etc., I agree, but with qualifications. On the one hand, I do resent it when people attribute those qualities to me because I am white or a male, even as I'm not entirely convinced that my selfishness, sense of entitlement, etc., is not in some way related to a sense of white/male privilege. I resent it, in other words, because a stranger might make such an assumption without knowing me first.

The qualifications to what I just said:

1. Regardless of whether I feel entitled because of my whiteness or maleness, I do believe I enjoy certain privileges as a result of being white and male.

2. And I probably will not voluntarily abrogate those privileges; and what's more, I'm not entirely convinced that such abrogation is a moral imperative. It probably is on a large scale--I think it's generally a good thing to fight invidious discrimination in the workplace, for example--but on a personal level, abrogation of one's own privilege is very hard to do and to a certain extent one has to get along with what one has, whether it is something that's earned or not. In other words, there's a definite short-term gain in not self-abrogating one's privilege and an uncertain long-term gain in choosing to self-abrogate one's own privilege. (Perhaps this last point is an example of my own sense of privilege and entitlement?)

3. The phenomenon of being judged based on superficial qualities--which I do as much as the next person--is certainly not unique to white people (a point I assume you agree with but didn't say because that's not what my original post was about....I just raise it now to bring it out there.)

Laura(southernxyl) said...

One of the things that I find most irritating is being lectured about my privilege by someone who has never made the slightest effort to get to know me. I wrote about one such incident here. I think it is the height of irony for a person to look at my skin and proceed to explain to me what a racist I must be.

As to setting aside your privilege - well, I've been thinking about that a lot and will probably cough up a blog post on the subject one of these days. Setting aside privilege could be a concrete thing. I read somewhere about a white person who visited a small town in Louisiana or somewhere, lined up behind a young black man at a store, and the black man stepped aside immediately to offer his place. That kind of privilege I hope any of us would set aside on the spot. A more subtle kind of privilege is one I see all the time on the Volokh Conspiracy - it's male-norming. Use of the generic "he" pronoun to mean women too, except that it doesn't really, as demonstrated by the writer's attitude. And an example of that was a recent post about more intelligent women having a stronger sex drive, presumably making VC's "readers" happy (not "male readers"). Or the idea that if something doesn't appear sexist to the man contemplating it, then it isn't sexist. If it doesn't bother him, then it's not a problem. OK, I'll shut up now and save it for my own blog!

theolderepublicke said...


Sorry it's been a while since I've checked my blog.

I do remember the blog post you refer to at the Volokh conspiracy, and I think your assessment accurately reflects the culture on that blog (and on at least one other blog I read). In fact, I myself have been guilty of using "male-norming" language and tone. (Sometimes I get tripped up because I think the various attempts to avoid male-norming or sexist language are ascending order of inelegance: using plurals to avoid gender-specific pronouns, using "he/she" or "he or she," or (the worst) writing "s/he" and "s/his.") Of course, you are discussing more than just pronouns.

As for setting aside privilege, I had not actually thought about the type of example you mention from Louisiana. Yes, I would hope that I would set aside my own privilege in such a situation. My principal comment is that in my experience, it is rare that I encounter my privilege so starkly and obviously.

I think I was referring to the type of privilege that cannot be set aside, at least not easily. For example, if being white gives me an edge in being hired for a job--such as when the employer honestly believes he or she isn't racist but still lets the race of job candidates influence the hiring decision--I would have a hard time even knowing how to surrender privilege in that situation.

I do share your frustration at being assumed to be racist when the assumer does not have cause to know me. I have even been lectured on a few occasions about what a racist I must be when the situation (in my opinion) did not merit such a lecture. I do try (not always successfully) to keep my frustration in check, however, by reminding myself that such assumptions do not arise in a vacuum, that the person making assumptions might have had ample experience with others to condition him or her to believe that most white people are racist, that I can be and often am racist (and sexist), and that few situations are so clear that the right and the wrong are obvious.

I said I "try" to remind myself of these things. Doing so is not always easy.