9/6/2000 12:00:00 AM - Linda Chavez
The news that California has become the first majority minority state was bound to cause anxiety in some quarters, but who could imagine that the loudest voices would come from across the Atlantic? Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that non-Hispanic whites now make up only 49.8 percent of the California population, a story that generated headlines across the nation but only the mildest concern from most U.S. experts or ordinary Americans. But in England and elsewhere in Europe, the reaction of many bordered on the hysterical.
The newspaper The Guardian, for example, published a special report on race in Britain, which warned, "We're near a global watershed -- a time when white people will not be in the majority in the developed world, Britain included." Noting that the white population of Europe accounted for one quarter of the entire world population in 1900 and was three times as large as Africa's population, the Guardian reports that by 2050 Europe will constitute only 7 percent of the world's population, barely one third that of Africa's alone.
In England, as elsewhere in Europe, the problem is twofold: declining birthrates among whites and increased immigration from non-white countries. The newspaper quotes one demographer, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of being labeled a racist: "It's a matter of pure arithmetic that, if nothing else happens, non-Europeans will become a majority and whites a minority in the UK. That would probably be the first time an indigenous population has voluntarily become a minority in its historic homeland."
Of course, the same type of predictions abound in the United States, with the Census Bureau forecasting that non-Hispanic whites will become a minority of the American population by the year 2060. But what does this mean? Not much, I suspect- -- anymore than similar predictions nearly a century ago about the decline among the Anglo-Saxon population in the United States as millions of Italians, Greeks, Poles, Jews and others migrated to our shores.
It's easy to forget that Eastern and Southern European immigrants were viewed as "non-white" -- and inferior- -- just a few decades ago. As author Thomas Sowell reports, "As late as World War I, soldiers of Russian- -- mostly Jewish- -- origin averaged among the lowest mental test scores of any of the ethnic groups tested by the U.S. Army," leading a contemporary authority on testing to declare false "the popular belief that the Jew is highly intelligent."
What changed perceptions about these old 'newcomers'? Time and the melting pot. Long out of favor as a metaphor for the acculturation process in the United States, the melting pot, nonetheless, not only still exists but is more powerful and operates more rapidly than in the past. It took Italian Americans some 50 years, as a group, to catch up to the general U.S. population in education, for example, and several generations for rates of intermarriage with non-Italians to exceed those within the group. Asian Americans, among the nation's current newcomers, already surpass native-born whites in education levels. And between one third and one half of all young, U.S.-born Asian Americans and Hispanics now marry whites.
Indeed, it's this latter phenomenon that makes reports like the Census Bureau's almost silly. Who are these 'non-whites' that are becoming the majority? I suspect that many of them are people like me, my children and grandchildren. My blue-eyed, blonde mother's family came from England and Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries, while my father's family came from Spain to what is now New Mexico in the early 1600s. My children's father's family were Russian and Polish Jews who immigrated barely one hundred years ago. My two granddaughters will inherit not only this ethnic melange but the addition, from their respective mothers, of Scottish, Cuban, Ecuadoran and Italian heritages, as well. The Census Bureau will have to twist its categories into pretzels to define these kids.
When the year 2060 finally arrives, I doubt Americans will be wringing their hands about the 'disappearance' of the 'white' majority- -- anymore than most Californians are worried about it today. The whole idea of classifying people by their skin color- -- or the even less valid category of race- -- is such a throwback to 19th century thinking. Shouldn't the goal of 21st century be to abandon these categories altogether?
If the Europeans are really worried about being outnumbered, maybe they ought to try marrying their newcomers. It has worked wonders here.