Jonathan Tilove

My Life As A Race Writer

Are white Americans ready to be a minority?

July 5, 1998 


Newhouse News Service 
(First in a two-part series)

Quick. Imagine an American. Is your American white?

Come the middle of the next century, according to the best estimates, most Americans won’t be.

To those who welcome the prospect, as well as those who dread it, it represents a demographic transformation without peer or precedent in history _ a nation freely surrendering its historic racial and ethnic majority.

If it happens _ ”if” because the projections are based on immigration from Latin America and Asia continuing at current high levels _ it is a transformation that cannot help but challenge existing notions of what it means to be white, redefine the content and character of race relations and metamorphose the look and feel of American identity.

It is a prospect that would have appalled the Founding Fathers, who by modern standards were stone racists. But today it is heralded by President Clinton and his race advisory board as a given and as something good _ good because diversity is good and because America is an idea and a promise not bound by blood or color.

Despite the trend’s sweeping implications, rarely is a public rejoinder heard. For a white person to acknowledge fear or suggest limiting immigration to keep the nation mostly white sounds to the modern ear both racist and un-American.

But lurking beneath this patina of acceptance and looming between demographic projection and reality is a primordial question _ at once stunningly obvious and surprisingly unasked: Are whites really ready and willing to become a minority?

For now, the answer comes in the myriad, conflicting ways people live their lives every day. It is answered in the growing embrace of friendship and love across color lines, but also in the swelling exodus of whites to whiter states, gated communities and private schools.

Whites, meaning non-Hispanic whites, are _ like everyone else _ a diverse people. Even single individuals may blend exhilaration and apprehension at the remaking of their America. Each subsequent generation displays more comfort across racial and ethnic lines than the last. And the ultimate answer rests with those yet to be born.

To Clinton, an America without a white majority is a worthy destiny.

As he put it a year ago to a small gathering of black columnists, ”Along with our founding, which was an act of genius, and the freeing of slaves in the Civil War and the long civil rights movement, this will arguably be the third great revolution of America, if we can prove that we literally can live without having a dominant European culture.”

It is a prospect, in the estimation of Raymond Winbush, director of the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, already provoking white political reaction even as it tantalizes today’s minorities with the promise of power. Unlike whites, Winbush says, ”People of color tend to dread the past and romanticize the future.”

But University of Florida law professor Juan Perea, who sees a mounting white backlash against Latinos and Asians, cautions that ”more people of color doesn’t mean we get more power.”

Polls, on balance, indicate a wary tolerance among whites toward the nation’s changing complexion, though most would prefer less immigration, slower change.

In a commencement address in June at Portland (Ore.) State University, Clinton captured the concern that ”unless we handle this well, immigration of this sweep and scope could threaten the bonds of our union.”

Some Americans, Clinton acknowledged, ”feel unsettled. . . . They’re afraid the America they know and love is becoming a foreign land.”

Count Sally Vaughn among the unsettled

”When Clinton came out and said, ‘We will not have a dominant European culture,’ I’m thinking, ‘Has anybody put any thought into this? Why is that a good thing? What is our country going to be like if we don’t have a dominant common culture?’ ” asks Vaughn. ”Why is it wrong to want to preserve our culture and way of life?”

Count Sally Vaughn among the resettled.

Last year, Vaughn and her husband, a retired truck driver, moved from San Jose, Calif., which is less than half white, to Cheyenne, Wyo., which remains as white as America was when John Wayne rode herd on the cultural landscape.

”I was a ticking time bomb in San Jose,” says Vaughn, who founded the Italian Issues Forum there. Her grandparents immigrated from Italy. ”In California, it’s just turned into warring ethnic groups and these hypersensitive hyphenated Americans all accusing each other.”

She recalls a visit to Cheyenne:

”We went to a local saloon and there were black people, there were some Latinos, some native Americans and a lot of white people all mixing with each other, and I noticed they never talked about whether they were African-American or part of the European community. They all talked about being members of the Cheyenne community.”

And when the talk turned to how the town ran a Mexican gang out of Cheyenne, ”I turned to my husband and said, ‘Well, babe, this is the place for us.’ ”

”I feel like I’m an American again,” says Vaughn. ”I feel like I moved back to the America of my youth.”

But, back in California, Vaughn’s three stepchildren married people of Mexican, Filipino and Puerto Rican ancestry, and all her grandchildren, she says, identify more strongly with their non-European side.

Chris Norby, a high school history teacher in Orange County, Calif., is wedded to the changes that have swept over his lifelong hometown of Fullerton.

Norby’s wife is a Chinese immigrant, and at his son’s eighth birthday party recently most every child was an ethnic mix of some sort, including a child whose father is of Lithuanian Jewish descent, and whose mother, of Mexican ancestry, has a great uncle living in the oldest house in California, a 1795 adobe in San Juan Capistrano.

”There wasn’t a single white kid at my kid’s party, and here I am a WASP and it doesn’t matter. It was an American party with American boys,” says Norby.

Orange County was always the purest press of fresh-squeezed white, middle- class, conservative Republican values. It is now among the most ethnically diverse acreage on Earth.

But Norby, a Republican former mayor who still serves on the council, says a homeowner is a homeowner.

So why do California’s racial politics seem so polarized?

”It’s sensationalized by people on the left that sort of ballyhoo this sort of multiculturalist line that all these minority groups are going to take over, and it feeds the fear on the right that we’re going to lose America to these masses that don’t look like us,” says Norby.

”Both see the demise of the white race,” says John Miller, author of ”The Unmaking of Americans.” ”One says, ‘Good riddance’ and the other says, ‘Load your guns.’ ‘

But despite Miller’s concern, expressed in the subtitle of his book, ”How Multiculturalism Has Undermined America’s Assimilation Ethic,” Miller believes rising intermarriage rates will undermine existing racial categories and defuse the issue of the lost white majority.

”In the future,” he says, ”everyone will have a Korean grandmother.”

At present, fewer than one in 20 whites marry outside their race, and most intermarriages of any kind occur in a handful of states, fully a quarter in California alone.

The point here, according to University of Michigan demographer William Frey, is that immigration and intermarriage are highly concentrated. Vast stretches of America may remain mostly white, even as whites become a minority nationally. Whites, like Vaughn, who want to reclaim majority status can move to that whiter America. In the last dozen years, millions have.

But those movers don’t tend to be the shakers, in the view of San Diego psychiatrist William Grier, who co-authored the book ”Black Rage.”

”They’re marginal people in my experience,” says Grier. ”The white people who have a stake in California are building houses overlooking the Pacific. . . . Their sleep is not disturbed.”

It is further evidence, says sociologist Frederick Lynch, author of ”The Diversity Machine,” that class matters.

The more affluent benefit from cheap immigrant labor, don’t compete with it and can afford to send their children to private schools and live high above the fray.

Likewise, he says, most whites are undisturbed by a neighbor of color if the neighbor is thoroughly middle class.

Going to Aurora

Jim Johnson has heard there is a billboard somewhere in Texas advising Mexican immigrants, ”Go to Aurora.”

What he knows is that they have come to the aging industrial city due west of Chicago where he lives and now represent close to a third of the community and a much bigger chunk of the public school population.

Johnson, retired after 32 years working at Caterpillar Inc., is astonished by what he sees at the grinding wheel factory where he works part time as a janitor. The work force is strictly segregated with whites at the top, Polish immigrants in the middle and Hispanics doing the dirtiest work at the bottom.

Some neighborhoods have declined with the rush of new arrivals, and deadly gang violence has become Aurora’s greatest worry. But Johnson’s children still live in Aurora, though they send their children not to the public schools that served them well but to Aurora Christian Academy, annual tuition $3,000.

”It’s safer,” Johnson explains.

No great drama or confrontation has attended the browning of Aurora. But, says Johnson, ”If you listen closely you can hear the resentment.”

There are places where you don’t have to listen all that closely.

English is the official language of Allentown, Pa., thanks to City Councilor Emma Trapiano. ”If I go into a Home Depot, everything’s in another language,” complains Trapiano, a child of Italian immigrants. ”I’m just so sick of it. We might be losing America.”

In Allentown, the growing population is Puerto Rican (Note: Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, and people born there are automatically American citizens), and Trapiano’s latest crusade is to change what she says is the Puerto Rican habit of twisting their curtains into a wrinkled knot instead of neatly drawing or tying them back.

She recalls explaining this to the amazement of a Puerto Rican college student who had come to interview her.

”He’s looking at me, ‘Isn’t this America?’ I said, ‘Yes, and if you feel you want to be an American and you want a nice home, that part of having a nice home is when your curtains hang, they hang nice.”

Trapiano’s tribulations are not unique.

Palisades Park, N.J., whose Asian and Hispanic communities are among the fastest-growing in the nation, enacted a business curfew aimed at closing all- night Korean restaurants and karaoke clubs _ places to unwind after working two jobs _ while explicitly exempting ”American-style diners” in order to protect the town’s one all-night diner, which is owned by Greek-Americans.

Carbon County, Pa., with a Hispanic population of less than 1 percent, passed an English-only resolution, only to find that it had to remove the Latin word ”aperite” (open) from its 150th anniversary time capsule.

By contrast, the state of North Carolina, with a Hispanic population of less than 2 percent, is training all 419 of its driving examiners in Spanish.

Shifting the balance

America’s racial balance began to dramatically shift after the 1965 immigration reform bill that, lifted by the spirit of an ascendant civil rights movement, ended national origin quotas that had been imposed in 1924 precisely to keep America from changing.

America in 1965 was more than 80 percent white and about 10 percent black. By 2050, it is projected America will be barely half white, 26 percent Hispanic, 14 percent black and 8 percent Asian. (”White” refers to non-Hispanic white.)

To Perea, the University of Florida law professor and a child of immigrants from Colombia and Costa Rica, the changing America is long overdue. Were it not for the nation’s long history of racism, says Perea, ”who knows if we would have a white majority today.”

But to Jared Taylor, white America had, and has, the same right as any other nation or people to preserve its distinct identity.

Taylor heads an organization called American Renaissance, headquartered in Fairfax County, Va. It is dedicated to raising white racial consciousness in defense of maintaining its majority.

His maxim: ”We have the right to be us, and only we can be us.”

Taylor acknowledges that beginning in the 1960s, ”My point of view on these questions went from being one that everyone took for granted to one that everyone disputes.”

But, he says, if whites aren’t with him in theory, they are in practice.

”When you get demographic change like this, whites clear out,” says Taylor. ”The real irony is that they have set in motion forces that will make the entire nation into a neighborhood white people refuse to live in.”

John Tanton, founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports a moratorium on immigration, believes some sort of white consciousness will emerge as whites lose their numerical edge and political ”punch” because ”most people don’t want to disappear into the dustbin of history.”

And when whites figure out some politically acceptable way to express that consciousness, Tanton says, it will be ”the war of each against all; bellum omnium contra omnis.”

To some, on both the left and right, that white consciousness is already well in evidence in the debate _ and in the vote on successive California ballot initiatives _ on immigration, affirmative action and language.

California is on the precipice of no longer having a white majority, and John R. Blackwell II, a white corrections officer who lives outside Sacramento, says that explains the 1996 statewide vote in favor of Prop. 209 ending affirmative action.

”It had to do with whites seeing themselves as becoming a minority and trying to protect themselves and set themselves up for a future when they will no longer be the majority,” says Blackwell.

Blackwell is the founder of the European-American Correctional Workers Association, which looks out for the interests of white workers in California prisons.

”We also try to educate people that we have a rich heritage and culture like everybody else,” says Blackwell, who met the man who would become his group’s attorney when he rented a kilt from him.

Blackwell is not alone. There is a White Officers Association in the police department in Houston and a Caucasian Fire Fighters Association in Chicago, two cities in which whites are no longer a majority.

”I don’t know if I really fear being a minority,” says Blackwell. ”What I fear is not having the same opportunities as other people because I’m labeled as being white.”

Tomorrow: Can a Shared Creed Bind a Nation With No Dominant Culture?


Written by jonathantilove

July 24, 2022 at 3:50 am

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