US Opinion: White fear is the wrong way to tell the Census story
Census experts find no political influence in state totals
Outside experts found no evidence of political interference in the state-by-state population totals from the 2020 census used for divvying up congressional seats, but their limited review didn't include demographic data or places smaller than states, according to a task force report released Tuesday. The task force was established by the American Statistical Association last year during the most difficult U.S. head count in recent memory due to the pandemic, natural disasters and attempted political interference from the Trump administration, which unsuccessfully tried to add a citizenship question to the census form and attempted to end field operations early.
A significant part of the current political and racial divides in the United States has been fueled by reports that America will become awithin our lifetimes. Conspiratorial and racist so-called "replacement" theories have inspired White nationalists in American society, ranging from those bearing tiki torches in Charlottesville to and the rioters at the US Capitol on January 6.
In this context, the preliminary data-- which reveals a declining White population -- exposes ways in which America's changing demographic landscape is stoking paranoia regarding the loss of White power, even as it also fuels ambitious hopes for the future of multiracial democracy.
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Headlinesa White population in decline further provoke existing fear, anxiety and anti-immigrant loathing. But at the same time, are self-defining as multiracial, making headlines about the loss of White identity less of the proper focus than one about a 21st century multiracial democracy.
Families like the one President Barack Obama grew up in, as the son of a Black Kenyan father and a White mother with Kansas roots whose sister was half Indonesian and whose maternal grandparents helped forge his identity, are not outliers; they are a growing branch on the national family tree. Framing thisas the first decrease in the White population since 1790, as the Washington Post did, helps to fan the flames of racial and partisan rifts. Hispanic and Asian American young people driving national population growth augurs a future powered by citizens who reflect the diversity that is at the heart of our national story.
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Journalists report on facts, so it's understandable that they would identify a large drop in the White population, reflected in data, as significant. Objectively speaking, it is.
Yet the trap of seeing the drop in White population as the only, or even the main, story of the Census data reinforces our own insistence on seeing these transformations through a cynical lens. Pitting White America against hordes of threatening "colored" people is part of a long, complex, and fraught history -- one wherein changing definitions of "Whiteness" both expanded and restricted the boundaries of citizenship.
This fear-driven narrative also has tremendous policy and historical implications.have used Census data in gerrymandering efforts to target Black voters and other voters of color. Their tactics have turned voter suppression from a blunt art into an exacting science that defies the spirit and intent of both the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.
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Since early September Ilina Dimitrijevska has been walking endless kilometres every day, going door to door asking people to take part in North Macedonia's first census in nearly two decades. Her task may be straightforward enough, but the census remains highly sensitive due to the potential impact on the nation's minorities. In this small Balkan country -- which gained independence in 1991 following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and came close to civil war in 2001 -- the long postponed census is far from being a mere statistical operation.
Narratives of White decline linkedarrived in the 21st century, shortly before America elected Obama, the nation's first Black President. The reports helped to fuel White racial anxiety about maintaining racial, economic and cultural privileges that have become synonymous for many with American identity.
The Obama presidency ignited a free for all in American politics that continues to this day. The rise of the Tea Party, Birther Movement, Donald Trump's presidency and his "Make America Great Again" ethos all share deep-seated racial fears that have haunted the nation since its founding.
Over the past two decades, some Republicans have used forecast demographic changes related to the Census for partisan political advantage, helping to sustain and grow a whole ecosystem trafficking in racially intolerant appeals that have remade American politics. The rise of a right-wing public sphere we are now seeing -- untethered to science, objective facts and past support for voting rights and racial justice -- depends on a narrative that presents democracy as a zero-sum game, with historic White winners on the verge of being replaced by citizens and immigrants of color.
Census: US sees unprecedented multiracial growth, decline in the white population for first time in history
The results from the 2020 census are meant to be a snapshot of the population as of April 1, 2020. The data will show how the population has changed.“These changes reveal that the US population is much more multiracial, and more racially and ethnically diverse, than what we measured in the past,” said Nicholas Jones, the director of race, ethnicity, research and outreach for the Census Bureau's population division.
plunging White birthrates, both nationally and globally, center "replacement theory" conspiracies theories that view demographic shifts as fundamentally reordering power relations in a way that will lead to the end of Whiteness. Such nativistic fears traffic in racism against non-White groups and sexism by seeking to impose patriarchal control over women's reproductive futures. And in the Age of Trump, racist narrative tropes about the nation's future became more mainstream, by right-wing media stars as an existential threat to White Americans.
We have been here before. In the early 20th century, White nativists spread misinformation and racist conspiracy theories warning that the onslaught of immigrants and the threat of race-mixing would spell the end of what they proudly considered a White man's republic., specifically 1924's Johnson-Reed Act, instituted a quota system that made it virtually impossible for immigrants of color to enter the United States until the passage of 1965's Hart-Celler Act, one of the cornerstones of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.
Toxic narratives of White decline are baked into this country's history of institutional discrimination in ways that go back to the 19th century -- and beyond anti-Black racism -- as well. White nativism, buttressed by eugenics theories of scientific racism that classified non-White and non-Nordic races as inferior, discriminated against Irish, Italians and others during the 19th century. As the category of ethnic "Whiteness" shifted to include these previously marginalized European groups, however, the xenophobia and nativism never waned.
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Joel Alvarado was 6 years old when his mother pulled him aside and asked him to be discreet as he was getting ready to meet his grandmother in Puerto Rico. © Provided by CNN "She made me aware that my grandmother was much darker than my other relatives, especially from her side of the family, and she didn't want me to say anything out of turn or something about her skin color," said Alvarado, 50, the executive vice president of the Atlanta-based government relations firm Ohio River South. "These are my blood relatives, what does that make me?" he recalls thinking.
The end of the Civil War and Black people's hopes to compete in a free labor market against native-born and immigrant alike, violence and racist policies that led directly to the Jim Crow system of legalized racial oppression that still impacts our democracy today.
Today, contemporary right-wing media narratives frame America's growing non-White populationthrough gerrymandering, xenophobia and anti-democratic legislation that ensures White supremacy thrives for generations.
And yet, America's changing demographics tell a different, more inspiring story. Rather than a narrative of White decline, what if we saw in this data the increasing numbers of racially blended families and mixed-race children -- and understood them as signs of a more racially diverse, economically just and culturally rich future?
Transforming the racist narrative of the changing demographics in the US will be key to saving American democracy from some of its worse impulses. GOP-driven gerrymandering policies seek to neutralize the votes of non-Whites in hopes of maintaining a racially monolithic version of power. Rather than changing the rules of the game to ensure perpetual White domination, Americans should welcome increasing racial diversity as a sign of growing strength rather than a circumstance that elicits fear and loathing.
America's multi-cultural roots have been obscured for too long by the politics of White supremacy that assimilates some and racially and economically oppresses others. The racial diversity that made American political, social, entrepreneurial and technological innovations possible gets overshadowed by the stories we tell ourselves to rationalize a history too complex to relay in shorthand.
Everything you need to know about the 2020 US census release .
The Census data shows changes to the demographic makeup of the country over the past decade. What's in the data and what's changed since 2010.The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the Census Bureau's ability to collect and process data, which could potentially have led to an under count in the data. Activists also point to former President Donald Trump's attempt to include a citizenship question in the Census as a potential driver of decreased response rates from communities of color.