A report issued by the Census Bureau, based on the latest census results, states that by 2019, the majority of children born in the United States will be non-white.
We’ve been looking at the 2010 Census results and race, and this new parsing of the data is interesting in many ways. First, let’s look at the facts:
–The Hispanic population is growing faster than white, black, or Asian populations because of Hispanic people’s higher birthrates.
–Why is the white birthrate so low? Because white people have fewer children and have them later in life.
–Thus, the white population is aging far faster than the Hispanic, Asian, or black population. The median age of white people in the U.S. is 41 years old, while the median age of Hispanic people in the U.S. is 27 years old.
–The number of white children in the U.S. has fallen by 4.3 million since the last Census was taken in 2000. The number of Hispanic and Asian children has increased by 5.5 million.
–The number of black children in the U.S. has also fallen by 2 percent. The report states that “Over all, minorities now make up 46.5 percent of the under-18 population”, but it seems they are hardly “minorities” at this point. White children are currently the minorities in 10 states.
It’s not surprising that groups with higher birth rates are outstripping those with lower birth rates, but of course it is nearly impossible for the nation to receive this objective data objectively. Many white Americans are no doubt concerned that they are losing their majority status in this country.
This is only natural. No group wants to lose its socio-economic-political power/control. Look at the vicious backlash that men’s groups deal out to women who support equal rights, that straight groups deal out to gay people who support equal rights, etc. Those who have power want to keep it—not universally, but generally. Not every man hates feminism, not every straight person hates gay rights. But a substantial portion—a majority—are opposed because these groups pose a threat to the male or the straight grip on power.
Now a substantial portion of white Americans may react with fear and anger to this news. It will add fuel to the fire of anti-immigrationists, and likely lead to calls for quotas on Latin American immigration. Those Latinos already in the U.S. will be castigated by some for not speaking English, taking U.S. jobs, and other actions that have nothing to do with how many children they have. I think Asian Americans will escape this vitriol for the most part, because it is Latinos who are the more visible immigrants.
One of the arguments of these white Americans will be that incoming Latinos do not respect, understand, or plan to support the “American way”, by which they will mean representative democracy, English speaking, and suburban comfort and norms. This is the same dire accusation leveled at Irish immigrants in the 1840s (no, they were not considered to be white at that time), Germans in the 1860s, Chinese people in the late 1800s-early 1900s, Italians and eastern Europeans in the early 20th century (again, not considered white), etc. Every new group is castigated as deliberately, gleefully destroying the nation they have just arrived in.
In all of these cases, the reports of the American way’s death were exaggerated. Will it be the same this time? It depends. It depends on education.
All of those previous immigrants were educated in American public schools that inculcated American values in them, sometimes cruelly, often with the excitement and true devotion that their teachers, former immigrants themselves in many cases, felt for their new country. In fact, making sure immigrant children got an American education in civics and the workings of the American democratic system so they would become loyal citizens was a key goal of American primary education for the bulk of the 20th century. And it worked. For most of the 20th century the average American was a first- or second-generation immigrant who knew a lot about the three branches of government, the Bill of Rights, due process, etc. That American voted and participated in the political system. And thus the American way, and the nation, did not die.
But I’m not sure that is true now. Now American K-12 education system has no real focus, riven as it is with internal and external conflicts, except perhaps for testing. And civics—learning about our government, its purpose, its structure, and the importance of citizen participation—is rarely a part of K-12 education. Many states no longer require that civics be taught at all. Schoolchildren today are ignorant of civics, and therefore the average American cannot name the three branches, how they work together, how the state and federal governments align, etc., and citizen political participation is at an all-time low.
And that’s for white children. What about the non-white children soon to make up the majority of American students? They are likely to go to the worst, most under-funded schools, where learning to read and write and do math is not guaranteed. They learn nothing about civics, about their government—except that so many people in that government don’t want them here. This will only get worse by 2019. As the Times article puts it, “Will the older generation pay for educating a younger generation that looks less like itself? And while the young population is a potential engine of growth for the economy, will it be a burden if it does not have access to adequate education?”
We all know the mantra that “children are our future.” It is true. If we want the American way to be the way of the future, if we want the country to be preserved as it is/should be, we must educate this non-white generation the way we educated previous immigrant generations, and the way we educate the white generation. We have to start treating children born in this country to Latino parents, and children whose parents bring them here, as the Americans they are, and give them the education we assume white children should have.
Because the real fear many white Americans have is that immigrant and black people will drastically change this country if they take the majority because they do not share “white values.” What are “white values”? American values assumed to be the natural birthright of white children but values that must be laboriously inculcated into non-white children, who somehow genetically resist them. Justice for all, innocent until proven guilty, government of by and for the people, etc. Those are American values. But they are not naturally a part of the makeup of white Americans—as we have noted elsewhere on the Historic Present—every American has to learn these values. They go against human nature, and human history. Everyone has to learn them, every new generation, black, white, Asian, or Latino. You get the nation you pay for. You reap what you sow. If we want the American way, we have to teach it. If we refuse to teach new immigrant American children about their country, if we throw civics education away, it is we who will guaranty the ruin of our country, not those children.
So these numbers should not panic anyone. We are privileged to live in a moment of real historical change in our country—one of many. If we cherish our country, we will make sure every child in it knows that s/he is an American, and we will teach every child what that means, and how to live it.