Monday, August 13, 2007

This Just In: Nothing Really Changed At All

According to a new study on the U.S. population as recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau, non-white minorities now form a majority. But be careful how you read that, as they only mean the majority in "one third of the most populous counties."

What's interesting about the coverage here is that it made news at all. When we drill down on the technicalities, what is being said is that people of color, as a whole, not as specific groups, make up more than 50% of the population in only one third of the largest counties in the nation. That's not that significant. It doesn't mean minorities are anywhere close to being the majority in this country, nor does it mean that the white population is decreasing. However, from coverage of the data, you would think otherwise.

The information I found in the New York Times presented the story in its most objective form, while the Memphis Commercial Appeal, which is where I first read the story while on a brief vacation in my Southern hometown, noted how the increase is leading to a backlash against immigrants. Maybe some of this backlash, however, can be explained by the sensationalism attributed to such minor demographic shifts by the news media, which is still quite hungry for any new piece of information that can be called a hot story. If people feel as if America and its culture could be threatened by the onslaught of a ton of new immigrants and an increase of people of color, it's likely to cause problems, mainly tension between the American-born residents and their new neighbors.

While the NY Times notes that the population shift is a "further sign of the United States' growing diversity," I wonder if it's simply a sign of more significant accounts of "white flight" and a concentration of people of color and/or immigrant populations into a few major cities. It may be a sign that despite an increase of ethnic and racial "diversity," a shallow term in my opinion, there is even greater polarization, which certainly won't do us any good if the expectation is that the presence of "others" will correlate with understanding, progress, and cross-cultural community building.

I am looking forward to how these shifts will play out in the future. Will the increase of immigrant populations, people of color, and, in general, ethnic minorities, mirror the past? Will America cede its superficial multiculturalism for a 21st century melting pot?

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