Last June the U.S. Census disclosed that nonwhite births in America were on the verge of surpassing the white total and might do so as early as the end of this year. Such an event marks an unprecedented racial watershed in American history. Over the last few years, various demographic projections from that same agency and independent analysts have provided somewhat fluctuating estimates of the date--perhaps 2042 or 2037 or 2050--at which white Americans will become a minority. This represents a remarkable, almost unimaginable, demographic change from our country of the early 1960s, when whites accounted for over 85 percent of the population and seemed likely to remain at that level indefinitely.
Many years of heavy foreign immigration have been the crucial element driving this transformation, but even if all immigration--legal and illegal--were halted tomorrow and the border completely sealed, these demographic trends would continue, although at a much slower pace. Today, the median age of American whites is over 40, putting most of them past their prime child-bearing years. Meanwhile, America's largest minority group, the rapidly growing population of Hispanics, has a median age in the mid-20s, near the peak of family formation and growth, while both Asians and blacks are also considerably younger than whites. In fact, since 1995 births rather than immigration have been the largest factor behind the near doubling of America's Hispanic population.
As in most matters, public perceptions of America's racial reality are overwhelmingly shaped by the images absorbed from the national media and Hollywood, whether these are realistic or not. For example, over the last generation the massive surge in black visibility in sports, movies, and TV has led to the widespread perception of a similarly huge growth in the black fraction of the population, which, according to Gallup, most people now reckon stands at 33 percent or so of the national total. Yet this is entirely incorrect. During the last hundred-plus years, American blacks have seen their share of the population fluctuate by merely a percentage point or two, going from 11.6 percent in 1900 to 12.6 percent in 2010. By contrast, five decades of immigration have caused Asian Americans--relatively ignored by the news, sports, and entertainment industries--to increase from 0.5 percent in 1960 to 5 percent today, following the fifteen-fold rise in their numbers which has established them as America's most rapidly growing racial group, albeit from a small initial base.
These national changes in racial distribution have been quite uneven and geographically skewed, with some parts of the country leading and others lagging. For example, during the 1970s when I was a teenager growing up in the Los Angeles area, that city and the surrounding sprawl of Southern California constituted America's whitest region, about the only large urban agglomeration whose racial character approximated that of the country as a whole--around 85 percent white--and my own San Fernando Valley area in particular exemplified the popular image of suburban picket fences and lighthearted "Leave It to Beaver" family comedies. Yet during the two decades that followed, Southern California underwent an enormous immigration-driven demographic transformation, creating a new Los Angeles which was almost 80 percent non-white and a surrounding region in which whites no longer held even a mere plurality.
This sweeping racial shift, involving the movement or displacement of over ten million people, might easily rank as the largest in the peacetime history of the world and is probably matched by just a handful of the greatest population changes brought about by war. The racial transformation in America's national population may be without precedent in human history.
Republicans as the White Party
It is a commonplace that politics in America is heavily influenced by race, and these enormous demographic changes since 1965 have certainly not gone unnoticed within the political world. …