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Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

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The browning of America is very real and unrelenting. Our task is to find our way into this new Ecru Era with as much ease and grace as we can muster.

America’s white majority just bought itself another year.
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According to census figures released Wednesday, 2043 is now the year that whites will no longer make up the majority of Americans. That’s one year later than previous projections.

But one year is nothing in the grand sweep of things. We as a society must begin to consider now what this change will mean for a nation mired in a majority/minority swamp of privilege, expectations, historical benefits and systematic discrimination.

The browning of America is very real and unrelenting. Our task is to find a way to move into this new Ecru Era with as much ease and grace as we can muster.

An April 2011 report from the Metropolitan Policy Program (M.P.P.) at the Brookings Institution found that all but two of the 10 largest metro areas in the country have child populations in which white children are a minority. (Boston and Philadelphia were the exceptions.) Of the remaining eight metro areas, Hispanic children are the largest demographic in six, and blacks are the largest in the other two.

As Hua Hsu, a professor at Vassar College, posited in The Atlantic in 2009: “What will the new mainstream of America look like, and what ideas or values might it rally around? What will it mean to be white after ‘whiteness’ no longer defines the mainstream? Will anyone mourn the end of white America? Will anyone try to preserve it?”

These are epic questions about a seismic shift in American demography. How should we consider a waning majority when their privilege of numbers gives way to what many other Americans have experienced as the minority plight?

On election night, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly said that “the white establishment is now the minority.” The question is whether this should be a reason for lamentation or celebration. Or neither.

In September, a white student named Matthew Heimbach at Towson University caused a bit of an uproar when The Baltimore Sun reported that he was “gathering support” to start a white student union on campus. The newspaper pointed out: “His former group, Youth for Western Civilization, had sparked controversy with its public displays against Islam, same-sex marriage and multicultural education. That group disbanded after it lost the support of its faculty sponsor, but Heimbach said he hopes his new organization will promote white identity without disparaging other people.”

(It should be noted that Towson’s campus is in Maryland, one of the states in which the M.P.P. found the white child population to be less than 50 percent, and is on the outskirts Baltimore, where whites are only 31.5 percent of the population, according to the Census Bureau.)

Now, putting Youth for Western Civilization’s intolerance aside for a moment (if that’s possible), we must ask: when will public displays of white pride become culturally acceptable? Will they forever be freighted with the weight of history — tantamount to gloating about privilege? Or should all racial and cultural pride be viewed more or less the same?

The Sun quoted Heimbach as saying, “It comes a point where we’re not directly involved in what happened centuries ago and our culture just perpetuates the guilt cycle.” He continued, “We want to provide a positive view of white identity.”

Is that offensive? Or fair play in light of where the country is heading?

And what of O’Reilly’s “white establishment”? Power is a precious commodity. It is rarely voluntarily surrendered, particularly by those who believe they have earned it. The task is to expand the franchise without casting some people as givers and others as takers. That is harder than it sounds.

There will most likely be a growing rub between traditional power structures and emerging ones, much of which will be visible along racial lines but also along gender and sexual identity lines. A great deal of that friction boils down to simple economics. As a July 2011 Pew Research Center report pointed out: “The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.” Women and gays also earn less than their male and heterosexual counterparts.

This wealth disparity plays into the national debate about the role of government, appropriate spending levels and rates of taxation.

And on a worrisome note, a recent Associated Press poll showed that since Barack Obama was elected in 2008, prejudice toward blacks has increased. According to the report: “In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.”

Furthermore, The A.P. found: “Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too. In an A.P. survey done in 2011, 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57 percent in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for comparison.”

The last thing we need is a racial and ethnic backlash in this country. Now is the time to move forward with sensitivity and respect and with a watchful eye on how we behave and what we expect as the traditional American majority becomes just another minority.
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