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Cepeda: Misreading our demographics

By Esther Cepeda

The Washington Post

First Published Aug 21 2014 09:18 am • Last Updated Aug 21 2014 04:22 pm

Chicago • "War" is too strong a word to use in regard to race relations.

Despite continuing income inequality or how often the justice system seems to lack fairness when applied to nonwhites, few Americans would say that whites are waging a war on people of color.

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Even as Ferguson, Mo., smolders after the shooting of a black teenager in a majority African-American town overseen by an almost all-white political leadership, "war" is too hyperbolic a statement. Bias, discrimination and neglect, certainly — but not war.

This obvious fact is why, in the days before Ferguson erupted, the contention of a member of Congress — Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. — that there is a "war on whites" was roundly laughed off.

As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson put it, just by looking at measures of economic well-being, "if there really were a ‘war on whites’ ... it wouldn’t be going very well for the anti-white side."

And yet there is a certain aggressive, popular and constant put-down of white Americans that seems to be more prevalent today than I can remember.

The power-in-numbers momentum behind the country’s demographic change from majority white to majority nonwhite has become a media obsession, with varying degrees of white-people-are-going-extinct relish.

"White Students to No Longer Be Majority in Schools," says ABC. "White Students Majority Ends; Minority Enrollment More Than Half," says Newsmax, referring to data from the National Center for Education Statistics showing that while non-Hispanic whites are still expected to be the largest racial group in the public schools this year at 49.8 percent, minority students, when added together, will make up the majority.

"Living in ‘Gringolandia,’" a fish-out-of-water story about Hispanics living in a predominantly white community, was featured on NBC.com. If you substituted white residents in any minority population, the article likely would have been considered racist.

Then there is the #WhatLatinosLookLike campaign, which was part of a furious backlash to a New York Times article that posited that Hispanics are likely to increasingly identify as white on census forms as part of the American assimilation process (which, other research has also predicted), as if that was so terrible.

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We also see constant predictions that the Republican Party will die along with all the "old white men."

Readers often ask me why I can’t dismiss the GOP as racist and hateful toward nonwhites. My response is that when your father-in-law is an "old white man" and your husband and two sons will someday be, too, you tend to view "old white people" differently.

I know my rural, Southern in-laws see Hispanics in something more than a stereotypically simplistic manner because they love me and their grandchildren and my parents.

I’d be willing to bet that the same is true in the case of the part of my family that is black and the part that is Asian. And in my own neighborhood, half-black, half-Asian and half-Hispanic kids go to their still-majority-white school together without giving too much consideration to race.

One not-so-distant day, our country’s increasing interracial couplings, births and marriages will create a population that will be far less focused on our differences and more loyal to what binds us together: our families.

This is not to say that we don’t have a lot of hard work ahead. We should all worry about all racism, not just the kind that targets nonwhites. We must all open our eyes to who we live alongside, who governs us, who has power and resources and who has none. Part of understanding and preventing what happened in Ferguson depends on us all facing up to our implicit biases — a challenge we can rise to.

Cited in a 2013 posting — "End of White America: Should We Care?" — on the African-American news site The Root, pollster Cornell Belcher put it beautifully: "I wish people would pay more attention to the idea that whether you’re black, brown, white or what have you, we have far more in common than not. ... It’s important over the next decade or so for us to really connect [our] value threads and use those threads to pull us all together."

We can make these connections; there is hope. Our impending demographic tsunami will bring discomfort to some, but it will be more of an opportunity than a problem.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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