A widely accepted demographic narrative for the U.S. holds that, by the middle of this century, whites will become a minority of the population, outnumbered by the aggregate of people of color, the current minorities of the society. Presumably, such a demographic shift would have manifold societal ramifications. In this talk, I show that this narrative is highly problematic—first, because of unacknowledged problems in the conventional demographic coding of ethnicity and race and, second, because the demographic data and the narrative obscure processes of assimilation that are reshaping ethno-racial contours. The best window on both of these points is provided by the rapidly growing numbers of young Americans from mixed family backgrounds that create kinship connections both to whites and members of a minority group: Today, at least 10 percent of U.S.-born young children are growing up in mixed minority-white families. The great majority of youth from such backgrounds are coded as “not white” in census data. A synthesis of the evidence about them, however, indicates that, for the most part, they are integrating into and diversifying mainstream milieus, which are mainly white at present. The hugely important exception involves individuals of black and white parentage, who confront high racist barriers to mainstream inclusion.
Richard Alba is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York.