America is already more diverse than you may realize


A few years ago, the demographers Dowell Myers and Morris Levy conducted an experiment aimed at evaluating how Americans responded to the country’s changing demographic composition. They presented news stories to a group of respondents framing the increasing diversity of the population in different ways.

They found that most White respondents felt optimistic or enthusiastic and about half of White Republicans talked about this increase. But talking about being a minority for Whites caused most White respondents to express anger or concern – including three-quarters of White Republicans.

This tension about America’s changing demographics runs through much of the current political conversation, often overtly. But that last frame in particular, despite being the most frequently used, is probably particularly misleading in that it clearly demarcates racial demographics when, for many Americans, anything another.

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I’ll preface this conversation by noting that this topic is one I explore at length in my book as I think about how power will change in the coming years. There is a lot of nuance to this topic that is difficult to capture in the confines of a news article, necessarily, but it is a topic worth considering when the opportunity arises.

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Such an opportunity came to light this week thanks to an analysis by KFF, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation. KFF looked at Census Bureau data on race and discovered a surprising aspect of Hispanic racial identity: While most Hispanics identified as White in 2010, only a small fraction did in 2021.

You can see that change below.

This may confuse people who don’t keep track. Isn’t her race “Hispanic”? Well, no. The government since the 1970s has recognized Hispanic as ethnicity, meaning you are both White and Hispanic, for example, or Black and non-Hispanic. (The Biden administration plans to change this system, it’s worth noting.) So we have data on racial segregation among Hispanics.

But why the change from 2010? Largely because the Census Bureau changed how it records race.

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“[R]Refinements in how the Census and other national surveys ask about race and ethnicity within current standards have led to increased measures of population diversity,” wrote KFF’s Samantha Artiga and Drishti Pillai, “primarily because increases in the shares of those described as several. other race or multiracial, especially among the Hispanic population.”

The change among Hispanics was particularly dramatic, but similar changes occurred among Americans as a whole. For example, in 2010, far more Americans identified themselves as “White alone” than as “White and some other race.” But largely thanks to the aforementioned refinements, more US residents now use the latter descriptor. (The central change is quite simple: the bureau showed more of how people described their own racial backgrounds.)

Both nationally and in every state, the number of residents who identified as “White and some other race” increased from 2010 to 2020, often more than doubling. The number of residents who identified as “White Alone” fell in most states.

(On the charts below, those who identify as ethnically Hispanic are separated into their own group.)

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In 2010, “White and some other race” was often a small minority of a state’s population. By 2020, it was often much more prominent. See the increase in the gray areas on the charts below. (2010 percentages are shown in the inner circle; 2020 in the outer circle.)

About 6 percent of those who identify as White Non-Hispanic identify as White and at least one other race. That’s more than double the percentage in 2010.

The picture painted here is not one of a hard-fast White population being subsumed by growing numbers of Hispanic, Black and Asian Americans. Rather, it is the pre-existing complexity of racial identity that makes it difficult to recognize a majority-minority flip, if such a flip is even useful as an idea.

In Myers and Levy’s research, incidentally, a third iteration of the diversity discussion was offered to the respondents: describing a persistent White majority by including people of mixed race backgrounds as White. This was the frame that provoked the least anger and concern – especially among White Republicans.


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