America is already more diverse than you may realize

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A few years ago, demographers Dowell Myers and Morris Levy conducted an experiment to gauge how Americans responded to the nation’s changing demographics. They presented a group of respondents with messages that framed the increasing diversity of the population in different ways.

They found that talking about the increase itself made most white respondents feel hopeful or enthusiastic, including about half of white Republicans. But when it comes to whites becoming a minority, most white respondents expressed anger or worry, including three-quarters of white Republicans.

This tension about America’s changing demographics permeates many current political conversations, often directly. But this last frame in particular, despite being the most commonly used, is perhaps uniquely misleading because it clearly limits racial demographics, even though for many Americans it is something else.

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I will preface this conversation by noting that this is one of the topics I explore extensively in my book, considering how power will change in the coming decades. There are many nuances to this topic that are certainly difficult to cover within the confines of a news article, but it’s a topic worth considering when you get the chance.

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That possibility arose this week thanks to an analysis by KFF, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation. KFF looked at Census Bureau data on race and discovered a fascinating aspect of Hispanic racial identity: While the majority of Hispanics identified as white in 2010, only a small percentage did so in 2021.

You can see this change below.

This can be confusing for people who don’t keep track of such things. Isn’t their race “Hispanic”? No. Since the 1970s, the government has identified Spanish as ethnicity, meaning you are both white and Hispanic, or black and non-Hispanic, for example. (It’s worth noting the Biden administration plans to change that system.) So we have data on racial segmentation among Hispanics.

But why the changes since 2010? Mainly because the Census Bureau changed the way race was recorded.

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“[R]recent improvements in how the census and other national surveys ask about race and ethnicity under existing standards have increased measures of population diversity,” write KFF’s Samantha Artiga and Drishti Pillai, “primarily because the proportion of people , reported as some. other race or multiracial, especially among the Hispanic population.

The changes among the Spanish were particularly dramatic, but similar changes occurred among the Americans. For example, in 2010, far more Americans identified themselves as “white only” than as “white and some other race.” But largely due to the aforementioned improvements, more US residents now use the latter descriptor. (The main change is pretty straightforward: The bureau recorded more of how people described their racial origins.)

Both nationally and in each state, the number of residents who identify as “white and other races” increased between 2010 and 2020, often more than doubling. In most states, the number of residents who identified as “white only” decreased.

(In the charts below, those identified as ethnically Hispanic are broken down into their own group.)

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In 2010, “white and some other race” was often a small percentage of the country’s population. By 2020, it was often much more significant. See the growth of the gray segments in the charts below. (2010 percentages are shown in the inner circle; 2020 figures in the outer circle.)

About 6 percent of non-Hispanic whites identify as white and at least one other race. This is more than twice as much as in 2010.

The picture painted here is not one of a hard-and-fast white population overshadowed by growing numbers of Hispanics, blacks, and Asian Americans. Instead, racial identification is complex, making it difficult to establish that the apparent majority-minority reversal is useful as a conceit.

Incidentally, Myers and Levy’s study offered respondents a third iteration of the diversity-shifting debate: describing a long-standing white majority by including people of mixed race as white. It was the frame that caused the least amount of anger and consternation, especially among white Republicans.


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