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The Changing Face of "We the People

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America once took pride in calling itself and being known as the great "Melting Pot." This seems no longer to be the case. As a nation and a people we seem to have developed a severe case of historic and hereditary amnesia. Worse than that, we have developed another severe inflammation of color phobia stoked again by fear mongers driven by destructive stereotypes. What has brought us in this new time to this old challenge regarding our identity as a nation?

The American nation has been going through an inescapable demographic transformation throughout the recent decades and will continue to change in the future. According to the latest report by the U.S. Census Bureau, for the first time, the number of babies born to non-white families is greater than the number of babies born to whites, 50.4% vs. 49.6%. (See http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/05/17/minorities-now-surpass-whites-in-us-births-census-shows/ )

W hile the percentage of the population accounted for by whites is still a clear majority, 63.4% of the total, this will no longer be the case by the year 2050 when non-whites become the majority due to the diminishing birth rate among whites. It seems that Western societies are becoming narcissistic people who do not want to assume the responsibility of raising children because having children is no longer considered economically expedient. With the active participation of women in the labor force and working in demanding jobs, it is no longer practical or economical for women to stay at home and raise the kids. Doing so entails financial losses. Many white new generation Americans want to benefit from the pleasure of nuptials without making a commitment and are unwilling to sacrifice and bear the hardships of raising a family. Children are now viewed as economic choices with consequential monetary and opportunity costs. In the meantime, increasing living expenses combined with inflated expectations and a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality have made it impossible to live comfortably on one salary, forcing a steady influx of females into the labor force, especially after 1950.   According to a May 18, 2012 report in The New York Times, the rising number of minorities is a profound development " signaling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race." The political, economic, and social ramifications of this unprecedented development are extensive and will certainly be at the center of public discourse well into the future.

It is, understandably, not pleasant to be a member of a minority in a democratic country where collective decisions are made based on the vote of the majority. That is why a number of Americans do not have a completely optimistic view of the future when it comes to this country's growing diversity. S ome political analysts, most notably Mr. Pat Buchanan, are apprehensive about the predicted loss of domination by the white majority and wish they could preserve the old sociocultural circumstances under which they grew up. They have raised many disconcerting issues. For instance, can the heterogeneity of our population be an impediment to the healthy growth of the economy because of things such as diverse languages, ethnic strife, and cultural/racial barriers? Some researchers have even tried to establish a link between the domination of minorities and sluggish economic growth. They argue that the growth of certain minorities, namely Blacks and Hispanics, will eventually seriously and negatively impact the American economy and alter the country we once knew and inherited from the founding fathers. According to these researchers, diversity and multiculturalism may cause the diminution of this nation, especially if preferential treatment such as a race-based justice system and the unjust rationing of economic and employment opportunities overtake current prevailing forces. Ironically, this argument is not made in the case of preferential treatment for the now dominant majority in terms of justice and economic opportunities. They maintain that this nation, which was built by white Europeans on the foundation of freedom and shared religious values, is now being overtaken by multiculturalism as well as racial and ethnic divisiveness, which have existed since the founding of the nation.

Seeking refuge in the Tea Party movement and turning to Rush Limbaugh may be the expressed reaction of some fearful and enraged individuals to the threat of possible diminishment, the loss of stature and clout on the political ladder, and the loss of millions of blue color manufacturing positions once occupied mostly by white men. Although America is still the biggest producer of goods and services, the manufacturing share of its GDP that used to be about 23% in 1970, has been dropping steadily since then to less than 13% now. The impending demographic trajectory, the increase in minorities, mainly black and Hispanic, is grave if it leads to lower wages and incomes for the white middle class, and ensnares this country into a sustained recessionary trap that ultimately forces her into the position of a less-developed country. These outcomes assume very unflattering view of race, i.e. that only white Europeans possess progress-prone genes. There are basket cases in the EU such as Greece, and possibly, Spain, Portugal, and maybe even Ireland. The point is that European countries with predominantly white population and leadership can have wage and income problems as well as sustained recessionary traps.

I believe genuinely that the possible backlash arising from the eventual domination of minorities is vastly exaggerated. Diversity is good for America and can be an impetus to economic growth, especially if all minorities are bound by the same common thread, pledge allegiance to their new country, and embrace their new identity. But if the identities of minorities are associated with and often obsessed by things that happen to be at odds with the American identity, then this would create duality, adversarial attitudes, and possible conflicts. Should this be the case, a society then becomes like a disharmonized orchestra in which every member plays a different tune and thus creates discordant noises that irritate the ears and sunder a united movement. Outright equality enforced by law and preferential treatment, such as having a disproportionate number of certain minorities in government offices and business companies, or accepting or rejecting applicants in American universities based on ethnicity, will foment a reaction--a loss of faith in our political system because of its disincentive effects.

I believe this nation is not on the verge of disintegration as some pessimists have surmised; instead, it is continuing its transformation as a nation of immigrants as it has successfully been doing for well over 200 years. Its fate needs not be held hostage to "inevitable demographic changes." Whatever its racial and ethnic mix, this nation historically has been tested tough; its strength has always been drawn from its immigrant heritage and has risen above all of its many challenges. This evolution is no exception. As a nation of mixed peoples, we have rarely failed to deal effectively with our historical challenges and near-calamitous events. All we need to do is to fine tune our success formula which is based on many elements, including our open-door immigration policy and a mutually accommodating partnership between government and the private sector. We can remain pessimistic and upset, or we can turn our frustration into a passion to move this nation forward, regardless of its population mix and perhaps because of it. As always, our destiny is in our hands. It is up to us to use our ingenuity and imaginations to create a happy ending for our national story and prove wrong the naysaying pundits who claim to know what is inevitable. Plus, is it a utopian idea to believe that an America run by minorities will be worse than an America run by whites? This belief is indeed divisive and is based on erroneous stipulations that persons of color are generally inferior to whites.  

As we have seen in the past, when the rich resources of this country are coupled with the talents and the determination of her people, especially of its immigrants, amazing things happen. Miracles have happened, and will continue to happen, when the resources of this country are combined with the talent of its people no matter their color or whether they are immigrant or native . In addition, a strong belief in secularization does not allow our private life, religion, and cultural traits to interfere with our public life or allow public affairs to be overshadowed by private matters. That is a closely guarded pillar of democratic America.

Minorities and those who migrate to the U.S. are not necessarily mediocre people because they come from failed third world countries as some want us to believe. On the contrary, they are mostly intelligent, well-educated people who are in search of a more democratic milieu wherein their talents can excel and be better utilized. They are usually not the kind of people who come to America to place another burden on the U.S. system, unless the U.S. government has allowed them to, or has invaded their countries and caused their forced displacement. Today's many doctors, engineers, pioneering entrepreneurs, academics, and other movers and shakers who have their roots in other countries are serving this nation earnestly and faithfully, and are leading it forward.

I pass along an ending and hopefully comforting note to my white friends. R est assured that we are not going to do to you what you have done to us--that would not be forward-looking of us as a nation.   As Nelson Mandela said In 1993, a " new society cannot be created by reproducing the repugnant past, however refined or enticingly repackaged." In this new society (circa 2050), we are not going to appreciate you only 50% for 100% of your performance. You will be treated equally, whether your name is Reza or Rhea; and yes, we will wish that "God bless you" if you sneeze in public places!

 

Reza Varjavand (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma) is associate professor of economics and finance at the Graham School of management, Saint Xavier University, of Chicago. He has been an avid participant in many professional organizations and active in (more...)
 

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Excellent article, Reza. I agree with you that Whi... by Howard Schneider on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 2:12:09 PM
This piece challenges the view tha... by Seymour Patterson on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 4:34:48 PM