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 'A PROMISE IS A PROMISE'

Special to CityWatch: Can Jorge Ramos Save The American Immigrant Dream?

Tony Castro
TONY CASTRO’S LA- President Barack Obama’s disappointing failure to champion immigration reform, what The Washington Post called his “immigration train wreck,” may be the consummate example of the failure of the Obama presidency on Latino issues. It is also a tell-tale sign of the potential trouble the Democratic Party could find itself in…

Museum Row’s Billion Dollar Block Party

Tim Deegan
EXCLUSIVE TO CITYWATCH--City planners, developers, community members and other stakeholders are having a block party in the Miracle Mile: no champagne but plenty of stress served to order, depending on who you're aligned with. Issues with development: take a seat. Raising hundreds of millions of dollars for development, take several seats. Here…

What Is It About The Homeless That Makes Us So Angry?

Bob Gelfand
GELFAND’S WORLD--It was a long public hearing at my neighborhood council the other night. Outraged, obviously frightened homeowners were pitted against advocates for the homeless. At least that's how it started, but it's not how it ended. It's curious, but in this contentious culture of ours, it turned out to be possible to have a meeting of the…

Kill the Transit Tax, Kill the Olympics

Ken Alpern
ALPERN AT LARGE-You know, it's indeed possible that there will be enough voters who won't remember (or care about) the current shenanigans and budget games in the City of LA--enough to allow a 2/3 vote to pass a new sales tax measure in November 2016. Then again, maybe enough voters will remember, and the initiative will (like its predecessor…

Headlines Don’t Lie – LA Needs Leadership

Dennis Zine
JUST THE FACTS-I’m talking to you as a man who policed Los Angeles streets for over 30 years and established policy for another 14 years -- two years as an elected Charter Reform Commissioner and 12 years as an elected Los Angeles City Councilman. Take a look at the latest Los Angeles News and Breaking Headlines. They tell a frightening story…

Airbnb Just Floats by the PLUM Committee

Tony Butka
THE CITY-I was going to do my usual flip and cynical kind of a piece on the Airbnb hearing, but the issue is too important, and just maybe, all is not lost. The Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee hearing was scheduled in the Public Works Hearing Room, but so many people attended that they had to move it to City Council Chambers…

Bikeshare Comes to Los Angeles … Sort Of

Richard Risemberg
WAITING ON LA--Here’s photographic confirmation that bikeshare has arrived in LA: Not the City of Los Angeles, though; not quite yet. That’s a live bikeshare station in Santa Monica, on Main Street, next to one of the two bike corrals that grace the block south of Ashland. (There’s another and very busy bike corral two blocks north.) This is a…

The Summer of My Discontent ... LA Version

Denyse Selesnick
MY TURN--I think there is such a thing as the "Dog Days of Summer" since my usual sunny disposition ... glass half full demeanor ... seems to be out of sorts of late. There is a litany of things that are annoying me, aside from the heat. I am disappointed in our local government ... not all of them, but a majority. Like many of you I studied the…

Marilyn Who? Ask Councilman Krekorian or Mayor Garcetti

Richard Lee Abrams
PRESERVATION POLITICS-Who doesn’t like Marilyn Monroe? Councilmember Krekorian, that’s who! Why else would Councilmember Paul Krekorian support the demolition of one of the most significant homes of Marilyn Monroe? With the blessings of Mayor Garcetti, who believes in eradicating as much of Hollywood’s history as possible, and with the support of…





Record Breaking! Josh Groban sings Trump


LADWP Rates Overview

 

 

  

 

 

 

White Out! Majority of Births Now Minorities—Brace Yourself for the Loss of Nothing

VOICES FROM THE PUBLIC SQUARE - Here we go again. The Census Bureau has released yet one more milestone data point that supposedly reveals the profundity of America’s ongoing demographic change. This time, it’s news that, as The New York Times put it last week, “Whites account for less than half of births in the US.”

It’s one of those front-page headlines that give you pause. You know it means something significant—why else would it be on the front page?!—but you can’t quite put your finger on it.


Don’t buy into the hype and all the overwrought commentary (of which there was plenty on cable TV following the demographic “breaking news”) on this supposed milestone. The Census Bureau’s drumbeat of racial change is nothing but empty, invidious data that says more about the uselessness of our current racial categories than it does about any transformation of American society.

For one, reports that “whites” account for less than half of births in the US are not accurate. Since almost half of American Latinos identify themselves as white racially, you can rest assured that, strictly speaking, “white” babies are still securely in the majority of delivery room miracles. Sure, the body of the story specifies that what they’re talking about is “non-Hispanic whites”—a term no one but bureaucrats and wonks use—but the headline says it all. Real white babies or traditionally white babies or the babies we’ve come to consider white are lagging behind in the race to be born.

In the US, we’ve traditionally understood biology as being the fundamental difference between “ethnicity” and “race.” Race is seen as genetically predetermined and therefore unchangeable, while ethnicity—which encompasses language, religion, and culture—can change over time and place.

The Census makes clear that black, white, American Indian, Asian, and Native Hawaiian are racial categories, while Hispanic is an ethnic one. The term non-Hispanic white then, or “white Hispanic” for that matter (think George Zimmerman), combines the racial and the ethnic indicators. It is a jerry-rigged term with no clear objective meaning or predictive value.

Official government usage notwithstanding, whiteness is in the eye of the beholder. Last week, a political journalist friend of mine wondered aloud whether Mitt Romney was “too white” to be elected president. Last month, a flight attendant whose parents were born in Sicily told me she didn’t consider herself white because of her olive complexion.

The first instance of whiteness here refers to the candidate’s behavior and mannerisms that might derive from a particular ethnic background; what my friend really meant was Yankee. The second instance was referring solely to skin color.

Plenty of other traits can confer whiteness on a person—class, economic, educational, or social status to name a few. Five years ago, I followed two friends of mine deep into the heart of the Mississippi Delta where they were studying the construction of whiteness, the process by which a variety of ethnic subgroups forged an uneasy and hierarchical alliance called “white people.”

One remarkable interview with a retired sheriff in Sunflower County taught me more than any demographer, social scientist, or race theorist ever had.

After a winding chat about subtle class and ethnic distinctions among whites in the Delta, we decided to ask the sheriff where a variety of local groups stood in relation to whiteness.

“Are Lebanese white people?” we began.

“Yes,” he said, “although they’re real dark.”

“How about Italian Catholics; are they white?”

“Sure.”

“And Jews?”

“Yes.”

“What about the Chinese?”

“Yes,” he said, “they go to the white schools.”

“And Mexicans?”

“They’re becoming more white. More of them are getting an education.”

“Then what’s a white person?” we asked.

After some confusion over the meaning of the question, he concluded that it was probably anybody “who isn’t black.”

So, if whiteness is more a negative indicator than anything else, it makes sense that for most people the process of becoming white has also been one of negation.

Throughout history, new immigrants to these shores were obliged to fit themselves on one side or the other of the black or non-black (white) racial divide. Not surprisingly, most chose to identify themselves with the side that had full rights. In books such as How the Irish Became White, scholars have traced the path that immigrant subgroups took to become considered part of the “white race.”  It’s a poignant and peculiarly American journey.

That’s because the status of whiteness—and the protection it conferred—came with a significant cost.

Over time, most distinct subgroups gradually lost their distinctiveness. Their members traded specific ethnic labels—Italian, Dutch, Swedish, French—for the generic racial label of “white.” They exchanged identities that told us something about their unique family histories for an elastic racial category that mostly tells us what they are not.

A decade or so ago, I had an epiphany while skulking around Milwaukee’s once German, now African American, West Side. In few places are the mechanics of becoming white so clear. Milwaukee had an ethnic German majority from 1860 until roughly the middle of the 20th century.

This demographic clustering created an ecosystem of newspapers, bakeries, churches, and social groups that nurtured the city’s ethnic distinctiveness. (Even the city’s 1895 City Hall, built in German Renaissance Revival style, resembles Hamburg’s Rathaus.) But in the early and mid-20th century, as greater numbers of blacks moved north in search of industrial jobs, ethnic Germans began to move to the surrounding suburbs, thereby moving beyond the radius of the social organizations and businesses that had nurtured their Germanness several generations after the actual immigrant experience. That’s when they became white.

Not only did this jump into whiteness deprive post-ethnics of all sorts of traditional comforts and ethnic-based networks of affection and meaning, it also stripped them of ethnic identity itself, something that had long served as a source of cohesion and rootedness in the larger, peripatetic society.

In her 1990 book, Ethnic Options, Harvard political scientist Mary Waters argues that being American doesn’t give people that sense of belonging to one large family, “the way that being French does for people in France. In America, rather than conjuring up an image of nationhood to meet this desire, ethnic images are called forth.”

It therefore stands to reason that moving beyond ethnicity into whiteness can lead to a greater sense of individual isolation and loneliness. In her fieldwork, Waters found that many post-ethnic whites often long for the sense of “specialness” and intimacy that being “none of the above” can’t provide.

That longing prompts many to grasp for new ways to connect. In 1972, historian and journalist Thomas C. Wheeler warned that, stripped of embracing ethnic identities, Americans reel off “endlessly on fads” and in “search of life-styles.”

More recently, however, the emptiness of whiteness is not only eroding the social contract but also encouraging people to embrace the abstract certainties of rigid ideologies. Like newly minted atheists who search for all-encompassing worldviews to replace the religions they’ve left behind, atomized post-ethnics substitute political causes for the bakery and social clubs their grandparents once enjoyed.

Recent headlines on infant demographics contained more than a hint of alarmism. Implicit in the story was the belief that changes in the racial makeup of the country would pose a challenge to the nation’s values, identity, and heritage. But race in America has always said more about what people are not than what they are.

On some level, whiteness can only be understood as an anti-heritage, a privileged enclave whose price of entry has been checking one’s past at the gate. The end of whiteness as a majority category doesn’t mean the country is relinquishing something. Quite the contrary, we will literally be losing nothing.

(Gregory Rodriguez is founding director of Zócalo Public Square and executive director of the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. Zocalo Public Square … where this article was first posted … is a living magazine that connects people to ideas and each other. A must visit.) Photo credit:   Dean Terry.   
-cw

Tags: minorities, majority, Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Blacks, Asians, American demographics, race, ethnicity, US, American births







CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 43
Pub: May 29, 2012

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