Did y’all see the “news” the other day — ironically, the day before my grandson was born — that white babies are no longer the majority? I first heard it on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Quoth Neal Conan:
We’ve known for years this day would come, but here it is. The Census Bureau announced today that nonwhite births now make up a majority in the United States. Data gathered in 2011 show that nonwhite, Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Native American, mixed race and others combined for 50.4 percent. That’s the first time that white births were not a majority in U.S. history, and that raises some questions about policy – from education to social services programs – and about how we see ourselves as a nation….
Perhaps this is a good time to inject a bit of historical perspective…
I’m still off-and-on gradually making my way through Charles C. Mann’s 1493, while reading several other books at varying rates, and every time I read a stretch in it, I learn something startling. For instance, I refer you to the fact that for most of the history of Europeans in the Americas — up to the mid-nineteenth century — there were far more people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere than there were white. Way more. An excerpt (I hope the publishers will excuse the length of this quote. I share it within the context of urging you to run out and buy this book; there are many other things in it that will surprise you, and enlarge your understanding of our world.):
This was surprising to me for a couple of reasons. For instance, I had long known that before and after the Civil War, South Carolina had a larger black population than white. Which means that before 1860, most of the state’s population was enslaved.
I used to think of that as anomalous. I thought of it as helping explain the fact that South Carolina slaveholders were more fanatically devoted to their Peculiar Institution that the white elites anywhere else. Hence that firing on Fort Sumter thing.
But as it turns out, if you look at ALL post-Columbian immigration across the hemisphere, not just English, you see that far, far more were brought here as slaves from African than came here, either free or indentured, from all Europe. By 1860, this balance had changed in many places (thereby making SC somewhat anomalous), but for most of the time from 1492 until then, a larger black population had been the norm. (Of course, for that same period, there remained more Indians than whites or blacks, in spite of the way native populations had been decimated by European and African diseases.)
I also found it surprising because I spent part of my childhood in Latin America, and it did not prepare me for this statistic — even though I studied history in Spanish in school (Mann’s references to Columbus as Cristóbal Colón seem very natural to me). In Ecuador, where I lived for two-and-a-half years, it was very unusual to see anyone who looked at all African. I knew that Brazil had imported vast numbers of slaves during the colonial period, and that you could see the results on the streets of Rio. I would have said the same of the islands of the Caribbean.
But for there to be that many more blacks than whites across all the Americas? I had no idea. We all are aware that black labor largely built this country, but I guess I thought that was because those workers were owned by a white majority. I was wrong. At least from a hemispherewide perspective.
In any case… whites not being the majority? Nothing new about that on this side of the world.