Will ‘whiteshift’ save America from ethnic strife?
If you’ve been paying any attention at all to journalism in recent years, you surely have noticed stories predicting, often with a certain relish, that the United States is about to become a majority-minority country.
Such predictions, as the Obama administration Census Bureau director noted in 2014, “made demographic change look like a zero-sum game that white Americans were losing.” Such fears contributed to Donald Trump’s election in 2016. No one wants to vote for the side that seems to say, “Hurry up and die.”
But are those trends so inevitable? Not necessarily, writes political scientist Eric Kaufmann, a Canadian who teaches in Britain and is of Jewish, Chinese and Latino ancestry. His most recent book is called “Whiteshift,” which he defines as “the mixture of many non-whites into the white group through voluntary assimilation.”
As he points out, something like this has happened before. A hundred years ago, Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish immigrants pouring into Ellis Island were considered to be of different “races” by white Anglo-Saxon Protestant elites.
Half a century ago, their descendants were regarded as still culturally and politically distinctive in Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s description of New York ethnic groups in “Beyond the Melting Pot.” A “balanced” ticket in those days had to include Irish, Italian and Jewish candidates.
Today, all these groups are lumped together as “whites,” even though there are still perceptible, though muted, differences in political attitudes and perspectives between those with different ancestries.
One might go even further back in history. American political culture and institutions have their roots, as the late political scientist Samuel Huntington argued in “Who Are We?”, in England, which, in the 17th century, welcomed Jews and Huguenots; tolerated Catholics and Quakers; nurtured representative government; and protected individual rights, unlike almost all other European polities. That’s a template for an expandable polity, one that gives us and other Anglosphere nations a useful model as we experience ethnic change.
In the short run, things can seem rocky. Kaufmann argues that a majority ethnicity facing minority status can respond in four ways, and is likely to do so successively over time.
The first way is to fight, to shut off immigration and bar asylum seekers, as Hungary and Poland have done, or just to enforce existing immigration laws. President Trump’s call for a “beautiful wall” is shorthand for the latter course, even if he hasn’t managed to follow through.
Another alternative is to repress opposition to change. Democrats’ knee-jerk opposition to Trump’s measures, almost indistinguishable intellectually from an open-borders policy, is an example. “Cosmopolitanism and ethno-traditional nationalism are both valid worldviews,” he writes, “but … imposing either on the entire population is a recipe for discontent.”
Instead we should let the two other responses go forward. One is flight, and indeed in Britain as well as America, young families flee multiethnic central cities for mostly white suburbs, while rural and small-town folks (doing surprisingly well in the Trump economy) tend to stay in place.
The fourth response is what he thinks will be decisive in the long run (50 to 80 years), intermarriage, which “promises to erode the rising diversity which underlies our current malaise.” He notes that Hispanic-white intermarriage rates are high. And it’s been a championship season for part-Asian Americans from Tiger Woods to (as blogger Steve Sailer points out) “Jeopardy!” whiz James Holzhauer.
Intermarriage rates for American blacks remain considerably lower, which raises — in my mind, at least — the question of whether people of Hispanic or Asian “race” should have been giving the panoply of racial quotas and preferences accorded blacks by the Nixon and Reagan administrations. Yes, you can find limited examples of systematic racial discrimination against Latinos near the southern border in the past. There was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Theodore Roosevelt’s blocking Japanese inflow to Hawaii in 1907.
But Hispanics never experienced slavery here or anything like the legally and violently enforced segregation of blacks in the Old South. And the only invidious discrimination Asians have suffered in the last half-century, so far as I can discern, is at the hands of Ivy League and selective college admissions officers.
Will Kaufmann’s optimistic “whiteshift” scenario ever happen? The current political brouhaha is discouraging, but our history provides grounds for cautious optimism.
Michael Barone is a Creators Syndicate columnist.