Rethinking American Diversity: Conceptual and Theoretical Challenges for Racial and Ethnic Demography



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Rethinking American Diversity: Conceptual and Theoretical Challenges for Racial and Ethnic Demography

Hayward Derrick Horton

Department of Sociology

and


Center for Social and Demographic Analysis

State University of New York at Albany

1400 Washington Ave.

Albany, NY 12222

Chapter in the upcoming book based upon the Albany conference, “American Diversity: A Demographic Challenge for the Twenty-First Century.” The author thanks Beverlyn Lundy Allen for her extensive comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Of course, the author accepts responsibility for the final version hereof.

Rethinking American Diversity: Conceptual and Theoretical Challenges for Racial and Ethnic Demography
Abstract

The increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the United States raises many issues for demographers and society in general. Racial and ethnic identification, accurate enumeration and cultural adaptation are clearly important topics that demographers have been addressing over the last two decades. However, one issue that has not been fully addressed is racism in the context of population and structural change. Accordingly, the purpose of this chapter is to discuss the implications of increasing diversity on the nature and magnitude of American racism in the 21st century. Specifically, the following questions are addressed: 1) What is the relationship between increasing population diversity and racism in the United States? 2) What are the conceptual and theoretical implications of the incorporation of racism as a concept of analysis for future studies of racial and ethnic demography? and 3) What are the policy implications of this change in population composition for American racism?



Rethinking American Diversity: Conceptual and Theoretical Challenges for Racial and Ethnic Demography
The preceding chapters have highlighted many of the key issues with which demographers are debating and attempting to discern some meaning of. Without question, the changes in the definitions of racial categories, and the problems associated with intermarriage, self-identity, and immigration patterns are highly pertinent. Differentials in fertility and mortality by race are expected to continue well into the 21st century. Racial segregation in housing and differences among the elderly by race are likewise expected to be problematic for many years to come. However, all of these issues bring to mind a discussion that occurred around 1990 in my undergraduate social demography course. At the end of a lecture on the dramatic increase in America’s minority populations, a white student frantically raised his hand. He asked me a question that until that time had never been asked in any course that I had taught: How many white people were there in the United States? Sensing his dismay, I allayed his fears. I told him that there were approximately 200 million whites in America; and, that whites are likely to be the majority for the foreseeable future. The student let out a loud sigh that brought a roar of laughter from the entire class.

Interestingly enough, the student did not ask why whites will continue to be the majority. If he had, I would have said that this majority status is likely to be maintained irrespective of whether whites are a numerical minority (which in itself is highly unlikely) because of the racism that is inherent to the American social structure. This is because the white population controls the wealth, status and power in America. Accordingly, this chapter addresses racism in the context of population and structural change in the United States. The following questions are raised: 1) What is the relationship between increasing population diversity and racism in the United States? 2) What are the implications of the incorporation of racism as a concept of analysis in future studies of racial and ethnic demography? and 3) What are the policy implications of this change in population composition for American racism?
The Social Demography of American Racism

Racism Defined

As noted in the preceding chapters, race is a social construction. Thus, the meaning of race varies across time and space. Similarly, the term racism has so many common and political uses that it is often confused with race, racial prejudice and racial inequality. Sociologists who use the term are quite specific in its meaning however: racism is a multi-level and multi-dimensional system of dominant group oppression which scapegoats the race of one or more subordinate groups (van den Burghe 1967; Blauner 1972; Wilson 1973; Feagin 1995; Bonilla-Silva 1997). One of the ironic implications of the systemic nature of racism is that in contemporary America, most members of the dominant population are not racist. Yet, they benefit from a system that differentially rewards and punishes society’s members based upon race (Ture and Hamilton 1992).

Applying the concept racism to the study of racial and ethnic demography necessitates the usage of two accompanying terms: population control and population power. In this context, population control is not limited to the attempts to obtain or maintain an optimal population size (Bouvier 1992; Cohen 1995). Population control also means, deliberate efforts by the dominant population to limit the size, inhibit or force the geographic mobility of, and/or deny citizenship to one or more subordinate or foreign populations. Population power refers to the ability to exercise population control, and to change the social structure so as to maintain the advantages of the dominant population.1 It is important to note that population control and population power are not inherently racist concepts. It is the why and the how of the usage of the aforementioned that link them to racism. In short, the concept racism becomes meaningful within the context of racial and ethnic demography via the application of population control and population power.2

An Example of Racism, Population Control and Population Power

Lieberson’s classic, A Piece of the Pie provides an excellent example of racism, population control and population power in the United States (Lieberson 1980). The purpose of this study was to compare the experience of blacks with white immigrants from 1880 to 1980. Specifically, Lieberson (1980) sought to empirically determine if the level of discrimination experienced by blacks exceeded that faced by white immigrants. He in fact was able to document that this was the case. However, Lieberson also revealed the nature and extent of the reaction of American society to the unprecedented European immigration that occurred between the late 1800s and the early 1920s.

This immigration coincided with the transformation of the American industrial economy from an agrarian to an industrial base. In addition, this population settled into the places to which the political and economic power of the nation was shifting--the cities. In short, these immigrants were perceived to be a threat to the dominant population of that era (Lieberson 1980).

Moreover, Lieberson (1980) provides overwhelming evidence of how the concept race varies from one time and context to the next because the southern, central and eastern Europeans (hereafter, SCEs) who were coming to America in such great numbers were not considered white. It is important to note that this belief was not one held solely by the lay person. To the contrary, Lieberson documents how even the intelligentsia, sociologists included, provided “scientific” evidence that this “racewas genetically, culturally and socially inferior to “whites.” In this case, being white meant northern or western European (hereafter, NW).

In addition, Lieberson (1980) documents that the immigration quota system that was established in the 1920s limited and controlled the size of the SCE population. This was done for the sole purpose of maintaining the NW dominance in American society. In short, the SCEs faced racism rather than simply xenophobia or ethnocentrism.

Finally, Lieberson (1980) notes the process by which these people who were considered sub-human were eventually admitted to the family of the white race. This occurred when there was a dramatic influx of blacks to the North in the form of the Great Migration. SCEs were pronounced white and joined the NWs in practicing racism against blacks. Thus despite their supposed inferiority, SCEs were embraced when there was a perceived greater “external” threat.

This example provides an understanding of the relationship between population and structural change and racism. Moreover, it provides an excellent parallel to contemporary America. Once again, this country approaches the turn of the century. And, as was the case in the late 1800s, American society is experiencing dramatic levels of immigration at a time of a transformation in its industrial base. What is needed at this point is a theoretical or conceptual framework that will facilitate an understanding of contemporary American diversity and the racism related thereto.
The Population and Structural Change Thesis

The population and structural change thesis argues that changes in the relative size of the minority population interact with changes in the social structure to exacerbate the level and nature of racial inequality in society (Horton 1995). In the case of contemporary America, the dramatic increase in the minority populations are occurring simultaneously with the transformation of the American economy from a manufacturing to a service/information industrial base. As was the case with the advent of the industrial revolution, workers have been, and will continue to be, displaced during the current transition (Bluestone and Harrison 1982; Horton 1995). Wilson (1987) cites social dislocation as a major reason for the high levels of un- and underemployment among black blue collar workers. However, the position held here is that social dislocation goes beyond the working class, black or white, and is at best a partial explanation for racial inequality. In short, the changes in the American industrial economy are occurring at a time when the size of the minority middle class has likewise increased (Horton 1995).

This means that for the first time in America’s history, the middle class of the dominant population has to compete with its counterparts among America’s minority populations (Bennett 1992). In short, being white and college educated is no longer a guarantee to a “good” job3. Hence, it is in this context that racism in contemporary times emerges. The dominant population uses its power to maintain its position in the social structure. One manner of doing so is to change the “rules of the game” so as to benefit members of the dominant population (Franklin and Moss, Jr. 1994). Examples of these rule changes are the attacks on affirmative action and the passage of Proposition 209 in California. It is no coincidence that these attacks on provisions to protect minority rights have first occurred in the state that arguably is experiencing the most dramatic change in its economy and racial/ethnic composition. Moreover, it is the middle class segment of the dominant population that is making the most strident cries of “reverse discrimination” and “quotas are unfair” (Blackwell 1991). This flies in the face of the fact that until the establishment of civil rights laws in the mid-1960s, there was a quota of nearly 100% dominant population members for the good jobs in the United States (Wilson 1980). Minorities were relegated to lower status jobs or quasi-professional positions in service to their respective populations.4 In short, population and structural changes function as triggering mechanisms for the use of population power and control to resurrect or fortify a racist social system.
Sociological Consequences of Racism in the Context of Population and Structural Change

The consequences of racism at any time are many (Feagin 1996). However, they are multiplied more so when society is undergoing dramatic population and structural change (Horton and Burgess 1992). Here, only three will be addressed because they have likewise been discussed in prior chapters of this volume. They are: the meaning of whiteness; what it means to be black in America; and the immigration question.

The Meaning of Whiteness. In reality it is almost artificial to discuss white identity in America separate from the meaning of being black. Just as wealth and poverty are inextricably linked, so are whites and blacks. These two populations have become the bi-polar standards for wealth, status and power in America. Other groups determine and measure their place(s) in the social structure based upon their relationship (proximity to or distance from) these poles in the racial order (Bonilla-Silva 1997). Nevertheless, for purposes of theoretical analysis, a separation of these two populations is useful.

Population and structural change has altered the meaning of “white” in American society. In part this is a direct result of the presence of Latinos and their dramatic growth in American society. Since Latinos can, technically, be of any race, a distinction was made between race and Hispanic status in the last decennial census. What has resulted is the practice of reporting two categories of whites, one being a nonHispanic category.5 However, even before this practice, there has been the tendency to code persons from North Africa (e.g. Egypt, Libya) and the Middle East as white (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1992).

Nevertheless, there is a significant discrepancy between census theory and racial practice in America (Anderson 1988). Persons who are identifiably of North African or middle eastern descent are not considered white by the general white population.6 A recent example will help demonstrate the point that, to non-Europeans, whiteness is a status that, at best, should be considered on loan. At the time of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, there was an immediate assumption that this crime, which to date is the greatest single instance of American terrorism in the post-Civil Rights Era, was perpetrated by Arab terrorists. Thus, Arab Americans were immediately suspect. One particularly Arab American professional was detained, harassed and humiliated by FBI agents because he boarded a plane in Oklahoma City and had a connecting flight in London.7 Similar suspicions of Iranian Americans arose during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.

In short, instead of being white, these persons actually have a designation as “anything but black.” When the primary focus of the dominant population was the control of blacks, other minority populations enjoyed an “honorary white status.” As long as their numbers were few, then these non-European “whites” could be tolerated. However, increasingly European Americans, the true dominant population in this society, exercise power and control over these nonEuropeans in such a manner that brings into question the utility of the honorary white designation. Ironically, Europeans and descendants thereof, be they tourists, visitors or illegal aliens, are never considered foreigners. Thus, by virtue of being “true” whites these foreigners achieve a level of acceptance in American society that eludes even the “honorary whites” who were born in the United States.8


The Meaning of Blackness. Like white racial identity, population and structural change in the context of racism is changing the meaning of blackness in America as well. Black ethnicity is a topic that has been addressed for some time. Economist Thomas Sowell (1980) argued that there are three distinct groups of blacks: the descendants of slaves, free blacks and West Indians. Moreover, he maintains that a disproportionate number of black leaders have come from the latter two groups.

However, the greatest change in black identity may stem from two other contemporary trends. The first is the practice of many blacks to refer to themselves as “African Americans.” This trend was started by a national black elite (politicians and intelligentsia) who apparently felt there was a need to emphasize the cultural ties of blacks in America with Africa. It should be noted that most blacks, not being part of the black middle class (and certainly not the national black elite), continue to use the term black. In fact, even many educated blacks use the terms interchangeably. Ironically, this trend has had just the opposite effect. Many West Indians, who can identify with being black, do not identify with the term African American. It is probably safe to assume that blacks who are naturalized citizens from Africa likewise would not identify with this label. For instance, a Nigerian would probably consider herself as a Nigerian American instead. Thus, what has happened, for all practical purposes, is the ethnicitization of a race (Horton 1992a). In short, like other hyphenated Americans blacks may now have a name that is capitalized. However, it is fair to say that it minimizes the significance of the black experience in America (Franklin and Moss, Jr 1994). Blacks were, and continue to be, oppressed in this society because of their color, not their culture (Massey and Denton 1993; Feagin 1995). The new group designation fails to appreciate this fact.

The second trend that is changing black identity is the increase in the population of black-white parentage. It is important to note that most blacks have some white ancestry (Bennett 1982; Spickard 1989). Such was the nature of slavery that many white men, and more than a few white women, took sexual advantage of black women and men (Blassingame 1979). However, in contemporary times these couplings are generally of mutual consent (Spickard 1989). Usually of the black male-white female variety, the children of these unions are increasingly wanting to be designated as mixed as opposed to simply black. This is not surprising. In this society, as in most others, it is the mothers who have the primary responsibility of passing on the cultural identity (Billingsley 1992). It would follow that the white mothers would want their mixed offspring to be designated as “anything but black” due to the social disadvantages of black status. This is supported by the fact that there doesn’t appear to be the same level of concern in the cases when the parentage is that of white with other groups. Moreover, there is some evidence that this “anything but black” sentiment is held with other groups as well.9

It is maintained here that this rise in the number of mixed persons who wish not to be identified with being black is not indicative of a more tolerant society. Just as the mulattos of the slavery era, these neo-mulattos are attempting to distance themselves from a category of people that appear to be permanently the object of racism in America (Feagin 1995). However, the growth in this population does speak to the changing role of white women. They have benefitted significantly from the Civil Rights Movement. In short, the increase in the number of white women with black mates is a testament to the increase in their own power in this society.

But similar arguments have been made for decades relative to the black population (DuBois 1899; Frazier 1957; Horton 1992a). However, more often than not, the determinant of differentiation has been social class. DuBois (1899) noted these class differences at the turn of the century. Frazier (1957) wrote a scathing critique of the black middle class because of their mimicry of white upper class society and their disdain for blacks in the working and lower classes. However, in contemporary times, the sociologist who has gained the greatest notoriety on the issue of class differentiation within the black population is Wilson (1980; 1987; 1996). It should be noted that the race vs. class issue has been debated for nearly two decades and certainly will not be continued here (Willie 1979; Horton 1992b; Thomas and Horton 1992; Horton 1995). However, what has gotten less attention is the impact of the race-class interaction relative to black ethnicity (Butler 1991; Horton 1992a).

In short, it has been over three decades since the passing of the historic 1964 Civil Rights legislation. For nearly three decades class differences within the black population have persisted in the context of social isolation and social dislocation (Wilson 1987). Three decades is sufficient time for class differences to evolve into ethnic differences within the black population (Horton 1992a). This ethnic divide is likely to be one of the greatest challenges to both demographers and society as well. For the former, it may involve rethinking the implications of two segments of a population that are so different on sociodemographic indicators as to be considered separate populations altogether. For the latter, it may mean having to deal with an increasingly disadvantaged population without the benefit of the class of individuals who traditionally provided the leadership for both the black underclass and society itself in addressing the problems thereof.



The Immigration Question. As noted in an earlier chapter in this volume, much of the increase in American diversity is due to the dramatic levels of immigration of Asians and Latinos. When one considers the sheer numbers of immigrants, let alone the rates of increase, it is clear that the United States will likely be a very different place in the 21st century. However, the consideration of the impact of racism in the context of population and structural change might lead demographers to temper their predictions on the likelihood of the dominant population becoming a numerical minority in the coming century. Certainly, all things being equal this would likely happen. But all things have never been equal in the United States. The history of the use of power by the dominant population would suggest that controls will likely be implemented to forestall racial and ethnic minorities from becoming a numerical majority.

Moreover, it is a misperception to think that the United States could not secure its borders if it truly wanted to. It is clear that illegal immigration serves the interests of the dominant population. The true question that we as demographers might want to ask is, “At what point does increased levels of immigration, legal or illegal, become detrimental to the dominant population’s interests?” Alternatively, we might ask, “What is the threshold of the dominant population’s tolerance of immigration?



Demographer Leon Bouvier presents a thoughtful and balanced discussion of the immigration issue in his recent book Peaceful Invasions (Bouvier 1992). He argues for placing limits on immigration, but not on the basis of race and ethnicity. Instead, he presents reasoned arguments on the impact of continued immigration at current or higher levels on the underclass, economic development, the polity, cultural adaptation and the environment.

Bouvier correctly argues that the United States is long overdue in the establishment of a comprehensive, population policy. He also predicts that his arguments on immigration limits will be misconstrued as racist. It is maintained here that to avoid the discussion will leave the debate to those who are likely to exacerbate racial tensions.

Because of the magnitude and implications of this policy, its development cannot be left to the politicians. Once again, the historical demography of this nation lays the blame of America’s legacy of racism at their feet (DuBois 1933; Anderson 1988; Blackwell 1991). In this instance, it is the responsibility of demographers to lead. This leadership must take the form of sounding the alarm, initiating and developing a conceptual and theoretical framework that explicitly brings racism to the fore of demographic analysis.

The Challenge to Demography

“Obviously the kind of knowledge that counts is not simply descriptive. The fleeting moment, the current event, possesses no significance except as related to past and future occurrences through systematic interpretation. For social knowledge to have value, it must comprehend the basic principles of society as opposed to the mere surface phenomena. Decisions made on the basis of superficial information are likely to yield results opposite to those expected.” Kingsley Davis, Human Society 1948. p.16


The above passage was written by a famous social demographer, Kingsley Davis, nearly fifty years ago. It is no less valid today than during that era. In fact, given the dramatic population and structural changes that America is currently undergoing, one might argue that those words are more relevant than ever before. As demographers, the next decade promises to rewrite much of what we purport to know about racial and ethnic demography. And, as correctly noted in an earlier chapter in this volume, our demographic techniques do not provide us with the means of knowing what shape the new population reality is likely to take. Perhaps that is as it should be. As with any science, it is the development of theory that will be the litmus test of its relevance and viability. Thus, the greatest challenge that we demographers face in the twilight of the 20th century is the development of the theories and concepts that will serve us in the 21st. We must be able to explain these phenomena. And yes, like any good science, we must be able to predict demographic trends and phenomena. Of course, mathematical models alone cannot provide us with the knowledge and insight that we seek. But logically, why should they? To understand the complexity of social phenomena, it follows that we should employ social rather than mathematical models. To answer the major questions that are likely to arise in the next century, we as demographers must set about the task of developing new demographic theories.

In the case of racial and ethnic demography, it is maintained here that one of the concepts that facilitates theoretical development is racism. Unlike the demographic transition, the baby boom and bust, the met-nonmetropolitan turnaround, or any of the other major trends that we demographers have written about and debated, racism has consistently been an intrinsic element in the historical demography of the United States and the Western world. Moreover, there is ample evidence that it will play a major, if not pivotal, role in America’s demographic future. Hence, this chapter considers the implications of the incorporation of racism as a concept of explanation in future studies of racial and ethnic demography.


Racism and the Demographic Significance of Culture

In earlier chapters in this volume, the issue of culture arose as an explanation of differentials by race, particularly between blacks and whites, in various demographic processes. In fact social scientists in general, and demographers in particular, are beginning to voice concerns and write about the need to include cultural explanations to account for the persistent (and generally highly significant) net effects of race in their various multivariate models.10

Without question, culture should be part of the overall explanatory scheme in the demography of race and ethnicity. However, the question that we should ask is, “Whose culture are we making reference to?” Whereas it is a simple task to employ cultural explanations when all else fails, it does relatively little to advance the understanding of racial and ethnic demography. For instance, in the case of black male mortality, demographers can cite the impact of an inner city underclass culture that condones violent behavior. Yet that explanation is only partially true. Missing from that explanation is the culture of indifference of the dominant population that relegates the black, urban poor to high population density areas that are all but abandoned by the nonpoor (Wilson 1996). These areas of high poverty concentration are devoid of jobs, quality schools and hope. The primary form of “public safety” that this population receives is in the form of “controls” by the dominant population in an effort to contain it. In short, the dominant culture supports the existing, racist social order (Massey and Denton 1993; Yinger 1995). The dominant culture places an exceedingly low value on black life (Hacker 1992). Thus, any demographic analysis of this population that attempts to include culture as an explanation must include a discussion of racism in order to be complete.
Racism and the Demography of Racial Inequality

The incorporation of racism as a concept of explanation is likely to be highly fruitful for demographic studies of racial and ethnic inequality. In the context of diversity in the 21st century, racism is expected to continue to be relevant to the allocation of wealth, status and power. Of course, of these three, the most important is power. With power a population can obtain, or maintain, wealth and status.

As the respective minorities increase in number, theoretically so should their political influence. However, it is important to note that influence is not power. Thus, the true question is whether the dominant population will be willing to share power. An appreciation of the role that racism plays in the determination of the allocation of power will allow us to “predict” three likely scenarios for the future.

Scenario One: Stable, But Persistent Racism at Current Levels. In this scenario, the dominant population does not perceive the increase in the subordinate populations as a threat to its position in the social order. This would likely be the case if the rate of growth of the subordinate populations did not increase dramatically. Assuming that the rates of natural increase and immigration remained relatively stable, and general economic conditions do not deteriorate, racism should not substantially increase in magnitude. The only exception here would be if new immigrants began to deviate from their established migration streams.



Scenario Two: Decreasing Levels of Racism. In this case, subordinate populations could increase gradually or dramatically, but not at a faster rate than the economy. Thus, despite their greater numbers, subordinate population members would not be perceived to be competing with dominant group members for employment opportunities. Again, this would assume that subordinate populations did not deviate from their establish migration streams. It also assumes that subordinate populations did not dramatically increase in their overall levels of human capital so as to compete with dominant population members for relatively high status positions.

Scenario Three: Increasing Levels of Racism. This circumstance is likely to occur should the subordinate populations increase while there is a general downturn in the overall economy. Moreover, racism is expected to increase should subordinate populations establish new population streams; and/or if there is a dramatic improvement in their levels of human capital via selective migration or sustained social mobility. Manifestations of increase levels of racism would be: 1) the establishment of restrictive and/or punitive anti-immigration legislation; 2) the retrenchment in civil rights laws and practices; 3) explicit support of anti-subordinate population action by the major institutions in society, particularly government (federal, state, or local) and the media; and 4) the use of military force to restrict or eliminate immigration, or to generally contain subordinate populations.

It is important to note that the full potential of the use of racism as a concept of demographic analysis is not exhausted by the above. However, these ideas and examples underscore the fact that racism lends itself to such consideration because it is inherent to the social structure and thus has long been a part of the “population policy” of this society since its inception. The likelihood that the dominant population in the United States will lose or willingly relinquish its power is infinitesimal. Hence, racism as a concept greatly increases the ability of demographers to predict the consequences of increased racial and ethnic diversity in the context of population and structural change. Moreover, it is clear that demographers in general must take the lead in calling for a national debate on U.S. population policy.



Implications for the Future of Population Policy

Addressing the challenges presented by America’s increasing racial and ethnic diversity will be one of the defining issues of the 21st century. It also will probably be one of the most difficult. Why? Primarily because of the legacy of racism in this country’s history. It is understandable that any discussion of population policy raises the suspicions of the various minorities. It is for this reason that an explicit discussion of racism in the historical demography of the country is necessary.

The first step toward the development of a population policy for the United States is to acknowledge that this country has had an implicit population policy all along: the maintenance of white domination at the expense of the subordinate groups (Franklin and Moss, Jr. 1994; Omi and Winant 1994). In contemporary times the policy has become more subtle, but it is nevertheless consistent with that goal. Yet, using the old policy as a point of departure, a discussion can ensue that facilitates the development of a new population policy for the U.S. that is based upon fairness and respect for human dignity. This would entail bringing to the table representatives from the various minority populations--including the Native Americans. There have to be discussions on the optimal population size for this society given its resources. And yes, on the table has to be the issue of limitations to immigration--both legal and illegal. However, when discussing this issue, then equal time must be given to immigration from Europe and Canada (invisible immigrants) as well as from Latin America and Asia (visible immigrants). There also have to be discussions on birthrates and family planning. Education and educational quality likewise must be addressed. Most importantly, whatever policy that is put forward must not only have the input of the minority populations, but also reflect the interests of all segments of American society. This would entail a willingness of the dominant population to share the resources of this society in a more equitable fashion. In short, it would require that the dominant population do that which heretofore it has been unwilling to do: to be fair with those that it has the power to control.

Conclusion

The purpose of this chapter was to discuss the implications of increasing racial and ethnic diversity for the nature and magnitude of American racism in the 21st century. The goal of this paper was threefold. First, the relationship between the increasing population diversity and racism was addressed. Secondly, the conceptual and theoretical implications of the incorporation of racism as a concept of analysis for future studies of racial and ethnic demography was examined. Finally, the chapter addressed the policy implications of increasing population diversity in the context of American racism.

It was maintained that racism in the context of demographic analysis must be accompanied by discussions of population control and population power. A dominant population in any society exercises population control and power when there is a threat to its position in the social structure. The population and structural change thesis was introduced as a means of explaining the social and demographic context within which racism functions and the consequences thereof.

The application of racism as a concept for future demographic studies has potential for rethinking how culture can be employed to explain racial differentials on a number of social and demographic indicators. It also has the potential for allowing demographers to make some predictions relative to the consequences of increased racial and ethnic diversity in the 21st century.

Finally, the policy implications presented revolved around the idea of an equitable use of power by the dominant population. This entails, bringing representatives of the various populations together to develop a population policy that represents the interests of all groups. Moreover, the history and nature of American racism make it necessary that demographers take the lead in the framing of a population policy for the nation.

Racism is a concept that is rarely used in demography. Perhaps because it is often misused in society in general or applied inconsistently in different contexts explains its absence in our field. Nevertheless, it is maintained that racism has considerable potential for advancing the demography of race and ethnicity. For instance, given that racism is distinct from race and racial inequality, theoretically demographic models could be developed that measure all three simultaneously. Thus, arguments advanced either by demographers or others on the declining impact of racism on racial inequality could be tested empirically.

More importantly, racism as a concept both facilitates and underscores the need for the development of critical demography. In this new paradigm, questions can be raised and issues can be addressed that don’t appear to “fit” conventional demography. Critical demography allows for the development of theories and concepts that articulate the relationship between the social structure and the existence of dominant and subordinate populations. While not limited to the issue of racism, critical demography is the paradigm that is best suited for addressing the complex social and political issues related thereto. In short, while being mutually exclusive concepts, critical demography and racism can be mutually reinforcing. It is argued here that the study of racial and ethnic demography would be advanced as a consequence.

In conclusion, it is hoped that this chapter inspires other demographers to take up the challenge in applying this powerful concept, racism, in new and innovative ways. Given the dramatic population and structural changes that America is experiencing, it is clear that many of the existing concepts relative to racial and ethnic demography are limited at best. As we march into the 21st century, perhaps we will be better able to understand, explain and predict the consequences of racial and ethnic diversity by embracing the “rword.”



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1It should be noted that there are many bases of power for the dominant population of any society. However, the ultimate expression of power is the use of force. Thus, in modern societies, it is military power that truly maintains the existing social order. Once the order has been firmly established, other forms of power (e.g. political) determine the manner in which scarce resources are distributed within the entire population. Nevertheless, it is the monopoly over military power that ensures the position of the dominant group in any society. This is less obvious in the United States because the prevailing social order has been in place for a relatively long period of time. The only serious internal threat to it occurred over one hundred years ago in the form of the Civil War. Consequently, no minority population in the United States has true power. Instead, depending upon a myriad of factors, not the least of which being happenstance, minority populations have varying degrees of influence. Finally, it should be noted that this definition of population power builds upon the classic work of Max Weber. Interested readers should consult, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (Weber 1947) for further reference.

2Examples of racism in the historical demography of American society are plentiful. The genocide practiced upon the Native American population, the enslavement of Africans, the repatriation of Mexicans, and immigration restrictions placed upon Asians are but a few. Unfortunately, there is no one study that brings all of these and other examples together from a demographic perspective. Interested readers should consult Snipp (1989), Daniels (1990), Franklin and Moss, Jr. (1994) and Horton (1995).

3A relatively stable and well-paying position in the labor force with benefits (e.g. medical, dental, insurance etc).

4This was evident as early as 1899 in DuBois’ classic The Philadelphia Negro. DuBois reported that blacks, irrespective of educational attainment, skills or experiences were systematically excluded from all but the most undesirable jobs. Blau and Duncan’s The American Occupational Structure (1967) demonstrated that blacks from middle class origins were more likely to experience downward, rather than upward, mobility. Feagin and Sykes’ Living with Racism: The Black Middle Class Experience (1994) document a renewed effort on the part of the dominant group to exclude blacks from opportunities in contemporary times.

5Ironically, in the 1970 census, Latinos were inadvertently categorized as whites and thereby were unidentifiable. However, the change in the “Hispanic” category from a race to an ethnicity has practically resulted in a similar, though purposeful, procedure.

6Only the relatively small size of the population of North African and middle eastern Americans has spared them of the type of discrimination historically reserved for blacks.

7In the final analysis, the true suspect was a “real” American with ties to the anti-government white militia movement.

8For an alternative perspective on the meaning of whiteness, readers should consult Alba (1990) and Waters (1990).

9Tiger Woods, a professional golf superstar of black and Asian parentage has similarly created a designation for himself that essentially says “anything but black”: cablinasian. Ironically enough, his new racial category did not allow him to escape the racist slur that was made by one of his fellow golfers. It should be noted that the reference was to his black rather than his Asian heritage.

10Wilson (1991), a non-demographer, was perhaps the most prominent scholar to call for a return to culture as a causal factor of the plight of the disadvantaged. He argued that the attack on Moynihan (1967) during the 1960s, primarily led by Ryan’s classic, Blaming the Victim (1971) caused sociologists to refrain from discussions of culture for fear of being labeled as racists. Wilson goes on to contend that in the interim, conservative scholars, journalists and politicians have filled the vacuum and have dominated the culture debate. On the other hand, the unwillingness of sociologists (at least those in the center and on the left politically) to acknowledge the cultural component leaves them with relatively obtuse, structural arguments. Structural arguments appear weak and perhaps nonsensical to an American public that has grown accustomed to three decades of simplistic, conservative and mean-spirited propaganda about the poor (Katz 1989; Wilson 1996).


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