White America Must Embrace Becoming a Minority

“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly.” (Isabel Wilkerson, Caste)

These are discouraging times, yet also illuminating. While the Black Lives Matter movement has brought hope and determination over this last year, it also brings awareness of how very far we are from achieving equality. And the anti-Asian sentiment that became more evident in response to COVID and climaxed in the horrific shooting in Atlanta last month shows us that hate is an equal-opportunity employer. As more of us act to counter the inequities surrounding race, ethnicity, and gender, the backlash by those intent on preserving the status quo becomes more malicious.

I am a white, middle-class, cisgender female. I recognize my privilege and know I will never fully understand what it feels like to be a minority or a member of a marginalized community. Perhaps it is that recognition that makes me eager for the day when whites join our sisters and brothers of color as minorities in America. It can’t come soon enough.

The U.S. Census Bureau has projected that by the year 2044, non-Hispanic white Americans will join all other ethnic groups as minorities. The Bureau states that, “no group will have a majority share of the total and the United States will become a ‘plurality’ of racial and ethnic groups.” In a few states—California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, plus the District of Columbia—this plurality already exists. Georgia and Maryland will soon follow, and many other states will be without a majority population in the next five to fifteen years. I don’t understand why this is so troubling to many white people, but clearly it is.

A few years ago, I was having coffee with several women. All were over fifty, white, well-educated, suburban, and privileged by just about any standards. Our conversation ranged across the usual: family, food, books, politics, aging…. Someone mentioned the Census Bureau projection that before mid-century, Caucasians would be a minority in America. This aroused considerable alarm and generated further conversations about borders, birth rates, and quotas. My comment, “So what?” was dismissed, undoubtedly viewed as flippant.

I tried to listen for what I was missing, but all I heard was fear and a sense of entitlement that puzzled me. These were smart women, kind women, women who would take offense at any suggestion that they were prejudiced. But they were. Of course, they were. In her extraordinary book, Caste, Isabel Wilkerson refers to this sort of prejudice as “dominant group status threat.” It may not be the usual prejudice or stereotyping; instead, it reflects the vulnerability one feels regarding their own advantages and position in the hierarchy.

I’ve thought back to that conversation a lot, and my response is still, “So what?” (and—more and more—an impatient, “Get over it, sister.”)

Why shouldn’t whites be a minority in America? No historic right was ever conferred on Caucasians decreeing that we have claim to the majority. Why does it even matter? If all people are equal, then whether any of us has majority or minority status shouldn’t matter.

And that gets to the heart of the problem. As long as one segment of the population believes it has an inherent right to be in the majority, we are not equal. Even if we speak up for immigrants’ rights, even if we support Black Lives Matter, even if we brandish our liberal credentials, if we are in any way resistant to the idea of becoming a minority ourselves, we have some work to do. Because, whether we admit it or not—whether we even realize it—we must be viewing minorities as “less than,” and minority status as undesirable. As long as we are unwilling to become a minority ourselves, we carry an implicit bias that we are somehow better, and deserving of privilege. Instead of denying it, let’s acknowledge it and work to put that bias behind us.

Those who are troubled by the notion of becoming a minority need to examine their beliefs. There will, of course, be those for whom racial prejudice and entrenched white entitlement will continue to hold sway. Those people may never change, and their resistance to the progression of American values will continue to place them on the wrong side of history. For many others—most, I hope—it’s just a matter of examining beliefs, acknowledging privilege, listening to the stories of others, and being willing to see from a new perspective. We’re not losing anything by joining our brothers and sisters of color as minorities in America. We’re gaining something precious: we’re moving closer to making the American Dream a reality.

In her book, Wilkerson raises another provocative question: “if people were given the choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?” Recent actions in some state legislatures have provided a troubling answer.

Unless white Americans are unreservedly willing to become a minority in this country that we share with so many other minorities, our talk of equality, equal justice, and equal opportunity is hollow. Our reluctance to relinquish majority status attests that we fear the same discrimination we have practiced for centuries, and that we assume an undeserved privilege granted by the color of our skin.

Instead of wringing our hands, let’s join hands and celebrate becoming a nation of minorities united in a common vision.

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”  (James Baldwin)

24 thoughts on “White America Must Embrace Becoming a Minority

    • So true, Janis. Once we start sharing our stories and really listening to one another, we’ll see how much we have in common. The differences (and fears) will just fall away. I’d like to see Caste become required reading in every high-school in America.

      Like

  1. Donna, this is an amazing piece. Astute, profound, thoughtfully-presented and the exact thing that everyone with a conscience needs to read right now. Could I possibly entice you into letting me feature this in a Blogger Spotlight on Bonnywood? I fully understand if you’d rather I not. Just let me know. Either way, thank you for doing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m amazed how many times I end up writing this as a response to something I’ve read on a blog, but We hate what we fear and we fear what we don’t understand. It seems to be something that lies at the root of so many of our problems. Obviously, in this case we also need to throw privilege and entitlement into the mix, but not understanding, not knowing, feels like the main issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. At the moment of becoming a minority, there will be a need to begin the process of reparations. The use of current empirical data will allow the majority to rethink their new position of responsibility. “Fact over feeling.” You have taken on a very strong position.

    Like

    • I’m sorry, I don’t really understand what you are saying. What majority are you referring to? I would welcome your clarification. With regard to reparations, I believe they are owed to the Black community—if not for slavery, then for the deliberate redlining and other discriminatory housing practices of the 20th century that denied Black people the ability to purchase homes or grow housing equity, thus impeding their accumulation of wealth. The wealth gap between white and Black was systematically created and perpetuated. I find this reprehensible. Lastly, I’m not sure why calling for the acceptance of circumstances that are inevitable is a “strong position.” It is simply welcoming something that is long-overdue. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You are welcome. Wow, Donna, You have opened a big one. We seem to be searching for a simple solution that will change people. My comment was somewhat with “tongue in Cheek” and easily provoke you response. The past has appeared and the future is not yet attained, and with the great programs that were to fix the problem and open doors have been so poorly managed that they have extended the chance of not affording progress. To be honest I am looking for the time when a solution to a problem is offered over the the invention of a solutions that will define the problem. We seem to vilify the opposition over trying to work together for the positive outcome. You have given us much to think about. Keep up the great works.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, pick1, it’s true that simple solutions are probably not on the horizon. Also true that vilifying people who hold different opinions will only divide us further and delay progress. Good intentions and a willingness to listen and learn from one another will take us far.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve gotten to the heart of the problem. Things change and people become afraid of the change. I’m with you in responding with a “so what?” about the census projection. But for people who’ve always been entitled by virtual of who they are & what they look like, the idea that they won’t automatically be in charge of the world is a scary thought. And they’re fighting this reality with all their small-minded might. I find it fascinating and frustrating to observe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, Ally, it’s both fascinating and frustrating. There are always going to be those who assume that birth conferred on them rights and privileges that will carry them through life. But I think more and more people are (finally!) questioning such entitlements. I wonder if the reason we’re seeing so much pushback by the white supremacy crowd these days is that they’re seeing the writing on the wall that their meter has expired.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am an Asian living in Asia, but I understand the fear of the women you wrote about, the fear of becoming the minority. It may be a different situation, but my family, friends and I do fear becoming part of the minority of our island simply because we know too well the culture of the once-minority, and it’s too violent for us.

    I admire your openness to becoming the minority in your country. I just hope when you do become part of the minority, your country will still be the strong country it has been for the last 200 years or so with the new majority.

    Blessings 🙏🌹

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Therese, for sharing your thoughts. It is such a complex issue. I have the feeling that America is at a crossroads. How we respond to current challenges and our growing iniquities will likely determine whether we regain and retain a strong position of leadership in the world (and domestically), or whether we become an irrelevant cautionary tale.

      Like

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.