Let’s not mince words. It’s hard being a white person in America. I hadn’t noticed this but that’s what everyone seems to say. So I was struck when a group of stories came together today in what seemed like a serendipitous way.It starts with the news that among the people 5 years old and younger in America whites are now a minority. It’s worth noting that that’s a pretty small part of the population. And all it really means is that white people are no longer a bigger slice of the population than everyone else combined. But it does put the trajectory of American demographics and life in sharp relief. If you figure that it was a big, big deal that the percentage of the white vote was 72% in 2012 and had fallen from 88% in 1980, you can see that the fact that in 20 years that percentage, among young voters, will be 50/50, it’s actually a very big deal.
Then there was this story of Rep. Steve King (R-IA), well-known crazy person and tireless driver of TPM audience numbers, going on Twitter to complain that because of President Obama’s climate of lawlessness a group of “illegal aliens have just invaded my DC office.” TPM’s Perry Stein caught up with the horde of illegals/aka ‘Dreamers’ to get their side of the story here.
And then just after noon, we heard about the story of 11-year-old Sebastien De La Cruz, who sang the national anthem at Tuesday nights NBA Finals game and then got deluged by racist tweets telling him to go back to Mexico and that he’d probably just snuck into the country hours before and other good stuff. De La Cruz was born in San Antonio.
Good times, as they say.
But it’s brought home some of my own thoughts about the changing racial makeup of the country and the persistent or perhaps growing climate of white racial panic as white people face a future as only the biggest single group in the country with most of the wealth and power. Race has, obviously, always been a central part of American politics. Always. But we don’t have to go back to 1619 or 1863 or any other ancient date. Let’s just talk about the 1990s or really any other time up to the last few years. It’s not that any of this stuff is new. It’s that until pretty recently we had this stuff and on balance it was successful. That’s the key. And now, though it’s a very close run thing, it tends not to be successful. And by successful I mean in a purely electoral sense. Does it get you more votes than it loses you. And at a certain level that’s all that matters.
Republicans invested heavily in voter suppression for the 2012 cycle. And while it is very important to note that a big reason why it didn’t ‘work’ was that courts struck down a lot of the most egregious laws (and huge kudos to the myriad civil rights and voting rights lawyers who made that possible), it also didn’t work because the attempt itself massively energized the growing non-white electorate. So every time a little Mexican-American kid dares to sing the national anthem at a basketball game wearing a mariachi suit and freaks start telling him on Twitter to go back to Mexico, it’s gross and it’s a bummer, but you also realize that it’s probably marginalizing the white racist freakshow vote more than it’s empowering it. And when conservative backbenchers in the House say ‘pathway to citizenship’ over my dead body or despair of American culture, well, sure bring it to the next election and let’s see what happens. And the one after that.
It’s worth remembering that the intensity of this kind of thinking will almost certainly grow as its political effectiveness wanes. But the simple fact is that calculus has changed. There are now enough non-white people in America and just as critically enough whites who are either at least comfortable or even welcome being in a multiracial party and country, that the electoral calculus has changed. And that’s a really good thing.