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Census' racial projections raise fears, researcher says

Thursday, April 06, 2000

By Monica L. Haynes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Will whites become a minority by the middle of this century as the U.S. Census Bureau has projected?

The inclusion of multiracial categories on the Census 2000 form may give the impression that the number of whites is declining even faster, now that people have 63 combinations of racial groupings from which to choose.

However, Mark Ellis, associate professor of geography at the University of Washington, doesn't think white people need worry about ending up on the bottom of the political and socioeconomic heap.

Yesterday, Ellis presented a paper titled "The Coming White Minority? Multiple Race Categories and the Politics of Projection" at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Instead of a multicultural majority 50 years from now, Ellis said demographers predict that some Asians and white Hispanics, whose socioeconomic status is more in keeping with white middle America than with people of color, will probably align with whites to become part of an expanded white population. Some demographers have called this hybrid group "beige."

Unfortunately, he said, this white/beige majority would result in blacks remaining a minority and in a continued racial divide.

About 150 years ago, people of Italian and Irish descent, among others, were not considered white, Ellis said. These ethnic groups eventually aligned themselves with the English, Germans and others who were categorized as white, to gain the advantages of whiteness.

"We want to see race in the future as we see it in the present," Ellis said during a session on the census. But that is not necessarily how things turn out, he said.

"Who knows what the future will actually be? When people make projections [they] get used to support an agenda."

As an example, he cited hysteria that resulted from projections that Latinos will become the majority in the United States by 2050. This led to conservatives pushing anti-immigration and anti-affirmative action legislation in California, which has a large Latino population.

There are positive aspects to making projections based on census information because it helps in planning infrastructure, social services and educational needs. But it's racial projections that get people excited, Ellis said.

In the 1850s, projections of a possible decline in the European population continued through the late 19th century and prompted Teddy Roosevelt's call to old-stock Americans to raise their fertility in order to prevent "race suicide" in the face of mass immigration from southern and eastern Europe, Ellis writes in his paper.

At that time, people were classified as either white or black. Eventually, categories were added for Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean and Asian Hindus. The immigration of other ethnic and racial groups resulted in even more categories being added. This year, for the first time on census forms, people are allowed to check more than one box to indicate racial identification.

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