TThe Census Bureau released the first detailed 2020 census results this month, and many media reports highlighted the nation’s growing diversity, which is real, and the drastic reduction in the white population, which … not it is so much.
First, the facts: the white population did not “shrink” to 57.8% as widely reported, unless you believe in the old “one drop” rule, where an ancestor of another race means that you are not totally and authentically accepted as white. Additionally, this statistic excludes those who checked the Hispanic box, many of whom identify as ethnically Hispanic but racially white.
What happened for the first time was that people who identify as “white” were also able to document their detailed multiracial ancestry. In fact, including the 31.1 million whites who indicated they were also part of another racial group, whites in 2020 constituted 71% of the population, a increase of more than 4 million white people since 2010. That’s because the 2020 census form made it much easier for Americans to claim their diverse heritage compared to 2010, and this affects all groups, including the white population. .
What is becoming less common is for Americans to identify as one race. 10% of all Americans selected more than one breed, compared to just 3% in 2010, a jump from 9 million to 33.8 million in just a decade. So what could explain the incredible increase in the multiracial population for 2020? Birth records indicate that only 2.3 million multiracial children were born during this decade. Certainly more black people or Pacific Islanders, for example, may have claimed white ancestry for the first time this decade. But people who previously identified as “white only” and first asserting their Native American, Asian, or African American ancestry are likely the driving force behind the increase. The Census Bureau itself acknowledged that the “decline” in the white population is largely due to more white people choosing additional racial categories.
A more accommodating decennial form of census appears to be driving a sharp increase in the number of people who identify as multiracial, particularly among whites. All of those DNA tests that we’ve been doing may also have contributed.
And we should also applaud the Census Bureau, not only for completing a census despite a pandemic, wildfires and legal hurdles, but also for a decade of research by Nicholas Jones and others on how best to provide Americans with the means of self-identification. As a result, what the 2020 census reveals is a deeper understanding of how diverse, interconnected and, yes, interrelated we really are, regardless of the categories into which society groups us … for better or for worse.
It is shortsighted that journalists and even some social scientists repeat the myth that America’s white population is drastically shrinking. Instead of pretending that being white is part of a narrowly defined monolithic hulk, the United States needs to lean on a new census category that will increasingly define us all: “people in combination with everyone else.” Failure to do so will continue to fuel a whole body of white supremacy and scaremongering that denies that we were all created equal and are equal under the law and with each other. But that’s not why it’s wrong to say the white population is shrinking. The reason is that it is not true.
Dr. Allison Plyer, Chief Demographer of the Data Center in New Orleans and past chair of the US Census Scientific Advisory Committee.
Dr. Joseph Salvo, Former New York City Chief Demographer and Senior Advisor to the National Conference on Citizenship
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism