Christopher Caldwell: “The Browning of America” And The “Legacy Majority”


Christopher Caldwell is perhaps the finest aphorist in journalism today. For example, I’ve often quoted this sentence from his 2009 book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe:

“One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which affirmative action can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong.”

From the Claremont Review of Books:

The Browning of America
By: Christopher Caldwell

Posted: March 9, 2015

A review of Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America, by William H. Frey.

“We believe our diversity, our differences, when joined together by a common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different,” Barack Obama pronounced at a citizenship ceremony last Fourth of July. Until half a century ago most serious historians would have called such an opinion ignorant or naïve. Ethnic diversity implies cultural diversity—if it did not, ethnic diversity would soon disappear. Cultural diversity means division, division means weakness, and weakness means, eventually, unfreedom.

Such, at least, is the traditional view, and history appears to vindicate it. … Diversity has been the form of belonging that typifies empires, just as nationality has been the form that typifies republics. … The motto E pluribus unum is a sign that the founders saw diversity as a challenge to be mastered, not a resource to be tapped.

Yet “diversity” today is a sacred term. …

* * *

… Frey sometimes describes this change as “the browning of America.” More than half (53%) of the country’s 3,100 counties had declining white populations by the first decade of the century. In the current decade the white population has begun to decline in the nation as a whole. Metropolitan New York and metropolitan Los Angeles have each lost a million white people since 1990. Fewer than half the babies born in 2011 were in the U.S. Census category of “non-Hispanic whites.” Three years from now most Americans under 18 will be “minorities” of one kind or another. In 1970, there were only two cities with more than a million black residents: New York and Chicago. Now there are seven. Los Angeles County and adjoining Riverside County have 6.1 million Hispanics.

In days when people spoke more freely about such matters, dramatic change in the dominant population of the world’s dominant power would have been occasion for speculation and worry.

… Frey’s attitude toward these changes is much the same as President Obama’s: demographically, America is bound for glory.

… Yet Frey could do with a reminder that what he is celebrating in passages like these is youth, not diversity, that natives ought to be as capable of bearing the next generation of children as the foreign-born, that their failure to do so may be an effect of something dire rather than the cause of something to be “celebrated,” and that policymakers have seldom been able to predict the outcomes of wholesale demographic change.

… An economy built around mass immigration may lead to underinvestment in the future. Indeed, this may constitute an off-balance-sheet liability that makes the apparent economic benefits of immigration illusory.

… “It is safe to predict that racial classifications will be modified in the future as multiracial marriages and populations proliferate,” Frey writes. But this prediction is not safe at all. There now exists a market of racial classifications. Whether such classifications as “black” and “Hispanic” get modified will depend on whether they continue to produce jobs, promotions and college placements. In the case of “Hispanic,” if a classification is something you can be incentivized to belong to, then it doesn’t meet anyone’s commonsense definition of a race. A faulty classification produces a faulty reading of society. To argue that Hispanics should or should not be eligible for programs of racial integration designed for blacks in the shadow of Jim Crow is to put the cart before the horse. We have these categories in the first place only to promote people’s insertion into race-based programs.

… For the first time since slavery, immigration accounts for as much population growth among blacks as it does in the country at large. Over the past 20 years millions have arrived from West Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Caribbean—a wave so large that a tenth of American blacks are now immigrants.

… By measures not just of segregation but also of income, poverty, and educational attainment, blacks today do considerably better in states that were segregated until the 1960s than in states that were not.

… Frey finds a strange asymmetry in such racially mixed marriages: three quarters are between black men and white women.

… In a 1973 episode of “All in the Family,” Archie Bunker spoke of a co-worker everyone called Black Elmo, “so’s not to get him mixed up with regular Elmo.” Sophisticates have long belittled the worldview that white people are the only “regular” Americans. Yet we have built our official racial policy around exactly this conception. Our politics, as rejiggered by civil rights laws and affirmative action, assumes a mainstream culture, and the ebbing of the white majority in the United States is going to present genuine governing problems. Frey consistently fails to see this. “Although whites are still considered the mainstream in the United States,” he writes, “that perception should eventually shift.”

But how can it and why should it? Affirmative action has become such a lucrative source of privilege that lobbying has made it impregnable, even in a country that has shown, by twice electing a black president, that it has no need of it. But our regime of affirmative action requires a majority sensitive to pangs of conscience.

Hence, all the denunciations of cisgender straight white male privilege murdering black baby bodies.

… But once whites are a negligible part of the electorate, whose incomes (or life expectancies, or college achievements) are aggrieved minorities’ to be contrasted with? If blacks remain poor when whites are merely another L.A. minority, what kind of remedies will be suggested by the Mexican-American power structure and its Asian supporters? If whites are poorer than, say, Asians, against whose incomes will the poorest minorities’ be calibrated? Assuming whites cannot be transformed from a repentant majority into a scapegoat minority (on the model of European Jews historically, or the Chinese in Southeast Asia more recently), then our ability to make “voluntary” inter-ethnic transfers of money, jobs, and prestige may be nearing its end.

We’re seeing the emergence of the concept of a “legacy majority,” tainted by blood, that will forever remain responsible for the shortcomings of other groups.

When the current wave of 50th anniversaries of commemorations of events of the Civil Rights Era concludes in April 2018 with the assassination of Martin Luther King, we’ll just start over again with the 60th anniversaries.

… Should whites cease to be the majority, they will then become, by definition, just another subgroup. They show signs of following the interest-group logic that, since the 1960s and especially in the last decade, has “racialized” the politics of all other subgroups. … In Georgia last fall, Democrat Michelle Nunn, an impressive candidate and the daughter of a long-beloved U.S. senator, lost after getting only 23% of the white vote.

… “Future elections like this one,” Frey writes of 2012, “will not be demographically sustainable.” One fears he means politically sustainable.

Read the whole thing there.