So you are sitting on a park bench,
just enjoying the weather. What is the likelihood that the next
person that walks by you is of a different race than you? In 2010 the
probability of a different race person walking by was 54.9 percent;
it rose to 61.1 percent by 2020. We are more likely to see people who
are different than us in the classroom, the boardroom or on the
sidewalk, and from what we are seeing these days, our nation is not
ready for this change.
2020 Census data, released a few weeks ago, reinforce what we already
knew. The white population, still our nation’s largest, is
dwindling, down by 8.6 percent from a decade ago. The Latino
population, which includes people of any race (yes, there are Black
Latinos) rose by 23 percent. It is the fastest growing population in
the country. The Black population rocks steady at around 13 percent.
And the population that identifies itself as “multiracial”
has grown by a factor of three.
increase in the multiracial population, which was 9 million in 2010
and grew to 33.8 million by 2020, reflects two things. First, the
rate of racial intermarriage has increased, leading to an increase of
mixed-race children. Second, and equally important, the number of
people who are willing to self-identify as mixed race has increased.
People who once hid their mixed race identity, or felt pressured to
choose one identity or the other, now feel free to embrace the
totality of their identity.
increase in the number of people who choose to identify as
multiracial is both a blessing and an illusion. It’s a blessing
because the accursed “one drop” rule was an oppressive
way of managing racial classification. But the new multiculturalism
is an illusion because it should not inspire “fear of a Black
planet.” As Richard Alba writes in his book, The Great
Demographic Illusion: Majority, Minority and the Expanding American
Mainstream (Princeton University Press 2020), “everybody brown
ain’t down.” In other words, many who identify as
multiracial take on the identity and politics of their white parent,
not their Latino or Asian parent. They embrace their multiracial
identity, but not necessarily multiracial politics.
of the young people whose multiracialism is partly Black do “get”
Black issues and speak up for them. Some, though, are conflicted and
want to see “both sides.” In the face of the outrageous
police killings of Black men and women, there are no two sides, but
some who identify with their white parents are not as ready as others
to take a strong stand.
young voices are driving our reality. On August 28, young Tamika
Mallory called the “Good Trouble” Rally that drew
thousands to the Lincoln Memorial on the 58th Anniversary of the
March on Washington. In the tradition of Dr. King, who was but 34
when he delivered the “I Have a Dream Speech”, Mallory
called people out and took them to task. She asserted her leadership
role and said she would take it, come what may. More importantly, she
told Democrats to do their job, do their work, end the filibuster,
and implement the voting rights agenda. She is powerful, fierce, and
surrounded by a multiracial team that supports her.
is the future of our nation. Young, bold, bodacious, multiracial
energy. There are too many who would throw back to the past, too many
who would deny the demographics, too many who are frightened about
what comes next, who insist on humming, singing and swaying
plaintively, “We Shall Overcome.” In this multiracial
world, there will be less singing and swaying, and more demanding.
those of us who watch the demographics know that numbers don’t
mean solidarity, and that we will have to work to get the coalitions
that we want. And we must also know that no matter how the
demographics shift, our nation still owes Black folks. “We have
come to the nation’s capital to cash a check”, thundered
Martin Luther King, Jr. “And the check has been marked
insufficient funds”. The funds are still insufficient, and the
debt is no less pressing. Shifting demographics don’t cancel
the debt. Tamika Mallory, with her inspired leadership, reminds us to
hold those we voted for accountable.