A recent story in The New York Times detailed a “doomsday clock” that is making demographers nervous.
It isn’t a Malthusian panic about an unsustainable population explosion. It’s not that millions of climate change refugees will wash up on our receding shores. Nor is it that cities are being increasingly overwhelmed by rural and small town escapees.
It began with a U.S. Census Bureau projection in 2008 – “at the height of Barack Obama’s campaign for president,” The Times wrote – that the United States’ white majority will become a minority in 2044.
Demographers and associated experts were worried that such projections, presented as “a zero-sum game” with winners and losers, would exacerbate racial tension in the nation. They had science on their side.
The Times reported that a Yale social psychologist and a colleague did a test by randomly assigning white Americans to read about the racial projections. The result was an increase in negative feelings about racial minorities and nonwhite immigrants. The subjects of the experiment expressed fears that “whites would likely lose status and face discrimination in the future.”
It seems they were worried about retaliation, fearing that nonwhites might treat us the way our people have treated them through history.
The Times quoted a Harvard sociologist as being stunned at the research: “It was like, ‘Oh wow, these nerdy projections are scaring the hell out of people.’”
This fear may well have been a factor in the increase in racist incidents during the Obama years and since the election of Donald Trump.
Well, fellow white people, I’m here to calm those fears. Hear me out. I have seen the future and it is … San Antonio.
When I came to San Antonio to attend college in 1964, non-Hispanic whites, aka Anglos, were in the majority. It was about the time I left, in 1968, that this status changed. The 1970 census put us at 48 percent.
Anglos have been in the minority fully 50 years. Now we’re at just over 25 percent. Latinos are 63 percent and blacks 7 percent.
So how are things going for us Anglos now that we make up only one-quarter of the nation’s seventh-largest city? Has the city stagnated in a sea of corruption? Have our fellow Anglos fled after being subjected to discrimination and abuse?
The reality is that San Antonio cannot be compared with the stagnant, overgrown town it was is in the late 1960s when we Anglos were in the majority. At that time, city councils included at most two Latinos and one black person. Most were handpicked in secret sessions by a small group of anonymous Anglo businessmen. Otherwise Latinos were largely shut out at City Hall, segregated into vast barrios, and served by segregated, underfunded schools where they were taught trades, not professions.
San Antonio showed little ambition and a well-earned inferiority complex. Its national image was such that outsiders were often surprised to learn that the city had an airport.
In 1967, as a summer intern at the now defunct San Antonio Light, I was alerted to a six-block area 2 miles east of downtown – a black area – where the City had never put in sewers. Residents were still using outhouses. The next year a CBS exposé on third-world conditions in the Westside barrio outraged political and business leaders who were more concerned with the city’s image than its reality.
Fast forward 50 years to today. San Antonio is thriving as one of the U.S.’ fastest-growing cities – 1.5 million and counting. Its economy is humming and diversifying, with cybersecurity as a key growth industry. Downtown, previously almost abandoned to tourists, is booming both as a business center and residential magnet.
I’m not suggesting Latinos alone lead to the city’s economic growth. Anglos still dominate the business sector. But Latinos certainly contributed to that growth, both politicians – led early by Henry Cisneros – and business leaders.
Our 11-member City Council has been made up of at least five Latinos and one black member since 1977, with only a few years excepted. Cisneros was elected the first Hispanic mayor of modern times in 1981, but there have been only two Hispanic mayors since. Ivy Taylor served as the city’s first black mayor from 2014-2017.
That is partly because the Hispanic population doesn’t vote as vigorously as Anglos and blacks. It is also because Latino voters are discriminating – in the best sense of the word – but don’t discriminate, in the word’s worst sense.
In 1995, for example, six candidates ran for mayor. Only one was Latino. He had a politically serviceable last name: Cisneros. But it was Joseph R. Cisneros. Henry was by this time Bill Clinton’s secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Even though Hispanics were then 56 percent of San Antonio’s population, Joe Cisneros won just 6 percent of the vote. As I wrote at the time, if only one Anglo with Cisneros’ qualifications were on the ballot, I only wish I could predict that he would do as poorly.
Today’s seven-member “minority” majority on City Council is hardly lacking in qualifications. Every one has a graduate degree, even though most come from modest backgrounds. Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) has a degree in chemical engineering from MIT, a masters in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford, and a masters in public health from Harvard.
Like all American cities, San Antonio has serious problems: severe economic and racial segregation, many underperforming schools, environmental challenges, a severe lack of adequate mass transit, and more. But we’re working on it together.
White folks who are frightened at becoming a minority need to understand the U.S.’ amazing power of assimilation. San Antonio has thrived under a City government that for 40 years has been governed by racial and ethnic minority councils, mostly the children and grandchildren of Mexican immigrants.
The secret is that they have become Americans. Or as former Mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who as the grandson of immigrants attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School, put it in a tweet to the Tweeter in Chief: “Mexican AMERICAN.”
White Americans should not be afraid of such successes. They should be proud of them.