The New Majority
Most of you will encounter in your classroom the growing cultural, racial, religious, and ethnic diversity of our society. Until 2000, the majority of people in the United States were European Americans. In most of our major urban areas, however, a new majority is emerging—one composed of people of color: African Americans, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Arab Americans, and many others.
Civil rights activists cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge with armed police officers watching in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965.
Democracies are based on the rule of the majority. Who is this emerging new majority? It includes (as of 2000) the 34.7 million African Americans, many of them descendants of slaves, who today struggle against segregation, ghettoization, poverty, failing schools, high rates of unemployment, and police brutality (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). African Americans constitute 12.3 percent of the U.S. population. Some 55 percent of all African Americans live in the South (The Black Population of the U.S.A. 2000. U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2001).
This new majority includes the Latino population of 35.3 million, more than double the 1980 U.S. census figure. Nearly two-thirds of the Latino population are Chicano (that is, U.S.-born persons of Mexican heritage). Like African Americans, Latinos experience systematic racial and class oppression. In 2006, 20.6 percent of Hispanics were living in poverty as compared to 8.2 percent of non-Hispanic Whites (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006). Latinos and African Americans also suffered double the rates of unemployment and poverty experienced by European Americans (Mishel, Bernstein, & Allegretto, 2007; Teller-Elsberg, Folbre, & Heinz, 2006). Between the 1993–1994 and 2002–2003 school years, the total number of children enrolled in U.S. public schools increased by about 4.7 million; 3 million, or 64 percent of the increase, were Latino children (Frey, 2006).
The new majority includes the Asian/Pacific Islander population, which has doubled in size over the past decade to more than 10.2 million people. Asians are 3.6 percent of the national population. Though portions of this community are economically less disadvantaged than other people of color, some 10.3 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders were poor as compared to 8.2 percent of non-Hispanic Whites in 2006 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006).
The U.S. Census Bureau describes some of this diversity:
“Asian” refers to those having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam. “Pacific Islander” refers to those having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. The Asian and Pacific Islander population is not a homogeneous group. Rather, it comprises many Asian and Pacific Islander groups who differ in language, culture, and length of residence in the United States. Some of the Asian groups, such as the Chinese and Japanese, have been in the United States for several generations. Others, such as the Hmong, Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians, are comparatively recent immigrants. (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000)
The new majority also includes approximately 1,190,000 Arab Americans, many of whom are subjected to political harassment, racial profiling, media abuse, and ethnic discrimination (Abu El-Haj & Thea, 2002; Al-Qazzaz, 1996; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2005), and more than 2.4 million Native Americans, who have survived genocide and cultural domination for more than 200 years. The struggle of Native Americans is a political and cultural struggle for national self-determination—and for survival (Mihesuah, 2003). See Figure 3.1.
Included in the total population in 2000 were 28.4 million foreign-born residents (10.4 percent of the total population). Among these 28 million people, 51 percent were born in Latin America, 25.5 percent were born in Asia, 15.3 percent were born in Europe, and the remaining 8.1 percent were born in other regions of the world (U.S. Census, 2000).
The emerging majority is found not only in urban areas; it is also evident in small towns and rural areas of the South and Southwest, where Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans often constitute a majority population within their communities.
The emerging diversity is even more pronounced among young people and students. In many urban centers, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians each represent a higher percentage of the student population than do the same groups in the total population. In many states and school districts, the increased diversity of the student population has resulted in the districts having no single majority group. All cultural groups, including European Americans (or Whites), are minorities. Because there is no majority group, what does the term minority mean? In nontechnical writing, such as newspapers, authors usually mean minority-status individuals, or subjugated individuals. As a means of referring to the new reality of the diverse populations in our towns and cities, young people and community activists at times refer to African Americans, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans collectively as “people of color” rather than as minorities.
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