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May 28th, 2017

Insight

America: It's About Ideology, Not Ethnicity

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published March 30, 2015

The U.S. Census released a report this month, innocuously titled, "Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population: 2014 - 2060." Although the report looks at many demographic trends, including falling birth rates and an aging population, that which has received the most attention is the projection that the United States will become a "majority-minority" nation by 2043. In a little over 20 years, the authors state, whites of European origin will be a minority in the United States for the first time in the country's history.

The report's tone is purely informative and non-inflammatory. But the articles covering it certainly aren't, running the gamut from glee ("We're taking over!") to panic ("They're taking over!").

This is perhaps unsurprising, given the current racial climate. But it's troll bait nevertheless, and Americans shouldn't bite.

People who are overreacting to the changing demographics of American society would do well to review their history.

Let's take this notion of "whites of European origin" for starters.

Settlers from England predominated along the Eastern seaboard, but they were preceded by the French and Spaniards. Then followed by Scots. And Germans. And then Irish, in huge numbers, fleeing poverty and persecution. Do we need to remind people that the English and the Irish haven't enjoyed a smooth relationship in the "Old World"? What about the English and the French? The French and the Germans? Germans and Polish? Polish and Russians?

The point, of course, is that vast numbers of people with "European origins" have long histories of conflicts with others. And even where there wasn't conflict, geography, language and cultural differences have tended to keep people apart.

But as European immigrants left behind their former countries and adapted to life in America, allegiance to a common set of ideals outlined in our Constitution tended to replace old national loyalties and the grudges that often accompanied them.

The only reason we can lump "whites of European origin" together here is because of the distinctly American phenomenon of intermarriage and cultural assimilation that has taken place over nearly four centuries.

And it isn't just people of European ethnicity who intermarry and combine cultures in the United States.

In the Southeast, Cubans have come, as have immigrants from other Caribbean nations. Louisiana is a polyglot of French, Canadian, African and Caribbean cultures. The Southwest has seen enormous migration from central and South America. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese who have settled here. (Need we also mention the historic conflicts between Asian nations?)

Contrary to what the popular narrative might have one believe, the mixing and mingling of peoples crosses racial as well as ethnic lines. According to data published by NPR and the website Madame Noire, interracial couples (black, white, Asian, Hispanic) now make up 10 percent of all marriages in the U.S., a nearly 30 percent jump just in the past 15 years. Interracial marriage — banned in some states until the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case declared such laws unconstitutional — is now viewed positively by 90 percent of all Americans.

In a climate where first-, second- and third-generation Americans are marrying people who trace their origin to other countries, what does it mean to be a "majority" or a "minority" anymore?

Very little.

Yes, there are those who cry "havoc." But they have always been here, too. The history of U.S. immigration follows a pattern: one country's emigres would dominate, followed by an influx of immigrants from other countries, which would inevitably produce public consternation about a loss of "culture," similar to that which we hear now.

Immigrants from Northern European nations didn't shed their cultural biases the moment they set foot on American soil. But they managed to put aside their differences long enough to invoke all sorts of tired (but shared) negative stereotypes when Southern Europeans began to arrive from Italy and Greece.

Similarly, Protestants — accustomed to fighting bitterly amongst themselves — agonized together about the millions of European Catholic immigrants, not to mention the arrival of European Jews.

Most of these old biases have been long since debunked.

America has succeeded in uniting and integrating peoples from innumerable backgrounds and origins because here, our loyalties are to principles enshrined in the Constitution: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Immigrants have flocked here to have those opportunities and have come to view those from other nations as fellow travelers on the road to freedom and a better life.

As the 2016 presidential campaign kicks off (ironically, with an American of Cuban parentage born in Canada), the census report is an opportunity for political leaders to move the national conversation away from ethnicity and race and toward the phenomenally successful principles that Americans of all origins can embrace.

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.

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