Demographic Breakdown of the Vote

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of voters for Obama and Romney.

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of the US population as a whole.

Crediting Obama’s victory to high minority turnout ignores the fact that minorities make up such a large part of the country and that Obama’s supporters reflect the demographic reality in the country much more than Romney’s.

What’s a Hispanic?

The non-Hispanic White population is declining whereas that of White Hispanics is increasing. The difference between the two, or lack thereof, will hold the key to determining mainstream American identity over the coming generations.

As with any conversation on race, last week’s post on the relative decline in the population of White America sparked some interesting questions. What does it mean to be White anyway? And most importantly, in the American context of racial and ethnic demography, what exactly is a Hispanic or a Latino?

The boundaries between racial and ethnic categories are always fuzzy and it doesn’t get much fuzzier than the American invention of the word Hispanic. To get the heart of the matter, one must discern the difference between the American conceptions of race and ethnicity.

Let’s lay out at the outset that race is a construct and that the categories are fluid and not based in genetic classification. Race is, however, seen as having to do with geographic origin, phenotype and identity. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is almost entirely based on culture and identity. The US Census uses the following racial categories:

  • White: having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa
  • Black or African American: having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa
  • Asian: having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent
  • Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
  • American Indian and Alaska Native
  • Other
  • Two or more races

Notice, there is no category for Hispanic or Latino. That is because the US Government considers these to be ethnic categories (not racial) and includes people of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. For example, check out the following Hispanic Americans.

Most folks may not realize that Carlton Banks’ real name is Alfonso Ribeiro and that Charlie Sheen was born Carlos Irwin Esteves. Black and White, but both Hispanic.

I know many of you are already saying, but Charlie Sheen isn’t Hispanic – that he’s just a really weird White guy. That is just the point, White and Hispanic (just like Black and Hispanic) are not mutually exclusive terms. Let’s not forget that Latin America also received millions of European immigrants over the past few centuries. Argentina is arguably the Whitest country in the world. In fact, a majority of Hispanics and Latinos in the US are considered White by the government (but then again so are Arabs).

This begs the question, is it useful to have a Hispanic category if it includes the likes of Martin Sheen, Christina Aguilera and Andy Garcia? When demographers say that the US is going to be a majority minority nation in about three decades, they mean that the non-Hispanic White population will dip below 50%.

There is a possibility, however, that many Hispanics will assimilate into mainstream White and Black culture, as many have already done. This is why most Americans don’t consider Christina Aguilera and Charlie Sheen to be Hispanic in any real sense. By 2050, the US may be less than 50% non-Hispanic White, but since so many Hispanics are already White, this milestone may have little, if any real impact on American identity – it will depend largely on whether in the coming decades, White Hispanics see themselves as being primarily Hispanic or White. Let’s keep in mind that throughout American history, many European immigrants were not initially considered White – the term has been constantly evolving/expanding.

Also, there are already four majority minority states, including Texas and California, where the Hispanic and non-Hispanic White populations are almost equal. The non-Hispanic White community in these states still maintains an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of political and economic power and cultural capital. So perhaps things might not be that different after all.

White Baby Population Falls Below 50%

White babies are now a minority. White people will soon be one too. Will these changes affect the way we interact among one another?

In the year leading up to July 2011, about 4 million babies were born in the United States, of which less than 2 million were non-Hispanic White. This is the first time in American history that there is no racial/ethnic majority among newborns.

The baby numbers came as no surprise to most demographers who had expected this moment for years, but it’s only the beginning of an even larger demographic shift.

In most parts of the world, the thought of an American congers up the image of a White person. This is understandable given that the White population has always represented a large majority of the country, but this majority is shrinking fast. In 2010, the non-Hispanic White population accounted for 63.7% of the total population – the lowest it’s been in our nation’s history.

By the 2040s, the overall non-Hispanic White population in the country will likely fall below 50% for the first time ever. This may have dramatic implications in terms of what it means to be an American. In many ways,  it can already be felt. In a few decades, the US will be the only major Western country to not have a White majority.

I see two potential scenarios. On the one hand, this may be the dawn of an age in which the organizing principle of societal categories will be based on something other than race – perhaps class, religion, geography, ideology. The possibilities to divide are endless, but for the first time, race may not be at the forefront. Another possibility is that the White population, having lost their majority, will grow increasingly insular and fearful of other communities. Let me know what you think will happen when the US become a majority minority country.

Just How Vegetarian Is India?

There are many vegetarians in India, but there are many more meat-eaters. Indians have always consumed meat – as India becomes wealthier, they are merely eating more.

Popular symbols in India designating non-veg (red) and veg (green) cuisine.

A story has been making the round on various NPR stations over the past week that describes vegetarians as India’s new pariahs. While it’s true that India’s appetite for meat is increasing, I get the feeling that most people, including Indians, exaggerate or over-estimate the extent of vegetarianism in India – as if India is inherently vegetarian, and that only now, through exposure to the outside world and new-found wealth, are Indians eating meat.

India’s reputation as being a predominantly vegetarian country is fueled largely by the projection of Brahmanical norms and comparisons to a largely non-veg “rest-of-the-world”. It probably also has something to do with the fact that so many Westerners experience/consume India through that which is spiritual and exotic. If your connection to India consists of visiting ashrams and practicing yoga, then it’s likely that you have been presented a strictly vegetarian perspective.

In many ways, India is the center of the vegetarian world, but there is a common misconception that India is a predominantly vegetarian country. Just how many people actually refrain  from eating meat? Even the NPR story is modest in its estimate of 300 million( 25%). A survey conducted by the Hindu, CNN and IBN in 2006 concluded that 40% of the country was vegetarian (including consumption of eggs). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations sited the National Sample Survey which found that 42% of the country was vegetarian. But still, in India, 40-42% is almost half a billion people, which is greater than the number of vegetarians in the rest of the world combined.

As is the case throughout the world, wealth drives demand for meat in India, the consumption of which is often a status symbol. This is to say that until now, the number of vegetarians in India has been so high, not because people were adamantly opposed to eating meat, but because they could not afford it.

The mistake would be to associate increased meat consumption with “Westernization”. The current increase in meat consumption is merely the intensification of something that already represented a majority of the Indian population. All over the world, as people get wealthier they consume more meat. In the economically developed world, the script is beginning to flip – vegetarianism is often a status symbol associated with wealthier and more educated classes.

Furthermore, there are parts of India such as Kerala, Punjab and Bengal where meat is a staple of the diet. It is safe to say that Indian culture is informed by, accommodates and celebrates vegetarianism, but by no means is India a vegetarian country.