White supremacy, with a tan
Updated 8:07 AM ET, Sat September 4, 2021
(CNN)Cutting taxes for the rich helps the poor. There is no such thing as a Republican or a Democratic judge. Climate change is a hoax.
Some political myths refuse to die despite all evidence the contrary. Here's another:
When White people are no longer a majority, racism will fade and the US "will never be a White country again."
This myth was reinforced recently when the US Census' 2020 report revealed that people who identify as White alone declined for the first time since the Census began in 1790. The majority of Americans under 18 are now people of color, and people who identity as multiracial increased by 276% over the last decade.
These Census figures seemed to validate a common assumption: The US is barreling toward becoming a rainbow nation around 2045, when White people are projected to become a minority.
That year has been depicted as "a countdown to the White apocalypse," and "dreadful" news for White supremacists." Two commentators even predicted the US "White majority will soon disappear forever." It's now taken as a given that the "Browning of America" will lead to the erosion of White supremacy.
I used to believe those predictions. Now I have a different conclusion:
Don't ever underestimate White supremacy's ability to adapt.
The assumption that more racial diversity equals more racial equality is a dangerous myth. Racial diversity can function as a cloaking device, concealing the most powerful forms of White supremacy while giving the appearance of racial progress.
Racism will likely be just as entrenched in a browner America as it is now. It will still be White supremacy, with a tan.
My personal stake in a multiracial America
I don't like raising such a pessimistic scenario, in part for personal reasons. I want to believe my country is on the verge of this Brown New World where there will be such a rich gumbo of skin hues, hair textures and racially ambiguous people that racism will lose its sting.
My family is a symbol of these demographic changes.
My mother is Irish; my father was Black. My wife is an immigrant from Central America with a biracial mother and a White "Ladino" father who was Jewish and Castilian. My stepmother is Chilean, and half of my siblings are Afro-Latino.
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I have one relative with blonde hair and blue eyes who moves through the world as a young White man, but he's really Afro-Latino. And I have another Black relative who went to court to argue that he was White (he lost). The 2020 Census could have used my family portrait for a poster.
There is a yearning embedded in my DNA that a demographic tide will overtake White supremacy -- the belief that White people are superior and they should maintain political, social and economic power over other races.
This yearning is not driven by some wish that people of color will someday rule over Whites. It's a hope for a more just America, a hope that we can somehow escape the tribalism that tore other countries apart.
That hope was captured by one of the savviest commentators on race in America, in a passage I can't seem to forget. After President Obama was re-elected in 2012, David Simon, creator of the HBO series "The Wire," wrote:
"America will soon belong to the men and women -- white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight -- who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions."
Simon added that "this may be the last [presidential] election in which anyone but a fool tries to play -- on a national level, at least -- the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear..."
We know what happened next: Donald Trump was elected president. White supremacists marched in Charlottesville. Rioters waved Confederate flags during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. The list goes on.
It turns out that the reports of White supremacy's demise were exaggerated.
Whiteness is elastic
White supremacy isn't just more resilient than many assume. It's also elastic.
Consider how Whiteness has been defined. It's a prime example of how White supremacy adapts.
The census suggests that White Americans will be a minority by 2045, but as several commentators have already noted, that date can easily be postponed. Whiteness isn't a fixed identity; it's like taffy -- it expands to accommodate new members, if they have the right look.
In books like "How The Irish Became White" and "Working Toward Whiteness," scholars have argued that the definition of Whiteness has expanded to include Irish, Italian and Jewish people -- groups that once weren't considered fully White in the US.
The US has broadened its definition of White people throughout history enough to maintain power over Black, Asian and Latino people, writes political scientist Justin Gest in a recent essay, "What the 'Majority Minority' Shift Really Means for America."
"Through a historical lens, being white in America today is like belonging to a once-exclusive social club that had to loosen its membership criteria to stay afloat," Gest writes.
Why do so many racial groups gravitate toward Whiteness? The answer is both pragmatic and psychological.
It's due to a racial hierarchy that places Whiter-looking people at the top and darker-skinned people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
"Sometimes looking White puts money directly into your pockets," says Tanya K. Hernandez, author of the