America is already more diverse than you may realize


A few years ago, demographers Dowell Myers and Morris Levy conducted an experiment aimed at assessing the response of Americans to changes in the demographic composition of the country. They presented a group of respondents with news stories that portrayed the growing diversity of the population in different ways.

They found that talking about the growth itself made a majority of White respondents, including nearly half of White Republicans, feel hopeful or enthusiastic. But talk of whites becoming a minority angered or disturbed most White respondents, including three-quarters of White Republicans.

This tension about America’s changing demographics runs through much of the current political discourse, often implicitly. But this last frame, despite being the most commonly used, is potentially extremely misleading because it constrains the demographics of race as obvious, when for many Americans, it is anything but.

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I’ll preface this conversation by noting that it’s a topic I covered in my book on how power will change in the coming decades. There’s a lot of nuance to this topic that’s hard to capture within the confines of a news article, necessarily, but it’s a topic worth considering when the opportunity arises.

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Such an opportunity appeared this week thanks to a KFF analysis previously conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. KFF looked at Census Bureau data on race and discovered an interesting aspect of Hispanic racial identity: While most Hispanics identified as White in 2010, only a small percentage did so in 2021.

You can see this change below.

It can be confusing for people who don’t follow these things closely. Isn’t their race “Hispanic”? Well, no. The government has defined Hispanics as one since the 1970s ethnic, meaning you are both White and Hispanic, for example, or Black and non-Hispanic. (The Biden administration plans to change that system, it should be noted.) So we have data on racial segmentation among Hispanics.

But why the change since 2010? Mainly because the Census Bureau changed the way it records race.

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“[R]”Major revisions to how the census and other national surveys ask about race and ethnicity within existing standards have led to an increase in measures of population diversity,” write CFF’s Samantha Artiga and Drishti Pillai, “primarily due to an increase in the proportion of people reporting other races or ethnicities, especially among the Hispanic population.

The changes among Hispanics were particularly dramatic, but similar changes occurred with Americans in general. For example, in 2010, significantly more Americans identified as “White only” than as “White and other races.” But mostly thanks to the improvements mentioned above, most US residents now use the latter descriptor. (The central change is quite simple: The Bureau showed more about how people described their racial identity.)

Both nationally and in each state, the number of residents identifying as “White and other races” increased, often doubling, from 2010 to 2020. The number of residents who identify as “white only” has declined in most states.

(In the tables below, those who identify as Hispanic by ethnicity are grouped by their own group.)

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In 2010, “Whites and Other Races” were often a small slice of the state’s population. By 2020, it was often a more important thing. See the growth of the gray segments in the charts below. (2010 percentages are shown in the inner circle; 2020 in the outer circle.)

About 6 percent of those who identify as Hispanic White are White with at least one other race. This is twice as much as in 2010.

The picture painted here is not one of a hard-and-fast White population with a growing number of Hispanic, Black, and Asian Americans. Instead, it is an inherent complexity in racial identification that makes it difficult to identify a potential minority-majority flip, if such a flip is even useful as pride.

In Myers and Levy’s research, however, respondents were presented with a third iteration of discussions of changing diversity: describing the continuing White majority by including people of mixed race as White. It was the frame that caused the least amount of anger and anxiety — especially among white Republicans.


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