Monday, June 27, 2011

The New US Demographic

This weekend Yahoo! (and several other more news-y news providers) announced that white babies were no longer the majority. For the first time in recorded US history they've slipped below 50% of babies under 2.

In addition:

Twelve states and the District of Columbia now have white populations below 50 percent among children under age 5 — Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Mississippi. That's up from six states and the District of Columbia in 2000.

There are so many implications here, especially for those states listed above. And these implications will affect the big picture, but also my field: entertainment.

According to the 2010 Census, the second largest racial group was Black /African American alone at 12.6%. Hispanics don't feature on the list because Hispanic is a culture and is made up of more than one race. People identifying as Hispanic represent 16.3% of the US population. Traditionally, these have been the two groups that have gotten the most flack in the US although, with recent terrorist concerns, the Middle Easterners have probably taken over that title.

But even worse than the victimisation of minorities is that they are often ignored. Victimisation, often more horrific in nature, gets the lion's share of media attention, and I don't mean to belittle anyone's experiences at the hand of law enforcement or even regular citizens. But victimisation is less frequent. Huge incidents are often once in a lifetime events. And routine incidents- like being stopped by the police for "driving while Black"- might happen once a month or even once a week.

On the other hand, the resources available to minority communities (especially those on the lower end of the economic scale) are drastically lacking. When your schools, hospitals, etc suck; when the police don't come when you call; when politicians don't take you into account in their policies, that affects your life all day every day.

The new minority-majority (a collection of minorities being larger than 50%) under 2 is going to mean improvement in systems, starting from the ones that affect you earliest in life.

The Yahoo! article pointed out the implications in hospitals. You can imagine that there will need to be more Spanish-speaking doctors available, and better pre- and post-natal options for minorities.

In a few years, this will need to translate into better schools in minority communities. More minorities will have to move towards a higher education path- which may mean more need for financial aid and scholarship. Eventually it will mean more minority positions in different spheres of the job force.

If the US continues to ignore minorities, and the minority birthrates continue to increase as compared to white birthrates, it will have economic implications and the US will create an artificial "aging population."

Living in Japan, I'm very familiar with the aging population. One of the major causes of death in the recent earthquake/tsunami combo was the fact that in many of the Northern towns almost half the population is over 60.

Apart from natural disaster issues, an aging population means you have fewer people (working age) supporting more senior citizens. So Japan has taxes out the wazoo. The UN Population Division found in 2000 that Japan would have to increase the retirement age to 77 or admit 1 million immigrants a year to support the aging population. As a Visa-status worker here, and knowing that the citizenship process involves crazy stuff like immigration officials checking the contents of your fridge (wish I was making that up), I can see which one of those will change.

If the US doesn't arm the minority children with the tools to be productive citizens then they will find themselves in the same situation in about 40 years. And Japan is a country where people are always determined to do things for the greater good. Raised taxes and increasing retirement ages aren't going to fly in the US.


Minorities are already seriously under-represented in entertainment. Way less than 12%/16% of YA books feature Black/Hispanic MC's, and I feel like it's even worse in adult books- especially outside the urban sub-category. Then there's a controversy every other minute about a misrepresentation on a cover where a White person portrays someone who's clearly Black/Hispanic/Asian/Polynesian in the book.

In the book-to-movie realm, Hollywood prefers to spray paint a white actor, than to hire the actor the book describes. Remember seeing an orange Jake Gyllenhal in Prince of Persia? And recently there's the blonde Katniss.

Let's not even get started on Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Water Benders are clearly based on the Inuit, native people of Artic Canada. The Earth Kingdom is an amalgam of East Asia with Chinese and Korean clothing, some Mongolian influences and a city that looks very much like the Forbidden City. The Air Nomads strike me as Buddhist monks of Southeast/East Asia. And the war-mongering archipelago of volcanic islands known as the Fire Nation is the most outrageously obvious to me: Japan. I was amazed that this wonderfully multi-cultural show came out of America. In my opinion, it's the best anime-style show ever done outside Japan.

Then it became a movie. And all of these wonderfully indigenous peoples in what's essentially a re-telling of the early history of the world (sans Europe) were reduced to a single ethnic major character. Dev Patel, of Indian descent, (Slumdog Millionaire) played Fire Lord Zucco. It kind of sucked that they managed to get an Indian in the show, and cast him as the "Japanese".

What will the shift in ethnicities mean for entertainment? Will minorities be more represented on the big screen and the page as a result of being more represented in society? Will the "United Colors of Benetton" become a more common feature of real life and a more plausible feature of fiction? Will minority audiences continue to see movies and buy books where they've been written out, whitewashed, dismissed? Will book and movie producers continue their chicken-and-egg argument? (People don't buy books with minority characters on the front so we don't make them. You don't make them, so how do you really know if people buy them?) Will the US, the major hub of world entertainment finally start representing a little more of the world? (From unofficial sources the largest race in the world is Asian at 40%) Will stories with minority MCs finally just be stories instead of "minority stories"? How will changes manifest in the adult novel world vs children books?

I know that's a lot to chew on, but you tell me what you think. It's Monday and this is what is on my mind.

1 comment:

Pam Harris said...

Whoa, what an informative post. I'm pretty curious to see how this new census will affect the media. There are not that many shows featuring a predominantly minority cast--unless it's on BET. Also, I wonder how representation in books will now change.