Race In 2028

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

I don't much like talking about Affirmative Action, mostly because I don't actually know what it is. Like a lot of people, I thought the Ricci case was Affirmative Action. It actually isn't--it's an Equal Protection case. (I think) More than that, I have no sense of its scope. What is its scale? How many blacks actually benefit from Affirmative Action? How many whites suffer? How large of public policy is this?

Lastly, and maybe most damningly, I am human, and black too. I am plush with my own prejudices. My sympathies are, rightly or wrongly, not so much with the kid who can't get into Harvard, and must settle for Brown, or even Maryland, but with the kids I went to middle school with. The ones who, I hope, made it into community college.

That said, you can't really escape the debate. It's all around us. Ross is interested in, not really debating whether we should have Affirmative Action now, but whether we should have it two decades from now:

But the senators are yesterday's men. The America of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is swiftly giving way to the America of Sonia Maria Sotomayor and Barack Hussein Obama.

The nation's largest states, Texas and California, already have "minority" majorities. By 2023, if current demographic trends continue, nonwhites -- black, Hispanic and Asian -- will constitute a majority of Americans under 18.By 2042, they'll constitute a national majority. As Hua Hsu noted earlier this year in The Atlantic, "every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation."

As this generation rises, race-based discrimination needs to go. The explicit scale-tipping in college admissions should give way to class-based affirmative action; the de facto racial preferences required of employers by anti-discrimination law should disappear.

A system designed to ensure the advancement of minorities will tend toward corruption if it persists for generations, even after the minorities have become a majority. If affirmative action exists in the America of 2028, it will be as a spoils system for the already-successful, a patronage machine for politicians -- and a source of permanent grievance among America's shrinking white population.

I think a few things.

1.)I suspect you will get class-based AA well before 2028.

2.) The states Ross highlighted--Texas and Cali--are ahead of his column. They outlawed Affirmative Action years ago.

3.) I am semi-skeptical of demography which predicts the coming white minority.Whiteness has proven to be an amazingly protean concept, absorbing whole groups that it once shunned. It's not clear to me that Latinos, or at least some Latinos, can't be absorbed too. I'd suggest a middle ground. Some Latinos absorbed. Some not. How that breaks down, I don't know. But I think the notion that all Latinos, in 2028, will be nonwhite is flawed. As I recall, the majority of Latinos, right now, check "White" when asked about race. It's been suggested to me that that says more about the census forms, then about Latinos. Maybe.

The only group whiteness has proven incapable of absorbing are blacks. This makes sense. In America, whiteness doesn't depend on Italians, Jews, Asians or Latinos--it depends on blacks. The whole point of the Civil War wasn't simply to protect slavery, but to protect a kind of "nobility for the masses." As long as blacks remained a bonded class, white people--slave holders or not--always had a peasantry beneath their feet. To be white was to have the latest Jordans. If everyone had Jordans, they'd be pro-Keds.


This same notion undergirded everything from the Black Codes, to Jim Crow, to the epoch of lynching, to segregation in the Army, to redlining, to housing covenants, to police brutality today. I keep going back to that great quote--"If slaves will make good soldiers, than our whole theory of slavery is wrong." A southern politician said that toward the end of the war, when the Confederacy was hearing the death knell, and considering adding black troops.

Black people are the essential insoluble--even today we are the most segregated group in this country. I'm not suggesting that that can't change. Indeed, it may well change by 2028. That, actually, would not shock me. But I wonder if white means anything after that.


This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2009/07/race-in-2028/21711/