Ready or not, here they come...

Did you hear the news? Minorities accounted for 50.4% of births in the U.S. during the year ending July 2011. That means that for the first time, non-Hispanic white births are a minority in America.

Observe the curious semantics. In the paragraph above, I’ve used the term “minority” twice: once to refer to a kind of people (non-whites), and again with its literal statistical meaning. I’m aware that using the term “minority” in the former sense has become distasteful, carrying a connotation of inferiority or at least of a kind of helpless downtrodden state.

But the distressing thing about this news isn’t semantics, it’s that it’s news. Of course, no one who’s been paying attention to demographic trends should be surprised, but the issue is really the mere fact that these trends are so important, so worth tracking by the Census Bureau, and that they generate wall-to-wall coverage when something like a 50% benchmark is reached.

How is a birth to a Mexican immigrant different from a birth to a granddaughter of German or Chinese or Greek immigrants? How is the birth of a descendant of African slaves different from the birth of a descendant of 17th century English settlers? For that matter, how is the birth of a descendant of those dark-skinned slaves different from the birth of a child of dark-skinned West Indian immigrants?

And how much does it matter what language the child’s parents speak at home, when that child is sure to grow up speaking English?

Immigration affects the economy, but how much does it matter where the immigrants are coming from?

I suppose demographic developments like these matter in some way. But for the life of me I can’t see how.