Census Data, Education and the New Majority
Last week, the U.S Census reported that July 1, 2010 marked the first time births of non-white babies (at 50.4 percent) eclipsed that of white babies (at 49.6 percent). The demographic shift forces a reconsideration of tomorrow’s faces, projecting that by 2042 whites will become the minority demographic nationwide (a yardstick long since surpassed in California).
With the news, questions quickly emerged as to the future of this country’s education system, where a majority of students will soon be people of color. The emerging rhetoric, in media and among activist circles, is that given the xenophobia seen in some members of Congress and on the street, it is difficult to conceive of older white generations paying for an equitable education system. Along with Social Security, they contend, education will become a tested site of conflict over who and how much will fund these public programs.
Such a scenario could already be playing out here in California, where Governor Jerry Brown hopes to pass a tax initiative that increases taxes on the wealthiest in order to close a $16 billion deficit. The move would also prevent further cuts to the state’s K-12 education, where students of color are the majority.
Barring passage of the so-called “millionaires tax,” Brown will have to slash $14 million from K-12 education. In my own city where I vote, San Pablo, Measure Q and Measure K both speak to raising taxes in order to fund city services and schools. Again, in San Pablo and nearby Richmond, people of color are the majority who will be impacted should such cuts actually go through.
But I want to make a distinction over the rhetoric that has emerged in light of the Census findings and concerns over a “majority-minority” shift leading to political and social gridlock. First, I believe it’s unfair to assume that older generations of white Americans will not invest their share in public education.
Second, and more importantly, I believe this outlook totally downplays the political power and responsibility of people of color, rendering us into the position of being mere passive recipients of white largesse. If anything, our political power is expanding as evident in the numerous organizations and activists responsibly involved in the Occupy Movement and May Day rallies representing communities of color.
The potential to build political coalitions formed of people once thought of as disenfranchised is unprecedented. We live in a time where citizenship is contested and no longer bounded geographically. Everyone has the right to create non-traditional forms of citizenship that can and will impact. People have to believe in their own power. And that begins with school.
The Census release should serve as a signal for the nation to begin thinking about how to fund an equitable education for all.
Edgardo Cervano-Soto is a fellow with New America Media's Youth Education Fellowship. The fellowship is a six-month long program for youth reporters aged 16-24 on education reporting. It is sponsored by the California Education Policy Fund.