NEW YORK — The demographic transformation of the United States of America is one of the greatest untold stories of our time. That is thanks in part to widespread underreporting in our mainstream media.
Already, more than half of the babies born today are non-white and while conservative estimates say the United States will be majority non-white in three decades, there is a new prediction that places that reality in a much nearer future. Guy Garcia, President for New Mainstream Initiatives at EthniFacts, says the magic date on which non-white America will go over the cultural diversity edge is August 22 — of this year.
Using metrics that treat not just racial or ethnic numbers as factors, but also white “allies” — those whites whose children have married non-whites, who have a gay family, or who have proximity and acceptance to diversity — Garcia has developed a CulturEdge Countdown Clock. That clock tells us that the minority will become the majority on that day in late August, at precisely 7:56 p.m.
It’s not the future, people. It’s now.
And yet Latino and African American communities are too often dismissed as subjects while at the same time being courted as consumers and voters by media, politicians and the like. But who is telling the story from the perspective of the people on the front lines of these communities?
Nearly no one, despite the fact that 67 percent of Latinos consume English-language media. And because the issues don’t get covered, the common perception is that these communities are comatose — that they are disinterested in the happenings of our country.
When, in fact, lots of young Americans are concerned with what is going on and take to the streets to demonstrate. But you might never read about it if you only consume the big mainstream media, in print or on the web.
One of my favorite stress relieving activities is running, and one of my favorite places to run is through Central Park. Running through the green, I get to rekindle my love affair with this city — filled with people from all possible backgrounds, from the Muslim women runners wearing head scarves, to octogenarians and gay parents pushing twins.
Just the other day, after a journey that included stops in Omaha, San Francisco, Austin and Chicago I got back home to Harlem and made my way into the north end of Central Park for a run. It was a glorious day, the sun was out and people were ready for the late thaw after an unending and brutal winter.
As I crossed 110th street I began to see and hear hundreds upon hundreds of people walking in unison. Well over half of the people were non-white. Young and old, some were singing, some chanting, some were quiet. There was applause, music blasting and people pouring over streets usually filled with cars. It was all a bit disorienting, so it took me some time to understand what I was looking at.
Was it a political protest? Many were holding signs:
“NEVER GIVE UP”
“WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU”
As I came charging down a hill, a group of young gorgeous boy and girl cheerleaders throwing a girl five feet into the air gave it away. They were the Gay Cheerleaders of NY, providing entertainment and support for the annual NYC AIDS walk, now in its 28th year.
Twenty years ago these same people — though probably more white young men too — would have been getting thrown into jail for acts of disobedience aiming to highlight the ravaging effects of the AIDS epidemic. But on this day, their sons and daughters, grand daughters and sons, and grandparents from communities all over the world and NYC marched along with barely any notice from big media.
That is what struck me in encountering this mass of phatic demonstration: The conventional wisdom via the mainstream media that young people of color are not engaged politically, or at any level, was being challenged before my very eyes.
Speaking with my peers and colleagues, I learned I was not the only one seeing this discrepancy.
"I see evidence of activism online and even locally in places that that are flyover areas for many journalists,” said Daisy Rosario, one of the producers of my show on NPR, LatinoUSA. “The conversations I have been hearing since my youth in Brooklyn and that I gravitate towards now are not being covered or even acknowledged in the mainstream media.”
Recently, a friend who anchors a cable news show told me they had tried “really hard” for six weeks to get the immigration issue covered in a serious way. “We got no traction in the ratings so the executives pulled the coverage," my friend told me.
Well, I thought, do your news executives really believe that if you never cover these issues you can suddenly do it for a month and that month will change everything? It doesn’t work that way.
“Minority” viewers are anxiously waiting to see themselves and their stories in the headlines, in the evening news and the website homepages, but they never do. It is an unfortunate consequence of a deep, widespread and serious problem in terms of diversity at every level of the news business and most especially in the senior editorial ranks.
Activism is happening on the AIDS front across the country. Public high-schoolers are protesting on Newark streets. There are hunger strikes and acts of civil disobedience around immigration taking place from coast to coast, almost every day now for weeks.
But is any of it headlining primetime news? No.
That’s probably because most of this is happening in non-white communities, around issues the majority of wealthy, white, upper middle class suburban and urban white Americans have no relationship with.
Which is why on a recent visit to Northern Idaho (for my PBS television series which is precisely devoted to looking at the stories around this change), in one of the statistically whitest areas of our country, I was a bit stunned to hear one answer repeated over and over when asked about the now upon us minority majority in the US.
Almost everyone I spoke with said, “I haven’t really thought about it.”
It seems diversity just doesn’t come up.
Migration to this area of the country has more than doubled in the past 20 years and it has been an overwhelmingly white migration. At the core of diversity here are poorer whites facing an influx of Californians.
But now the fastest growing demographic in Idaho is Latino.
While Idaho is still overwhelmingly white today, I predict a sea change. Just in the last few months I have met several, yes several, Latinos from Idaho.
They must be thinking about diversity in that state because they are living proof of its growth, but these new Latino Idahoans have told me they aren’t just thinking about race and ethnicity all the time.
They love what the rest of the people who are drawn to this state love — the borderless outdoors and mountains and houses with picket fences, towns where people wave hello and which remind these Latinos of their home towns back in Mexico, in ways that Los Angeles and New York City can't and never will.
But the change in these landscapes continues to go unnoticed by most and Guy Garcia says the inability to recognize this demographic explosion in our new America is problematic.
"We are at an unprecedented historical moment. It's absolutely critical that people no longer deny or avoid the reality that they probably already see in their lives. They see it by looking down the street, they see it at the office, on TV, in advertising. Anyone who says they are oblivious or don't see signs of a multicultural America must be in some sort of sensory deprivation tank," he said.
The truth is that our demographics are not the only things that are changing; our democracy is changing too. People are on the streets. People are protesting, they are questioning. But most of the media still has not seen it.
And so many continue to miss this story.
People: Open your eyes.
If your media is not covering what’s happening in these communities — in your community — then go beyond it. Change is happening everywhere and to have your head in the sand is not only bad for you, it’s bad for our country.
GlobalPost columnist Maria Hinojosa is a regular contributor to the VOICES series on the GlobalPost commentary page. She is president and CEO of The Futuro Media Group, which produces LatinoUSA, the longest running Latino news program in America.
This piece is part of a new GlobalPost Special Reports/Commentary initiative supported by the Ford Foundation called "VOICES." The mission of VOICES is to present the ideas and opinions of those who are less frequently heard in the media, including women, people of color, sexual minorities, citizens of the developing world and young people. These voices will consistently discuss topics important to GlobalPost Special Reports including human rights, religious issues, global health, economic inequality and democracies in transition.