Local News

Minorities a Majority in California

Posted August 30, 2000

— California, the state that ended racial quotas, fortified its borders and limited bilingual education, now faces a reality in which minorities are the majority.

New census data indicate that blacks, Hispanics and Asians outnumber whites, a shift that could transform California's political dynamics and social priorities in the years to come.

Political campaigns will have to cross racial and ethnic lines, experts say. Those lawmakers will have to address issues, more money for urban schools and easing immigration restrictions, for instance , that might not have been addressed before, they say.

``It's going to be a shock to a lot of us white Anglo males that we have to listen to other people,'' said Stanley W. Moore, a political science professor at Pepperdine University in Southern California. ``What we think is obvious wisdom may not be obvious wisdom to someone else.''

U.S. Census Bureau figures released Tuesday showed that non-Hispanic whites represent 49.8 percent of the state's population, making them a minority in California for the first time since 1860, when accurate census data started being recorded. Only in New Mexico, Hawaii and the District of Columbia are non-Hispanic whites also in the minority.

In some ways, California's political landscape already has evolved to reflect the demographic shift.

In 1998, the state elected its first Hispanic to a statewide office since 1871 when Cruz Bustamante became lieutenant governor.

In campaigns up and down the state, candidates of all races realize they need to appeal to voters regardless of race. U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez's 1996 victory over Republican Robert Dornan is a good example, said Dowell Myers, an urban demography professor at the University of Southern California.

While her Orange County district was 64 percent Hispanic, only about 30 percent of voters were Hispanic, he said.

``The lesson here is that the elections are going to be won by coalitions across ethnic lines, because even though Latinos might be a majority they are a small portion of the voters,'' he said. ``There is not one group that can dominate the voters, so you've got to have wide appeal.''

The voting trend, however, also illustrates one potential source of conflict. While non-Hispanic whites slipped below majority level, they still constitute 65 percent to 68 percent of the state's voters.

The greater focus on issues important to immigrants, some experts say, could polarize a populace that in the 1990s voted to end many social programs for illegal immigrants, limit bilingual education and ban racial and gender preferences.

White retirees, for instance, might be less willing to fund programs for poorer inner-city communities that are largely young and non-white. One of the biggest issues could be increasing funding for urban schools.

``The kids that are in school right now are going to grow up to be your neighbors or somebody who's out of a job in a few years if we don't educate them well,'' said Frank Rodriguez, principal of a Long Beach middle school that is 31 percent white, 26 percent black, 24 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Asian. ``It's really in everybody's best interest. It's really an investment.''

The demographic shift also could complicate such hot-button issues as affirmative action. No longer in the majority, whites could see it as irrelevant. Traditional minorities, on the other hand, could argue that it becomes even more important if they are not properly represented in business and government.

``It's going to impact how we talk about politics and how we talk about identity,'' said Carole Kennedy, a political science professor at San Diego State University. ``Again, California is leading the nation in a path that many other states will eventually follow.''

For many Californians, that diversity is already part of the fabric of everyday life.

California's public schools became majority non-white in 1988. Today, less than 38 percent of the state's 5.8 million public school students are classified as non-Hispanic white.

Among students, race is discussed much less these days, said Rodriguez, the principal.

``It's not a big deal anymore,'' he said.

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