Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Minorities are not looking for 'payback'

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
May 24, 2012 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The U.S. population is becoming less white, according to new census data.
The U.S. population is becoming less white, according to new census data.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. Census says that more than half the babies born in 2011 were minorities
  • Ruben Navarrette: People like Rush Limbaugh see the change as a threat
  • He says minorities are not looking forward to "payback" once they're in the majority
  • Navarrette: Minorities just want a seat at the table and to offer something back to the country

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist.

San Diego (CNN) -- You've probably read those articles about how, in the United States, minorities are becoming the majority. That's a polite way of describing what is really going on. Namely, that the U.S. population is becoming more Latino and less white. More than any other group, it is Latinos who are driving demographic changes.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that, of all the babies born in the United States in 2011, more than half were members of minority groups. Latinos, Asians, African-Americans and other minorities accounted for 50.4% of births last year, marking the first time in U.S. history this has happened.

Immigration is a driving force. So is the fact that Latinos have higher birthrates because they tend to be younger and starting families. According to the report, Latinos have a median age of 27; with whites, it's 42.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

When I read these kinds of stories, I wince. Some people assume that making lawmakers, media and corporations aware of population trends will persuade them to see the value in diversity and cause them to reach out to nonwhite populations. In my experience, it doesn't have that effect at all. People tend to do what they want to do the way they've always done it.

But what you can set your watch by is the backlash to these stories. It's rooted in fear, but also in human nature. No one likes being told they're being displaced or pushed aside, or that they're not going to be as relevant as time goes on.

So when David Bostis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, tells CNN.com as he did recently: "The Republicans' problem is that their voters are white, aging and dying off" and that "there will come a time when (Republicans) suffer catastrophic losses with the realization of the population changes," it is bound to set off shock waves. And it did.

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh saw the CNN story as a threat, and he went ballistic.

"It is clear that this, and other similar stories like this, are meant to serve as a warning to Republicans and conservatives," Limbaugh told his audience of millions.

"And the warning is: You are on the wrong side of history. And you are on the wrong side of demographics. You better do what the coming majority wants right now, or you're gonna suffer the consequences. There is an implied threat in this story. You're getting older. You're white and you're dying off. Pretty soon you're gonna find out what it's been like to not be you."

"That's the implication of the story," Limbaugh insisted. "You've been the majority for all these decades, all these generations, but your time is coming when you're gonna be the minorities and there's gonna be people with majority power over you. So you better learn right. You better change your ways. You better get with the program so that everybody likes you."

As is often the case when Limbaugh charges into matters of race and ethnicity, he has it all wrong. These aren't threats. These are facts. And they're presented not to pressure people to do "what the coming majority wants right now" as much as to highlight the value of doing the right thing by making our institutions more inclusive.

Stories like this are supposed to enlighten us and give us a heads up about what's coming around the corner, so we can take advantage of the trend and not be overrun by it. Elected officials, media companies and the business communities can put off thinking about the future, but they can't escape it.

Meanwhile, what people like Limbaugh seem to be trying to escape is a reckoning for what happened in the past. As he sees it, all this talk about changing demographics is tied to a larger criticism of the United States as having at times fallen short of its own principles of liberty, fairness and equality.

"Part of it is payback because this evil white majority has arranged things so they get all the spoils," he said. "And then whatever they don't want is what gets handed down. Those days are about over, and the big change is coming."

What needs to change is this kind of thinking. It's total nonsense. In nearly 25 years of writing about politics, race and ethnicity, I've never heard any member of a minority group talk about how they're looking forward to "payback" once they're in the majority. Not one.

What I do hear quite a bit is that people of color believe in the greatness of this country, and they want to help write the next chapter in ways that benefit them and their families. They want a seat at the table, not because they feel entitled but because they feel they have something unique and valuable to offer. And they don't want to get even; they just want to get ahead.

What's wrong with that? Nothing.

In fact, it's in keeping with some of this country's greatest traditions. Have no fear. The face of America is changing. But it's heart and soul never will.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT