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Monday, Sept. 18, 2000

Who wants an all-white world, anyway?


LONDON -- "Whites will be a minority in Britain by the end of the century. . . . It would be the first time in history that a major indigenous population has voluntarily become a minority, rather than through war, famine and disease. Whites will be a minority in London by 2010."

So began a recent front-page article in The Observer, normally Britain's least sensationalist Sunday newspaper. Inside was a full-page story headed "The Last Days of a White World," which led with the news that the U.S. Census Bureau has just predicted that "non-Hispanic whites," currently almost three-quarters of the American population, will drop below half between 2055 and 2060.

Let's pause a moment to unpick the assumptions in there. The first, obviously, is that Spanish-speaking whites aren't really white. This is bizarre.

The second is that birthrates among recent immigrant groups will remain unchanged for the next 60 years, and not drop toward the norm as people climb up the socioeconomic ladder. For the Census Bureau to be right, the prosperous, urban, American grandchildren of today's Hispanic or Asian or West Indian immigrants must have as many children as their grandparents, who may have grown up illiterate in a village without electricity.

The third is that it matters what color the American population is. It matters quite a lot what language it speaks, what traditions and values it respects, even what historical myths and memories it cherishes. But what color it is? The only reason that should matter is if you're planning to have a race war and want the numbers on your side.

If this is true of the United States, what are we to say about The Observer's prediction that whites in Britain will become a minority by 2100? There is no comment publishable in a family newspaper that meets the situation.

It is perfectly true that "your Roman-Saxon-Danish-Norman English" (as Daniel Defoe called the "mongrel" English in his poem "The True-Born Englishman" 300 years ago) is due to mutate, over the next generation or so, into your Roman-Saxon-Danish-Norman-Carib- bean-Indian-Greek-African-Pakistani- Turkish-Chinese English. The birthrate is effectively flat among Britain's "old white" population, whereas it is higher among the recent immigrant population (who tend to be much younger than the average).

Britain takes in around 185,000 immigrants a year, about half of whom come from mainly nonwhite countries. Most of them settle in the capital, with the result that fewer than half of Londoners will be white 10 years from now (but then, around 40 percent of us are already other colors, and the sky hasn't fallen yet). Paris lags behind, but is heading in the same direction, as is Toronto.

But this is mainly a metropolitan phenomenon. When pseudo-demographers warn us that almost all the larger countries of Western Europe, North America and Australasia will cease to have a white majority within this century, it is just sensationalist nonsense, since it requires child-bearing patterns to stay unchanged over several generations.

And even if it were true, so what? The kids of Chinese parents in Vancouver and of Somali parents in Toronto speak English with perfect English-Canadian accents. The kids of Senegalese and Moroccan parents in Paris speak French with perfect Parisian accents. The kids next door to me in London have Barbadian parents, but they are manifestly English kids with London attitudes and north London accents. It's called assimilation, and in an era of wall-to-wall mass media it happens much faster than it used to.

The other thing that has changed is attitudes about race. In the late Jurassic Period, everybody knew that people of different races could not live comfortably together, but these kids never got the message. They go around in multicolored gaggles, and they date and mate across what was once called the "color line" without a second thought.

In Britain, in France, in Canada, and increasingly in places like the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Italy, multiracial societies are emerging that do not conform to the harsh patterns we have come to expect from the experience of the first developed society to go down this road, the U.S. One starts to wonder if it is because the U.S. is the only Western country where race-based slavery was a domestic institution.

Elsewhere, despite occasional exceptions like The Observer's nasty little outburst, both governments and the general public are greeting this huge and rapid change with very little fuss. As Jean-Pierre Chevenement, French Minister of the Interior until his recent resignation over a quite different issue, told a meeting of European Union ministers in late July: "Public opinion must be told clearly that Europe, a land of immigration, will become a place where cross-breeding (metissage) occurs." Another translation for metissage is the ugly word "miscegenation," but the general public already knows what's happening, and it is not alarmed.

Nobody seems to mind. As columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote in The Independent last month, "On the whole, I do not observe white Londoners creeping about laden with deep sorrow. Most have never had it so good in terms of choice, whether one is talking about food or lovers. The English, particularly in big cities . . . have embraced this diversity with uncharacteristic passion."

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.


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