In San Diego, you can’t be a minority

The first time I heard it as a brief tidbit on the 1190 KEX radio news. I looked in newspapers until I discovered a tiny item in USA Today April 4. In San Diego, you no longer can be a minority. Minority status in that city is abolished.

The City Council unanimously banned the word “minority” from city documents and even discussions, saying the word is disparaging.

Politicians varied between weasel-wording and a more realistic assessment. Councilman George Stevens took the weaseling route, saying that sometimes people expect less of those who are labeled minorities.

Councilman Ralph Inzunza walked the realistic road. He said the term no longer applies because the 2000 census figures show some areas don’t have a majority group.

The 2000 census threatens to upset everything habitual about the treatment of minorities in California because now everybody is a minority. For the first time in history, the non-Hispanic white population makes up only 46.7 percent of California’s population of a little less than 34 million.

This could lead to all kinds of political problems. Whites now could, theoretically, claim access to affirmative action programs as a minority.

They could claim equal opportunity employment perks. They could sue, charging racial discrimination. They could file class action suits claiming race-based prejudice in hiring and promotions. They could demand redress for racial slurs, racial intimidation, racial harassment. They could claim that a workplace fosters a hostile atmosphere based on race.

Don’t think the politicians don’t see this coming. San Diego is simply the first to take action to head it off.

As minorities go, non-Hispanic whites are still the biggest minority in California, numbering almost 16 million. But Hispanics and Latinos of any race are not too far behind, numbering almost 11 million. Latinos now comprise 32.4 percent of California population, with Asians coming next at about 3.6 million or almost 11 percent of the population. Blacks trail at about 3.3 million.

Amitai Etzioni, a sociology professor at George Washington University, noted, in an April 3 USA Today story, that Texas may soon become the second big state in which non-Hispanic whites are no longer the majority. He raised the question of what this growing Latino population will support, the values of the Democrats or Republicans? He concluded that mostly the differences between Hispanic-Americans and others are only skin deep. Latinos want what most other Americans want: decent jobs, access to health care and good schooling for their children.

He based his diagnoses in part on an interview with Alma Morales Riojas, a representative of a Mexican-American association called MANA. When he asked her about bilingual education, she evidently avoided a direct answer. He reported her response as “she stressed the need for learning English.”

Riojas also called for reform of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He also wrote: “Moreover, the ways polls are typically released make it difficult to see that most of the differences we do find are based on class, not race or ethnicity.” He concluded that “a significant proportion of the differences between African Americans and whites on numerous issues disappear when we compare people of the same class” and he believes this would also be true of Hispanic-Americans.

The shifting patterns revealed by the 2000 census are inspiring numerous writers. Ellen Goodman, a columnist syndicated through The Boston Globe, pointed to California and asked, “What do you call a minority when it’s not?” She cited two examples. One is the golfing phenomenon, Tiger Woods. Although he is more likely to be labeled as black, he describes his own background as Thai, African, Chinese and Native American.

Another of her comments tackled the question of the euphemism African American. The chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court was born in South Africa and thus by any literal definition is African American. Yet Justice Margaret Marshall is white.

To this I would add that a number of South Pacific islands are populated by people as black as any you’d find in Africa, yet if they have any connection with Africa, it must have occurred millennia ago. When or if any of them immigrate to the United States, to label them African Americans would be totally inaccurate.