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Thursday’s New York Times had news sure to provoke demographic panic in some of the more unsavory corners of American society: the Census Bureau announced that non-white babies now account for the majority of births in the US. Here’s the Times writeup: 

Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended last July, according to Census Bureau data made public on Thursday, while minorities — including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race — reached 50.4 percent, representing a majority for the first time in the country’s history.

Such a turn has been long expected, but no one was certain when the moment would arrive — signaling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race, from the days of slavery, through a civil war, bitter civil rights battles and, most recently, highly charged debates over efforts to restrict immigration.

While over all, whites will remain a majority for some time, the fact that a younger generation is being born in which minorities are the majority has broad implications for the country’s economy, its political life and its identity. “This is an important tipping point,” said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, describing the shift as a “transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.”

I’m generally skeptical of stuff like this, because the definition of “white” has never been static. White ethnics—Irish, Italians, Jews—were long excluded from whiteness on the grounds that they were racially inferior, but they were integrated into a more inclusive redefinition of whiteness post-World War II. The same is likely to happen in the next generation—people that we don’t consider to be white today might identify as such in the future.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

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