I don't expect FMAE scholarships to overtake the United Negro College Fund anytime soon, but my conversation with Bohannan got me thinking about where we are headed with admissions preferences in a demographically changing world. Can the arguments for preferences based on race be sustained in a world in which whites take on minority status? It would seem that as the composition of the nation changes, those policies will be more difficult to justify.
This issue became all the more relevant when, within a week of my conversation with Bohannan, I read two newspaper stories about the shifting demographics of two of the nation's largest states.
In a Houston Chronicle piece detailing population changes in Texas, Steve Murdock, a former U.S. Census Bureau director and current head of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, said: "It's basically over for Anglos." Two-thirds of Texas children are non-Anglo, Murdock said. He predicted that within the next three decades there would be 516,000 fewer Anglos living in the Houston area and 2.5 million more Hispanics making their homes there.
Meanwhile, a story in the Los Angeles Times detailed the explosive growth of California's minority population - to the tune of a 28 percent increase in Latino residents (to 14 million total) and a 31 percent increase in the number of Asians (to 4.8 million total). Accompanying those demographic gains was the decline of non-Hispanic whites, who dropped 5.4 percent (to just under 15 million), and African Americans, whose numbers declined almost 1 percent (to 2.2 million).
Nationwide, the Census Bureau has estimated that by 2050, whites will no longer be the majority, raising the question of whether preferences based on race can still be justified. One expert sees change on the horizon.
"Universities have made greater efforts to take into account a family's socioeconomic situation (first generation to go to college, household income, high SAT scores, coming from underperforming schools) as a way to mitigate charges of reverse racism as well as the realization that bright (and white) kids from modest backgrounds were pretty much not going to selective schools," claims Charles Gallagher, the chairman of the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Criminal Justice at La Salle University, who has just finished a chapter for a forthcoming book that deals with this subject.
But Gallagher also believes that some trepidation on the part of whites based on their declining numbers is unsupported by the data. He points out, by way of example, the vast hold on government at all levels that whites continue to maintain. Still, efforts like Bohannan's, Gallagher said, are not surprising in light of polling data that indicate that "we believe that we are way more nonwhite than we actually are."
Indeed, at least one piece of research indicates that a significant percentage of Americans sees discrimination shifting along with the country's demographics. A Public Religion Research Institute poll released in November found that 44 percent of Americans believe prejudice against whites is an issue on par with prejudice against current minorities.
"The reality is that whites are still a majority and if you include the Latino population that defines itself as white (50 percent of Latinos do) whites are still around 70 percent of the population," Gallagher told me. "There is nothing racist about this view, but when you see yourself as a minority, especially in times of economic contraction, one starts to feel threatened."
Gallagher also noted national polling data of whites suggesting a majority believe that the goals of the civil rights movement have been achieved, institutional racism is a thing of the past, and equal opportunity in terms of quality of schooling, housing, and jobs is now the norm. "If you lay this on top of an immigrant narrative most whites have about their own family's story of struggle and success you get a narrative that says, 'Hey, we have all moved forward, racism is a thing of the past.' "
But will those that are today's minority groups agree that the playing field has been sufficiently leveled? Only time will tell.
Contact Michael Smerconish via www.smerconish.com.
Read his columns at www.philly.com/smerconish.