[Review] 'Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority'
September 01, 2016
There has been much hand-wringing over the fact the United States is on its way to becoming a "majority minority" country — according to Census Bureau projections, Americans of color will outnumber white Americans by 2044 — not to mention the cultural, economic, social, and political changes such a demographic shift implies. But in Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority, Steve Phillips argues that the focus on people of color gaining the electoral upper hand at a not-too-distant point in the future is misguided — first, because such a focus presumes that voting is a zero-sum game and any gains by people of color must come at the expense of white voters; and second, because people of color and their white allies already constitute "a progressive, multiracial majority...that has the power to elect presidents and reshape American politics, policies, and priorities for decades to come."
A civil rights lawyer and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Phillips worked on Jesse Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns; became San Francisco's youngest-ever elected official in 1992; and established the first SuperPAC to work for Barack Obama's election in 2008. To support his claim that demography has created a "new American majority" (as the subtitle of his book puts it), he uses American Community Survey and exit poll data to estimate the number of progressive voters in the country, multiplying the total number of eligible voters in different racial/ethnic groups as of 2013 by the percentage that voted for Obama in 2012. The tally? Fifty million progressive voters of color and sixty-one million progressive white voters, who between them account for 23 percent and 28 percent of all eligible voters, or 51 percent of the American electorate.
Presumably Phillips understands that using a vote for Barack Obama as a proxy for "progressive" inevitably oversimplifies the picture. And while he also understands that many people are disappointed the election of the country's first black president did not end racism or racial discrimination in America, he notes that the country has moved in the direction of greater racial and economic justice — as evidenced by, among other things, increased access to health insurance coverage; the appointment of the country's first African-American attorney general; and much-needed police reform in places like Ferguson, Missouri. If none of these developments counts as an unqualified success, they are proof, Phillips argues, that progressives can win elections and advance their agenda.
What's more, says Phillips, this multiracial new American majority is growing by the day — due in part to higher birth rates among people of color and legal immigration — while its voting patterns reflect a deep commitment to greater social justice and equality. In 2012, for example, 96 percent of African-American voters chose Obama, as did 71 percent of Latino voters, 73 percent of Asian-American voters, and 59 percent of Arab-American voters. Phillips also highlights key swing states Obama won in the primaries as well as the general election with the critical support of voters of color.