In his book with the telling title Whiteshift Kaufmann (2018) discusses what population projections show is happening: the share of Whites in the population in Western countries is rapidly declining. ‘In America’, he writes, ‘half of babies are Latino, Asian or Black and the nation as a whole is slated to become ‘majority minority’ in the 2040s’ (Kaufmann, 2018: 31). Thus, according to him there will be a situation in which there is no longer a dominant majority group categorized by racial criteria. Kaufmann argues for Europe that a racially mixed majority group will represent a new kind of relatively stable equilibrium, following a period of ‘a turbulent multicultural interregnum’ (2018: 4), in which non-mixed non-Whites form the biggest block of the population. Richard Alba and Nancy Foner similarly write that in the United States: ‘By 2035 it is highly likely (…) that minorities will outnumber Whites among the population under the age of forty’ (2015: 42). In 2100 the British population will be 40% White, 30% mixed and 30% non-White (Kaufmann, 2018: 457). In Western Europe as a whole, the trend will be slower. According to Kaufmann, referring to a Eurostat study (Lanzieri, 2011), ‘most Western European countries will be 15–40% non-White in 2061’ (2018: 457). Other data confirm this trend: large Western European cities are quickly becoming majority-minority cities (https://bamproject.eu). Amsterdam and Brussels, but also London and Paris are already in this situation (Crul, 2016). The general trend seems undeniable.
This is, however, neither a new trend nor a new debate (eg. Spencer, 1995; Warren & Twine, 1997; see for the discourse about Brazil in the 1950s, Skidmore, 2003). Genetic studies have shown high levels of admixture among the US-American population self-defining as Black (Bryc et al., 2015), but also among those self-defining as White Footnote 1. Much of this development took place in historical situations in which mixed parenthood was neither legally nor socially accepted. In Southern America even higher levels of mixing took place, resulting in the mixed category Latino used in the US. In addition, debates about mixing populations are old as well, having led to politics of fear more than once (e.g. laws against ‘Rassenschande’ in Nazi Germany or the ‘anti-miscegenation’ laws still in force in parts of the USA until 1967).
While our previous discussion may have suggested that when everyone is of mixed background, this will automatically mean the end of racial categorization, this is not evident at all. Kaufmann himself is a good example to illustrate the point. With Latino as well as Chinese grandparents he is considered White by most people. Yet, relatives of his with the same family composition are seen as Hispanic (Kaufmann, 2018: 26). This points to the continuation of race as a social categorization, even if people are of mixed origin and to the social viability of people’s corporal selves or phenotype, even if their racial belonging is fuzzy.
It is open, therefore, whether this process of mixing will lead to a growing group of people classifying themselves as mixed, and hence at the end might bring about a dissolution of racial categories. It is equally possible that more people will be incorporated into the category of White, that is a broadening of the idea of who is White, which at the same time would result in the White majority keeping its majority position. These kinds of processes have occurred more often. A historical example in the United States is the social inclusion of Jews, the Irish and Italians into a generic White majority, replacing exclusive WASP ancestry in the two decades after the second World War (Kivisto, 2002: 57–62; Ignatiev, 1995). Alba and Foner believe this to be a very likely scenario: if the White category will be broadened, they expect that the new White will be more yellow, as in North America people of Asian American background are the most likely candidates to be accepted as White, because they have higher incomes than White Americans, a relatively large number of their children study at the university and they have a high rate of intermarriage with White Americans (2015: 108). Hence, when the majority is of mixed origin, Alba and Foner expect for the USA not boundary crossing (individuals of mixed ancestry, like Kaufmann, may pass and be accepted as White), nor boundary blurring (ultimately ending in the cessation of racial boundaries altogether), but boundary shifting (the White category will be broadened so as to encompass Americans of Asian ancestry).Footnote 2
Historical examples from South America, the Caribbeans, or the Indian Ocean coastal regions, where processes of mixing have already had a long history, show that the social outcome of racial mixing can be very different. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbeans the social position of the mixed population has long been described as being within a racial continuum, as opposed to a racial binary as in the USA (England, 2010). This portrayal has changed, however, in the last decade, due to the heterogeneity of social positions and inequality in the region, but also to shifts in global discourses on racial recognition.
For the African and Indian Ocean context the term ‘creolization’ has been used to refer to mixing of “language, culture and identity” (Knörr & Filho 2018). Some of these developments had been ongoing already before colonial times, and underwent another change when colonialism and accompanying (academic) ideas of race reached these regions. In some areas, mixed populations, such as the Swahili at the East African coast, became fixed groups due to colonial terminology and registration, which found it difficult to come to terms with groups “tied to language and cultural affinity”, instead of an “inherited identity” (Ray, 2017). These processes of racial and ethnic rigidification are far from being over, as the example of the formation of the group ‘Somali Bantu’ by humanitarian actors in the 1990s shows (Besteman, 2012). In other areas, such as South Africa, mixed populations were classified as “colored,” as an in-between-category, setting apart this population from White as well as from Black people. Modern European naturalist science and colonial imperialism did not only create and spread the idea of race, it also led to a disappearance of non-European White identities and hence a Europeanization of Whiteness (Bonnett, 1998). In this way social hierarchies were created along the notion of race, in which deviations from the White ideal, and therefore also mixed groups, were attributed inferior positions (linked to the myth of racial purity). Hence, processes of racial mixing can have many outcomes. We wonder what our invited discussants consider the most likely scenario for the regions they are familiar with.
Yet, the category of race is not the only category used in these discussions, as the examples from the beginning show, and the debate is about more than race only. Other overlapping, yet not synonymous terms used are minority/majority, ethnicity, migration background or even religion, resulting in a blurring of the debate and of the arguments. While ‘race’, for instance, is a social construct associated with physical characteristics, ethnicity is a category mainly used to refer to ideas of a shared history, group identifications, and common symbols and values. Yet, ethnicity may also be used in an essentialist way, associating a certain cultural matter with an inherited background, making it thus into a functional equivalent for ‘race’. Using these terms interchangeably, as Kaufmann does, also means that it is not clear to what the author is actually referring to. When he speaks of immigration, does he refer to European migrants, who have shaped what is now the UK since thousands of years, creating a British population that is very much a mixed one in genetic as well as cultural terms (e.g. language)? Or does he mean people who ‘look’ differently? This blurring of categories also makes it more difficult to discern what is actually believed to change—are these demographic projections of an internally changing population with more children being born by couples from different parts of the society, or are these developments attributed to more immigration? And what is actually mixing along with these changes—social structures, power relationships, ‘cultures’ or group identities?
In continental Europe, the concept of race is commonly placed between inverted commas to express the author’s critical distance from the term; M’Charek et al. (2014) argue that is can be seen as an ‘absent present’, as it is associated with race ideologies that brought amongst others Nazism to power. In countries, where people of immigrant background’s data are included in the census, registration is on the basis of ethnicity, country of birth or religion, but never race. In France registration of race, but also religion or ethnicity is even forbidden. This aversion to race thinking, however, does not mean that people’s visible appearance is irrelevant in Europe. While ideas of the nation are based on the assumption of a shared history, common roots, myths of descent, symbols and traditions, the typical Frenchman, Dutchman or German is in people’s imagination also associated with a White person. Hence, in Europe the question is not so much ‘who is categorized as White’, but rather ‘who belongs to the nation’? If we are correct in assuming that in the European situation, the focus is on belonging to the nation, the issue would not be who will in the future, when the majority of the citizens have immigrant backgrounds be considered White, but who will belong to the nation. One possibility is that the old idea of the nation as an exclusive community will continue to exist, but that some, like Antilleans in the Netherlands, who have a high rate (70%) of intermarriage with native Dutch (Alba & Foner, 2015: 105) and some, phenotypical White, people of mixed origin will appropriate that history and ties to the soil as their roots, and will be allowed to, whilst others, who are not recognized as belonging to the nation, are excluded. In the case of the Netherlands, for instance, this applies to people of Moroccan origin, making religion (Islam) and not race the main boundary of contemporary discourses of belonging. Is inclusion in the nation of colored minorities in Europe indeed what the future will look like? How can these new social complexities be discussed—with the concept of ‘super-diversity’ (Meissner & Vertovec, 2015), which also takes into consideration the multidimensional shifts in migration patterns? And what will be the terms of inclusion—will they always be dictated by the ‘dominant culture’, even if it calls itself ‘multi-cultural’ as Hage (2000) suggests?