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America, The Plurality


Angie Gick, the owner of Teddy Bear Child Care in Muncie, Indiana, completely changed the day care center’s food options. She hired a Middle Eastern dietitian to help with the change—eliminating pork from the menu. Almost 75 percent of the children at the center were Middle Eastern, and she wanted to take pork off the menu to better serve them, as they are not allowed to have it.

It sounded easy, but there was a lot more involved in cutting out pork than simply taking sausage gravy and pepperoni out of the kitchen.

Meatballs, and anything with lard or gelatin—like canned goods, refried beans, marshmallows, fruit snacks and even some yogurts—had to go. Chicken, too, needed specific monitoring, as only specific kinds are acceptable. Fish sticks also had to be watched.

Today, about 10 percent of the children at Teddy Bear Child Care are Middle Eastern, and 5 percent are Chinese, Angie says. The menu remains pork-free, and she has added vegetarian options for more concerned parents.

The diversity reflected in Angie’s day care might soon be the norm across the nation.

In 2014, more than half of children younger than five were a minority race, as were 49.6 percent of those between the ages five and nine. This means that as these children grow up, more of the American population will consist of minority races. In fact, according to 2014 Census projections, America will be a majority of minority races—a plurality—by the year 2044.

Some states already have a plurality. These states include California, Hawaii and New Mexico.  By the year 2060, the minority population in America is expected to rise to 56 percent. This shift is expected to cause many changes, from what children are taught in the classroom to the state of politics, our nation will change as America becomes less white and more diverse.

Educating a Plurality

Some students taking a multicultural education course through Michael Ndemanu, an assistant professor of multicultural education at Ball State University, ask him why his class is important for them—students who grew up in a racially homogenous suburban school system, and plan to return there when they graduate.

The reality, though, is that schools are becoming more racially diverse, and will continue to do so. Ndemanu says that racially homogenous school systems may become more rare as diverse school systems expand.

A 2014 report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that the minority student population became the majority in the 2014-2015 academic year—so this change is already happening.

Angie’s day care is just one of many diverse day cares in the nation. One day, Angie was picking up a child from kindergarten. He had been a student of hers at Teddy Bear Child Care for two years, and in that time he had gone from not knowing a word of English to speaking and understanding it well.

As his kindergarten teacher put him in the car seat, Angie remembers her telling him, “You forgot your lunchbox. Here it is. Oh, I don’t even know why I’m trying. He doesn’t understand me anyway.”

Angie flashed her a disgusted look. She couldn’t believe what she said to him while he sat there completely understanding her words. Angie took over and buckled him into the car seat.

“Did you have lunch today?” Angie asked him.

“Yeah.”

“What did you have?”

“Date cake.”

The two carried on an effortless conversation. The boy could talk in complete sentences, but the kindergarten teacher hadn’t seemed to notice that he could understand English.

This incident, according to Maria Hernandez-Finch, a professor of educational psychology at Ball State, can’t happen if a diverse class wants to be successful. The classroom that will be best suited to educate a plurality is one that takes those diverse cultural backgrounds that students bring in, and uses them to add to the lesson, rather than disregard them.

This, she continued, will involve both teachers and administrators doing continuous self-examinations to reflect on their inherent biases, to better be able to teach their students. A successful classroom will show the students that their experiences are respected and appreciated.

This equal education curriculum is not attainable in the current system, Hernandez-Finch says. The tax base for the community in which a student goes to school tells a lot about students’ educational opportunities, and the current property tax system, which funds schools, means schools with expensive homes get more funding. Neighboring schools in districts with low property values are then poorly funded because their property taxes are relatively lower, Ndemanu says.

Considering that a 2012 PBS report says the poverty rate in the black and Latino children population is 38.2 percent and 32.3 percent, respectively, the probability of children of color attending poorly funded school is very high.

The parents of this new majority in public schools often live in low-income neighborhoods because they cannot afford the expensive homes which will, in turn, open the doors of quality education to their children, Ndemanu says. Some of the reasons that explain poverty in largely black neighborhoods are the lingering effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws, “separate but equal” regulations, and racist housing policies.

For Latinos, the lack of English proficiency skills has contributed to the hindrance of academic and subsequently economic growth, Ndemanu says. As a result of economic hardship, they tend to live in low-income neighborhoods where their real estate properties yield less property tax.

Teachers are also part of the problem—being overwhelmingly white. A 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Education stated that 82.7 percent of teachers in the 2011-2012 school year were white. This poses a problem, Ndemanu says, because many of those teachers were raised in middle class homes where English is spoken. As school systems are becoming more diverse, many students may not speak English in their homes.

Ndemanu says one way to fix this inequality would be to dismantle the current system for deciding how funds are given to schools. He calls for new policies that utilize a progressive income tax system to fund schools equally.

For Angie, the children at Teddy Bear Child Care don’t seem to see race, or language barriers. Their top priority is play.

“They’re so used to people not understanding everything they say.” As with every situation involving children, there are the occasional issues, but Angie says the children at Teddy Bear Child Care all get along with each other. “They just get it,” she says.

Reinventing Politics

If the current political party stances remain similar in the coming years, Angie’s class of diverse students will, by the numbers, largely vote Democratic, which could spell disaster for the Republican party. A person’s voting practices have a lot to do with their demographic background, according to Ball State professor of political science Joseph Losco, and race plays a significant part in that.

Minorities are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to vote Democratic or Independent, and this has the opportunity to change the outcomes of elections at every level of government. As America becomes more of a plurality, the votes of groups other than whites will have the biggest impact on elections.

America’s future as a plurality may spell trouble for the Republican party in the coming years, as the party has traditionally pulled much of its support from the non-Hispanic white population, which is slowly losing ground as the voting population becomes more diverse.

In the 2008 election, 42.5 percent of American adults were non-Hispanic white voters. For the 2012 election, this number was down to 41.7 percent. Black voters made up 7.2 percent of America’s voting population in 2008, and 7.5 percent in 2012. Between the 2008 and 2012 election, Hispanic voters went up from 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent.

These statistics do not represent huge jumps in numbers, but Losco says they soon will.

Losco says he thinks the black population feels empowered by President Obama’s success in 2012 and that there will be a high turnout to the voting booths this year, and future years. Along with the growing empowerment of black voters, Losco says in twenty years, the Hispanic population is likely to be the most powerful voting force in the country.

In the American Southwest, the Hispanic population already holds significant political power, and as the numbers increase, that power is expected to expand to other parts of the country. According to Census data, the Hispanic population grew by 1.3 percent between 2010 and 2015. In the same time frame, the black population grew 0.7 percent and the Asian population grew by 0.8 percent.

California is an example of the political changes that Losco says will most likely spread to the rest of the country. In 2015, the state was 62 percent minority races, according to Census data. In what Losco calls a domino effect where an increase in diversity means an increase in  Democratic votes, it should not be surprising that California is a majority blue state.

As this trend spreads across the country, and as the voting population increases, the white electorate represents the slowest increase of all the races. The white voting population grew by 2 percent between 2012 and 2016, according to a study by Pew Research. In the same time, the black electorate grew 6 percent, the Hispanic electorate grew 17 percent and the Asian electorate grew by 16 percent.

Unlike previous elections, this year’s election is very polarized, especially when it comes to the demographics of each candidate’s supporters. “This year, there is a clear divide between the white and minority populations,” Losco says.  

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is playing to and being supported mostly by women and minorities. Despite its 2012 report detailing the reasons behind the Republican Party’s 2012 loss to President Obama, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, on the other hand, has a support system primarily composed of the white population.

The report detailed the importance of, among other changes, an increased emphasis on reaching out to minorities.

Losco says that the results of this campaign will likely display the future path of the Republican party. If Trump becomes president, he says, the party will show that a toned down but similar approach to the one he is taking is still a viable approach. If Clinton wins, however, the party will have to start from square one in identifying their outreach procedures. Either way, he says, the Republican party will need to eventually move toward appealing to the minority population—because minority children are already reaching a plurality, and soon, they will be the ones who vote.

Angie is seeing America’s transformation into a plurality happen before her eyes at Teddy Bear Child Care. As she looks out on her classroom, there is no unifying skin tone, no unifying culture, and no unifying religion—a foreshadowing of what America will look like in the not-so-distant future.

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