"White leaders aren't paying any attention to desegregating our society in meaningful ways"
GAINESVILLE- -- In little over half a century, whites will once again become a minority in the United States, and the nation's political leaders are ill-prepared to deal with it, says a University of Florida researcher.
"By the year 2055 at current fertility and immigration rates, white European Americans will be a minority for the first time since they came to outnumber the Native Americans in the 18th century," said Joe Feagin, a UF sociologist and expert on race relations. "And none of our white leaders are paying any attention to desegregating our society in meaningful ways."
In just 35 years -- 2030 -- the majority of young people in the United States, those ages 18 and younger, will not be white, said Feagin, co-editor of a new book of essays about race, ethnicity and the urban crisis titled "The Bubbling Cauldron."
The wisest course for this country to take is to treat minorities equally now before they become the majority population, he said.
"In theory, we're a democratic republic, but in practice white men run the country," Feagin said. "In theory, we like to talk about ourselves as a nation of immigrants, but increasingly white European Americans are becoming openly racist in attacking immigrants because the newcomers now are mostly Latinos and Asians."
Feagin has published 20 books on race and sex discrimination. Since 1988 he has interviewed 488 black Americans in four major research studies.
Business climate makes it difficult for minorities to succeed without government protection
the first step required by the nation's political leaders in dealing with the changing demographics is enforcing the nation's civil rights laws so that racial minorities in this country are treated equally.
"For the most part, we do not enforce our anti-discrimination laws, we have only token enforcement," he said. "If a black person is refused service in a restaurant or a Latino is discriminated against in renting an apartment, there is little place for them to turn for redress except the legal system, which requires substantial resources."
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the major federal agency charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, is overwhelmed with complaints and only resolves satisfactorily a fraction of the ones it receives, Feagin said. And even if a victim wins a job back in a favorable settlement, there is little chance the discriminator will be significantly punished, he said.
Many neo-conservatives and liberals suggest that the way for blacks to make it in American society is to develop their own businesses, but a racist business climate makes it difficult for minorities to succeed without government protection, he said.
Government should substantially expand "set aside" programs
studied black entrepreneurs and found they have difficulty competing on an equal basis because whites bar them from getting loans, bidding for contracts and participating in informal social networks where important business contacts are made.
"Capitalism is mostly a pie-in-the-sky notion if you're talking about developing businesses in areas where whites have been dominant," he said. "It's one thing to become a black hairdresser, but it's another to try to run a computer firm that competes with white-run computer firms."
Perhaps the most effective remedy over the next several generations is for the government to substantially expand "set aside" programs, the practice of allocating a certain proportion of government contracts to minority owned and operated businesses, Feagin said.
"Black entrepreneurs say that without set aside programs they would die," he said. "The majority of white general contractors or government officials simply won't do business with them -- they'll seek out their own kind."
Affirmative action has become a popular target in American society recently, but research has shown that the policy has clearly made a difference in the employment outcomes of both women and minorities, he said.
Affirmative action also has been a good business practice, Feagin said. Better minority representation enhances marketing overseas and in minority communities. One study in "The Bubbling Cauldron" even found that white employees of large firms with affirmative action policies earn more than their counterparts in companies without them, he said.
"Without affirmative action, we'll go back to something like the old segregation of the '50s," he said.
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