Noah Smith of Bloomberg has often argued that Hispanic assimilation and a minority-white America will make for an assimilated, multicultural society and a declining salience of race to American culture, most recently in this Twitter thread. In this case, he uses California’s demographic transformation to forecast the future of race in America, which is helpful, because this argument is demonstrably untrue in California’s case.
California has a majority Hispanic public school population, and student achievement within each race (white, black, Asian, and Hispanic) is not only below average relative to the rest of the country, but racial gaps are very large as well:
White/black and white/Hispanic gaps in degree attainment (percent of young people receiving college degrees) are also larger in California than in the rest of the country:
The increases in diversity and Asian educational attainment in the state have largely displaced blacks from the state university system, and the politics of affirmative action have been more rather than less fraught as the state changes demographically:
Anecdotal accounts also confirm that racial issues in California schools have hardly retreated from salience. Last year, San Francisco schools responded to high failure rates and racial gaps in achievement in its “Algebra for All” initiative (tracking all middle school students to take Algebra 1 by the end of 8th grade) by replacing it with “Algebra for None.” When Governor Jerry Brown, argued that the achievement gap was unlikely to disappear and should not be the main measure of the efficacy of education policy, a consortium of civil rights groups immediately joined together to force him to walk back his remarks. Meanwhile, the head of the San Francisco school board called for schools named after George Washington to be renamed, since Washington was a slave owner.
Education is not the only arena in which California has seen increased racial inequality in recent decades. During the last few decades of rapid demographic change in California, racial gaps in income have also rapidly increased, relative to both whites and Asians:
California’s Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality) is 7th highest in the country, equal to that of Honduras, Nicaragua, or the Dominican Republic. Despite a near doubling in state GDP over the last 20 years, there has been a near tripling of the number of Californians in poverty and receiving food stamps:
Black/white gaps in mortality and in the percent of residents receiving cash welfare are larger in California than in most states:
These racial gaps in income, poverty, and educational attainment, are compounded, of course, by some of the highest average housing costs in the country, and typically large gaps in homeownership:
A reasonable inference is that California’s supermajority Democratic state legislature and Hillary Clinton’s massive electoral margin are not a sign of the reduced salience of race but its increased salience. Clinton’s campaign- friendly to corporations, focused strongly on racial identity, eager to maximize aggregate economic product and then redistribute it rather than use industrial policy to ensure rising median wages, matched well the current political economy of California.
California has a lot going for it, economically and geographically (although its recent fire and water crises might be signs that it is approaching some of the limits of its natural bounty), but the idea that it demonstrates how a demographically transformed America will escape from the salience of racial barriers and from structural racial inequality seems demonstrably untrue.