The United States has undergone a dramatic demographic transformation in the last several decades. For example, as recently as 1980, the U.S. census reported that White Americans represented over 79 percent of the total national population. Most of the remaining fraction of Americans was of African descent (11 percent). Hispanics and Asian Americans were a much smaller share of the population at 6 percent and 1 percent, respectively. In the ensuing twenty years, however, increased immigration and relatively high birth rates have resulted in a surprisingly rapid growth in the number of Hispanic and Asian Americans and a concomitant decline in the proportion of Whites. According to the most recent census, Whites now represent 69 percent of the national population whereas Hispanics account for almost 13 percent and Asian Americans – the fastest-growing ethnic/racial group in the country – make up almost 4 percent. The share of Blacks in the population has held fairly steady over the past twenty years at 12 percent, although their rate of increase remains much smaller than is the case for Asians and Hispanics.
As the racial environment in this country has grown increasingly complex, the old Black-White binary perspective on American race relations is being joined by, and perhaps replaced with, a newer racial dynamic. That is, in addition to the traditional political divide between Whites and African Americans over such hot-button issues as affirmative action and bussing, the nation is increasingly confronted with contentious disputes over the rights of language minorities and immigration issues.
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