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Keywords:

  • population projections;
  • race;
  • immigration;
  • USA

Abstract

Population projections forecast that the US will have a white minority by the middle of this century. This paper argues that changes in racial and ethnic categorisation, most notably the creation of the Hispanic category in 1977, have accelerated the projection of this date. These uncertainties illustrate a larger problem of projections of the future size of the white population: how can we know who will be white in the future if the criteria for whiteness shift as they have done in the past? It is possible, for example, that regions of immigration may see new forms of whiteness — or non-blackness — as whites, Asians and Latinos hybridise into a new dominant group whose members will be advantaged relative to a black ‘other’. In the light of past modifications in racial constructions, and the potential for change in the future, why bother to project the populations of today's racial categories? The paper attempts to answer this question by reviewing the history of the practice of racial population projection. What this reveals is that racial population projections can be thought of as ‘racial projects’ — efforts to frame and thereby influence the racial future through the imposition of contemporary racial categories and meanings. Although this racial imagining has important consequences for contemporary political action, it is not politics alone that motivates projections by race. Other motivations include the mundane practices of categorisation and counting by race — racial governmentality — that make racial population projections possible to begin with. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.