Demography is Destiny: On the Changing Nature of Race Relations and Racial Diversity

A wise man on our campus is fond of saying, "demography is destiny." I am reminded of this statement's truth each year when my daughters' schools send their School Report Card. A copy of this year's report for our middle schooler is offered below. 

Several key points jumped out at me:

  1. My older daughter's school is pretty diverse, with 45 percent Whites, 26 percent Hispanics, 17 percent African Americans, and around 11 percent from other races. We moved to our neighborhood years ago so our girls would be in diverse schools, and we seem to have made a good decision. 
  2. The State of Texas, where we live, looks different than our district. Here, 52 percent of 5th and 6th graders are Hispanic, followed by 29 percent White, 13 percent African Americans, and about 6 percent everyone else. There are similar trends for younger grades, too. 
  3. Finally, 59 percent of all Texas students this age come from economically disadvantaged homes and 18 percent are English language learners. 

These data point to several important points. First, the state of Texas is changing. It is already one of four states where the majority of the residents are racial minority (along with CA, NM, and HI). As time passes, the state demographics will continue to become more diverse. 

Second, this change means that we (as a state) better do a good job of educating everyone, not just White kids. If we don't, then the majority of the residents will not be well educated, and we will end up in a very dire state of affairs (see Mississippi). This is why many people, including our system chancellor and those in our College of Education and Human Development, continually say that addressing health and educational equity is a primary goal for all. It has economic, personal, and societal implications. 

Unfortunately, we are not doing a good job of educating everyone, at least in our district. Our state offers a standardized test (the STAAR), and the Report Card provides statistics for how well the students in our district compare against the State as a whole. Our district far outperforms the state averages, and Whites score highest. However, Hispanics and African Americans in our district score lower than Whites and are generally lower than the state average. To the degree that we are representative of Texas, this does not bode well. 

It was while I was reviewing this report that I also came across a recent article in the Annual Review of Psychology. (As an aside, I always look forward to new Annual Review articles, like others look forward to Sports Illustrated or People magazine. Where else can you get such a thorough review of work in one place?) In this article, Jennifer Richeson and Samuel Sommers offered a social psychological review of race and race relations.* 

The authors offer a thorough review of the social psychological literature concerning race, including a schematic for how race affects social categorization (see Figure 1 below) and how race operates at the group level (see their Figure 2 below). 

These figures show that racial diversity can result in strained interpersonal relationships, such as prejudice and discrimination. My work, as well as those much smarter than I am, have all shown that these dynamics operate at individual and systemic levels to influence the aforementioned differences in test scores. Importantly, the figures also show that diversity can positively affect performance, such as creativity and task performance. My work, which the authors were kind enough to cite, has shown that racial diversity is positively associated with objective performance, especially when there is an inclusive work environment.  

And, it is this latter data that gives me hope in Texas. Besides being perhaps the best place in the world (blind optimism that parallels Lesly Knope's love of Pawnee), I believe the diversity of Texas will be its strength. What state is better situated to capitalize on the diversity of thoughts, perspectives, and opinions? The state's diversity can be a strength, a source of creativity, learning, growth, economic prosperity, and individual well-being.

It will take a shift in educational and pre-educational practices, ensuring educational opportunities for all. But, when this is achieved, it will also mean that the saying of demography is destiny will mean a bright future for Texas. 

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* Richeson, J. A., & Sommers, S. R. (2016). Toward a Social Psychology of Race and Race Relations for the Twenty-First Century. Annual Review of Psychology, 67, 439-63.