Bryan Caplan  

When They Take Over, We'll Be Them

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True story: A Jewish senior complained to me, "There are hardly any regular Caucasians left."  I couldn't resist pointing out that when he was a kid, Jews weren't "regular Caucasians."  Everyone - Jews and Gentiles alike - saw the Jews as a separate group.  Indeed, people at the time actually spoke of the "Jewish race."

What happened?  Jews were never officially invited to become "regular Caucasians."  Jews simply became less distinctive, and Gentiles more inclusive.  Definitions blurred.  More and more friendships and marriages crossed the boundary.  People gradually stopped thinking about the distinction between Jews and Gentiles - and ultimately forgot there was anything to think about.

The same story has happened many times before.  In the early years of the United States, many people drew a clear line between regular Englishmen and the motley crew of later immigrants.  How did the story end?  Immigration continued.  The descendants of English immigrants became a small minority.  But by the time that happened, the descendants of English immigrants had forgotten they were English.  English-Americans avoided "foreign rule" by redefinition.  You could say they were apathetic, but that's an understatement.  English-Americans had forgotten there was anything to be apathetic about.

Of course, ethnic identity and ethnic strife don't always fade away so harmoniously.  But they harmoniously fade away more frequently than people attached to their identities and strife care to admit.  If Jews can become "regular Caucasians" in less than a lifetime, imagine how obsolete our current identities will be in another seventy years.  Moping about demographic trends is pointless.  When "they" take over, we'll be them.


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COMMENTS (29 to date)
Tracy W writes:

Reminds me of how the English now don't know who is Saxon and who is Norman. Doesn't seem to have harmed them any.

rapscallion writes:

I'm afraid this post is just going to seem naive and unpersuasive since you don't even mention the many obvious counterexamples of bitter and violent ethnic conflicts that have lasted centuries or even millenia. E.g. Jews and Arabs, Serbs and Croats, Tutsis and Hutus, etc., etc.

v writes:

The urge to assimilate that Jews, Italians, Irish, or even Asians now have shares one thing that Bryan doesn't mention->there was no real compelling economic incentive to remain separate. Some (though not all) modern-day groups of immigrants face a very different incentive structure in affirmative action and race-based preferences.

If I was a Mexican or a Nigerian immigrant and it strongly benefited me (i.e., my kids need lower scores to enter elite schools, contracts are set aside, diversity promotions, etc.)to stay as the "Other," I think you will find most of them will rationally decide that they should stay that way.

Pandaemoni writes:

I wonder who he thought of as the "irregular Caucasians." Arabs? Indians?

I think the sense of inclusiveness is much stronger looking at younger generations. I recall when I was a kid wishing I were Italian or Irish since they seemed so much more interesting than being of German, and Dutch extraction. I was years before I learned there had ever been a prejudice against either group (or against Germans).

My take on something Bryan wrote in and prior post was that assimilation is bad for us, though. The more we think of our fellow citizens as "the other" the more we'll oppose the welfare state and vice versa. So I am not sure if he sees future assimilation as wholly good from the perspective of the political economy.

Steve Sailer writes:

Why would parents want their children to check the "white" box when the government offers them the chance at money and prizes for checking other boxes? How exactly would, say, Barack Obama's career have turned out more successful if he hadn't insisted on checking the "black" box?

Steve Sailer writes:

"Reminds me of how the English now don't know who is Saxon and who is Norman."

And that's how the Normans like it!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Norman

Ask Jerry Pournelle if he's Saxon or Norman.

Mark writes:

Unfortunately, you didn't understand him. He meant he IS a Caucasian Jew.

That was a nice theory, sorry.

Shane writes:

Yes I was interested to read Lyman Beecher's comments in his 1835 book 'A Plea for the West' that:

'The number of the immigrants, their lack of information, their unacquaintance with the principles of our government, their superstition and implicit confidence in their ecclesiastical teachers, and the dependence of these on Rome, and of Rome upon Austria,- all constitute an influence of dangerous action in themselves, and offers to the powers of Europe easy and effectual means of disturbing the healthful action of our institutions.... It is like a train of powder between an enemy's camp and our own magazine.'

The horrible enemy then were the Catholics, the foreign headquarters Rome. Today Muslims and Mecca? I hope that controversy will fade with time too.

Huxley writes:

I think many British/Irish/German Americans still view Jews, Italians, and Greeks as being different from themselves. I am of British and German descent, and I probably wouldn't marry someone whose roots were not in northwestern Europe.

A.B. writes:

I think you're attacking a strawman here. People care about what the dominant culture will be in the future, not whether most people in the future will be comfortable with said culture.

It's like saying, don't fear the Borgs, because once everyone is a Borg, Borgness will seem perfectly natural.

Sheldon Richman writes:

Thaddeus Russell goes into this matter in great detail in A Renegade History of the United States.

Sheldon Richman writes:

Bryan, what do you make of the DNA findings of Harry Ostrer that there is indeed a Jewish race?

Noah Yetter writes:

Unless you live in New York or Chicago, where Jews, Irish, etc. are very much still thought of as separate ethnic groups.

Richard S. writes:

The comment by v is brilliant.

Steve Sailer's first post should have cited v, as it makes the same point.

Jay writes:
It's like saying, don't fear the Borgs, because once everyone is a Borg, Borgness will seem perfectly natural.

Very good!


ajb writes:

That's why you want evidence on actual assimilation. This does not bode well for Hispanic assimilation, given the race baiting and affirmative action plus multiculturalism. A sane person would have to bet that Latinos will not fully assimilate within 50 years and that you're more likely to see a Quebec scenario or Belgian style ethnic politics after that time rather than a Jewish/Italian/Asian American assimilation pattern. If anything you should expect a milder but broader version of the separate identity politics that now prevails for black Americans.

Why should American citizens trust Bryan's claims that it will "all work out?" The evidence goes against such a sanguine view.

Philo writes:

When, as an elementary school pupil, I told my mother we were doing a section on American ethnic groups in Social Studies, she mentioned that my father had some Scotch-Irish ancestry, and that that was *nothing to be ashamed of*--they were "good, sturdy stock." Now, I had never encountered or even heard of discrimination against the Scotch-Irish, and I still have not directly encountered any. But years later, reading H. L. Mencken, I found that it had, indeed, existed, not so very long ago.

The Jews (Italians, Greeks, etc.--non-beneficiaries of Affirmative Action) seem to be on their way to Scotch-Irishdom.

ThomasL writes:

Jewish culture has maintained an "otherness" for 5,000 years. They've maintained it under the rule of Egypt, Babylon and Rome. They've maintained it through all the diasporas.

If all of that has truly changed in a single generation, I think you need to posit some theories on why now is different than any other point in history. You also need to explain why this new difference can be generalized to include all immigrant races and cultures, rather than an experience specific to Jews and Jewish culture, or perhaps even so specific as to American Jews living in the north eastern seaboard.

cristina reads your blog writes:

Reminder:
Hispanic\Latino is not a race. It just means your recent ancestors come from a Spanish-speaking country. Everyone on this comment thread could be “Hispanic” if their parents/grandparents had moved to South America, then the family had moved to the US.

Also, it's not like hispanic immigrants are going to stay super-hispanic for long. All it takes is 1,2 generations for the kids to not learn Spanish and marry blacks or whites.

Steve Sailer writes:

The Mr. Darcy love interests in Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones are Norman. Alf Garnett and Andy Capp are Saxon.

Steve Sailer writes:

"People gradually stopped thinking about the distinction between Jews and Gentiles"

That would come as a huge surprise to former CNN host Rick Sanchez, currently doing color commentary for free for some college football team nobody has ever heard of.

JPIrving writes:

Except that Jews are whiter than white. The white IQ distribution shifted rightward when Jews joined up. Chinese aside, that wont happen for any of the other major immigrant groups colonizing the U.S.

FredR writes:

Every time the topic of Normans and Anglo-Saxons comes up, I feel compelled to plug Mitchell Heisman's suicide note. He argues that basically the entire history of Anglosphere politics (and beyond!) can be understood as a sublimated conflict between the two ethnic groups. Of course, he was insane, but still, it's pretty interesting.

Dan writes:

150 years and counting on black Americans. Is there good reason to expect Hispanics to assimilate as easily as the European immigrants at the turn of the century?

Some facts:
1. The European immigrants came from numerous countries and often had different languages and cultures from one another. Hispanics share a language.

2. The European immigrants traveled vast distances and often had no contact with their old homeland. Hispanics retain connections to their country of origin with ease.

3. In the next few decades, the percentage of foreign born people in the US is projected to surpass the peak of the early 20th century. Hispanics will make up a third of the population.

The Irish and Italians and Poles became more English when they immigrated. Do the above facts suggest that Hispanics will do the same?

Evan writes:

@ThomasL

Jewish culture has maintained an "otherness" for 5,000 years. They've maintained it under the rule of Egypt, Babylon and Rome. They've maintained it through all the diasporas.

If all of that has truly changed in a single generation, I think you need to posit some theories on why now is different than any other point in history. It's quite simple. Are you familiar with the classic Aesop fable "The North Wind and the Sun"? In the story Boreas, the north wind god, and Helios, the sun god, make a bet as to who can get a traveler's coat off first. Boreas blasts the traveler with an icy wind, but the harder he blows the tighter the traveler holds onto his coat. Helios simply shines on the traveler, who takes off his coat because he no longer needs it.

It's the same way with Jews. They clung to their culture and ethnic identity through years of persecution and pogroms. But when people actually started treating them decently in the latter half of the twentieth century they rapidly began to assimilate.

Incidentally, I'm of Irish/Scandinavian extraction and I'm marrying an Ashkenazi Jew.

You also need to explain why this new difference can be generalized to include all immigrant races and cultures, rather than an experience specific to Jews and Jewish culture, or perhaps even so specific as to American Jews living in the north eastern seaboard.
Again, it seems like a common pattern throughout history is "tolerance causes assimilation, persecution causes ethnic identity." All those other types of European Americans originally engaged in a lot of ethnic identity politics until people began to become more tolerant of them. Identity politics is a defense mechanism that atrophies when it's not needed. Look at the way African American leaders have to lie to their public about the level of racism arrayed against them in order to get any response at all.

In regards to people's comments on affirmative action, I'm wondering if that occurs often enough to make a significant difference. From what I understand affirmative action doesn't affect very many people, it is generally perceived as being far more common than it actually is because it gives white men something to blame their failures on. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean it couldn't have a large political impact, minorities might value the potential to become an affirmative action beneficiary, even if the odds of it happening to them are extremely unlikely. But I still wonder how large the effects would be.

Steve Sailer writes:

"Every time the topic of Normans and Anglo-Saxons comes up, I feel compelled to plug Mitchell Heisman's suicide note."

Yeah, there's some interesting stuff in there.

IVV writes:

My father is white and my mother is Hispanic. Most whites think she is also white; English is her native language. When I mention my Hispanic background, people--whites and Hispanics--are in utter disbelief. But it's there, and it's real.

Where I see large numbers of Hispanics, I see integration and intermarriage into the (usually white) community. I see a LOT of it in California. Hispanics like Cameron Diaz, Charlie Sheen, Cruz Bustamante, and Bill Richardson should be all the proof anyone needs that integration is happening, and it's happening now.

Steve Sailer writes:

And which box do you check for your kids on forms that might have a huge impact on their future: "Hispanic" or "Not Hispanic"?

IVV writes:

I don't have any children. Which box do you think I should choose and why?

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