Aug 13, 2020 - Politics & Policy

George Floyd's death forces small-town America to confront racism

Data: IPUMS NHGIS, University of Minnesota, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data: IPUMS NHGIS, University of Minnesota, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The killing of George Floyd and changing demographics across the country have brought discussions over racism and police use of force to small-town America.

Why it matters: White Americans are growing older as the younger generations across the country become more diverse. The shift in what had been predominantly white communities is sparking protests and conversations about racial inequality. Many small towns are realizing for the first time how multiracial they are.

The state of play: Small towns offer the appeal of lower cost of living and jobs for Black Americans and Latinos, the Washington Post reports.

  • Nearly 40% of counties saw their under-30 minority population grow faster than the number of white people over 55 years old, per the Post.
  • Nearly half of Americans under-30 are racial or ethnic minorities, compared to 27% of the over-55 crowd.
  • Counties with 100,000 residents or less, particularly in the upper Midwest, made up 90% of the places where young minority populations grew the fastest.

Between the lines: Many of the protesters in rural and small towns were actually white Americans who grew up in a more multiracial and cultural community than their parents or grandparents did.

“Ten years ago, I was traveling into really rural communities and would be surprised when, out of nowhere, you would see this little Black kid run up and hug his white grandfather. Now, that little boy is 16, 17 or 18 years old, and he’s still out there, and he’s not going anywhere.”
— Helen Miller, a former eight-term Democratic state lawmaker, tells the Post.

The big picture: People of color are projected to become the majority in the U.S. by 2054. Non-white Americans are now the majority in four states, as well as in the most prosperous U.S. cities, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

Zoom in: The minority youth population in Iowa is outpacing the growth of older white residents in 84 of 99 counties by as much as 56%, the Post notes.

  • Protesters in Iowa pushed Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) and the Republican-controlled state legislature to swiftly approve a bill that includes a partial ban on chokeholds, restricts hiring officers from other states who were fired for misconduct, and authorizes the state attorney general to prosecute officers who cause another person's death, according to CNN.

The bottom line: Researchers have long known that changing demographics would bring about a new political chapter. That prediction is unfolding in real-time as younger generations challenge older white communities' views on race, Stefan M. Bradley, a professor at Loyola Marymount University, told the Post.

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