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The ‘great replacement’ theory rejects history and reality

America is struggling with its reasoning and responses to population replacement, or the “great replacement” theory. Like so many demographic issues, the composition of America’s population has become highly politicized, partisan and divisive.

Promoted by racist, antisemitic, xenophobic and white supremacist groups and spread by some media outlets, the great replacement is a conspiracy theory about changes in the composition of America’s population. The great replacement theory centers on the belief that nonwhite, non-Christian people are being brought to America for the purpose of replacing the white Christian majority population in order to establish a new political and socio-cultural agenda.  

It has moved from the fringe of racist political movements to become prominent in American politics. A recent poll found that 61 percent of Americans who voted for former President Trump agree with the idea behind the great replacement theory versus 16 percent of those who voted for President Biden.

The theory has also become a major feature of politics in Europe where many believe that white Christian Europeans are being colonized by non-white, non-Christian migrants largely from Africa and Asia, and face a threat of extinction.

The changing composition of America’s population, including shifts in the majority-minority population, is being accompanied by hateful rhetoric, open hostility and explicit discrimination. The great replacement theory has been connected to multiple racist attacks and acts of violence, including murders in Buffalo, N.Y, Charlottesville, VA, El Paso, Texas and Pittsburgh, PA.

U.S. supremacist groups are worried that white Christians will stop being a dominant majority, affecting their personal standing and influence as well as America’s future. At their gatherings and demonstrations, they often chant “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us.”

However, well before America’s founding, the composition of the North American population had undergone significant changes due to trans-Atlantic migration. Europeans arrived, then overwhelmed and replaced tens of millions indigenous people by conquest, warfare, disease and resettlement.

The composition of America’s population was also affected by enslavement and forced migration to the country. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were captured, enslaved and forcibly relocated to work in North America and subsequently in the newly established United States. 

In the first census in 1790, the Black and slave population, 92 percent being slaves, represented 19 percent of America’s total population of 3.93 million. Three racial categories were included in that census: free whites, all other free persons and slaves.

Throughout the 18th, 19th and most of the 20th centuries, America’s immigrant population was predominantly from European countries such as Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom. At the start of the 21st century, the top five countries had become Mexico, China, Philippines, India and Vietnam, with Mexico accounting for 30 percent of the foreign-born population. 

America is an increasingly multi-ethnic country with differing backgrounds from countries worldwide. The top ethnic group is of German ancestry, representing about 15 percent of the population, followed by Black or African American ancestry at approximately 12 percent and Mexican at 11 percent. 

America’s traditional motto is E Pluribus Unum,” or “Out of Many, One.” The phrase reflects the goal of a single unified nation from a collection of people coming from different backgrounds, beliefs and national origins. 

Throughout the country’s history, the practice of categorizing America’s population into racial categories has continued. Those categories have undergone extensive changes and been redefined since the 1790 census. 

Currently, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requires that race data be collected for a minimum of five groups: white, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Also, the Census Bureau is permitted to include a sixth category — some other race

The race data collected by the Census Bureau are based on self-identification. According to the 2020 census, the U.S. population is 58 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 12 percent Black and 6 percent Asian. 

The changing proportions from earlier censuses reflect America becoming a more diverse nation. The 2020 data confirm the expansion of the Hispanic, Black and Asian American populations as well as growing numbers of multiracial residents, who increased from 10 million to 34 million people, a 276 percent increase, between the 2010 and 2020 censuses.

America’s evolving population composition continues to contribute to its diversification. Also, over the past centuries federal laws and rules relating to immigration have been enacted that have greatly impacted the nation’s composition. For example, the 1965 landmark Immigration and Nationality Act created a new system favoring family reunification and skilled immigrants.

Following the act’s passage, America’s population began to change with increased diversity, especially with more people migrating from non-European countries. Whereas the proportion of immigrants from Europe and Canada declined from 84 percent in 1960 to 14 percent by 2013, the proportion from Latin America increased from 10 percent to 52 percent during that time period.

Many American politicians object to the population replacement conspiracy theory. Democrats, for example, have repeatedly expressed opposition to and condemnation of the great replacement theory and express support for the evolving diversity of America’s population. 

Republicans, in contrast, have generally been silent on the matter. While some Republican officials have indicated support for members of nativist groups, others have promoted the idea that America’s culture is threatened by a minority takeover. 

However, notable Republicans in the past, including the venerated 16th president and the revered 40th president set policies that reflect America is defined by ideals and institutions instead of by race. 

America’s population is continuing to evolve with increased diversity and the blending of people with differing backgrounds, ethnicities and national origins. America should acknowledge the increased diversity as a source of enrichment, innovation and advancement. 

For the nation to maintain its integrity, strength and vitality throughout the 21st century and beyond, Americans should continue to support and promote its foundation of “E Pluribus Unum.”

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.”

Tags Buffalo mass shooting census data Charlottesville; Heather Heyer Conspiracy theories in the United States Donald Trump El paso shooting Great Replacement Theory Joe Biden Pittsburgh synagogue shooting Politics of the United States White supremacists

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