by Doctor Science
I stayed up waaaaaaay too late Monday night because I got caught up in Science. Or rather, Research. As so often happens on the Internet, I started with one small question and hopped link to link until I found myself in a World of Mystery, or maybe Discovery.
Along the way, I created a graph of the growth of the US population by race -- because, astonishingly enough, I couldn't readily find one online already. If you happen to know that I'm just looking in the wrong place, please say so -- I'm not proud.
This all started because of Newsweek's Oscar Roundtable, at which Viola Davis said some pretty forthright things about how difficult Hollywood is for a black actress. This was linked at discussed at a bunch of places, including by Allison Samuels at the Daily Beast.
In the comments to Samuels' article, Justsaan said
I love watching the Classic B&W movies. How many black, asian or any other race were represented? If I didn't know any better I would have thought that the world was only white, and for anyone not to acknowledge that this is very simply ODD and just STRANGE; how the actors lived and worked with what looked like ease and no sense of something being wrong with the representationCommenter MeesterTaco replied,
If you look at the ethnic breakdown of the US, those who identify themselves as African-American are less that 9% (2000 census data) and far less during the time these 'classics' were made.Say what?! says I. In the first place, I was pretty sure that the proportion of blacks in the population now is higher than that, more like 12%. In the second place, I recalled that the first census (1790) showed blacks, free and slave, as maybe 18-19% of the population then. So I figured the "proportion black" of the US population had dropped pretty steadily over the centuries, as whites were allowed to immigrate in and blacks were not.
So I figured, "I'll go look it up. It should only take a couple of minutes to find a graph of the change in the racial makeup of the US over time."
Hours later, I made my own:
The full dataset is here. I was supposed to be able to embed it as an interactive graph, but the scripts don't seem to be working. Do any of you understand GoogleDocs Spreadsheets?.
I present the data as separate bars, even though they all add up to 100%, so you can more easily see the patterns for "White", "Black", and "Other". "Other" is found by subtracting White and Black from 100%. Sources: 1790-1990; 2000-2010.
What we see is that the proportion of the US population classed as "Black" was indeed highest in 1790, at 19.3%, and then gradually declined until the period between WWI and WWII, when it was under 10%. Since then, the proportion has risen slightly, to just over 12%. I'm actually surprised it isn't higher recently, because for the first time since the 18th century a significant number of black people have immigrated to the US in recent decades, especially from the Caribbean. It's not clear to me whether native-born black Americans are continuing to decline as a total proportion of the population or not -- that would depend on whether black immigrants are mostly counted as "black" or as "other" (black Hispanic, mixed race, etc.).
I also looked at the actual numbers, not just percentages: