As the North Country evolves from the insulated, virtually static community it was 40 or 50 years ago to the more urbane and eng
aged setting of the 21st century, one area that we lament hasn’t changed much is our continuing lack of racial and ethnic diversity.
A recent article in USA Today pointed out that the trend across the nation is a noticeable shift from an
absence of diversity in small towns and rural areas to a more well-rounded racial population. New research based on the latest figures clearly points out that, while the white population is still the norm in rural America, the numbers are changing significantly.
Whereas in 1980, about two-thirds of all places in America were at least 90 percent white, by 2010 only about a third were, according to the article — and the number of places where no racial group constitutes a majority of the population has quintupled in that time.
The article notes that in these rural populations, kids move out when they finish high school, and their parents or grandparents eventually die. Often, they all are replaced by non-whites, which creates better balance in the racial mix. When Asians or Hispanics move in and have children, the element of diversity grows.
All of this evolution is good for a community because it represents new ideas, new ways of doing things that allow for the best practices to emerge. The greater the diversity of thought, the greater the chance for the best idea to surface. It also presents a truer reflection of the real world.
Alas, the North Country does not seem representative of that dynamic.
Census figures show that New York state grew by about 400,000 people between 2000 and 2010. Whites actually lost population, from 11,760,981 to 11,304,247 — about 4 percent.
Blacks also lost numbers, from 2,812,623 to 2,783,857 — from 14.8 percent of the population to 14.4 percent. Meanwhile, Hispanics grew from 2,857,583, or 15.1 percent, to 3,416,922, about 17.6 percent. And Asians expanded from 1,035,926, or 5.5 percent, to 1,406,194 — 7.3 percent.
The North Country has gained population, from 425,855 to 433,193, a total of 7,338, or 1.7 perent. But Clinton County, which in the past year has lost around 170 people, still is 92.9 percent white. Essex County is 94.7 percent white, while Franklin County is 84.5 percent white. The Franklin County diversity is augmented by 7.3 percent of the population being American Indian.
So, while we like to think of the North Country as keeping up with healthy trends across the nation, it continues to move slowly in terms of race. This slow movement will likely continue to feed itself, as people of color contemplating moving in will continue to see themselves in a very distinct — and somewhat troubling — minority.
One of the many values of our area colleges is that they increase diversity in the community through their multi-cultural staff and students.
Real progress on all fronts will be most dramatically gained when the population reflects a true diversity of thought and talent.