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I stumbled on a phrase, Young Americans are far less white than older generation, in an article of today's New York Times titled In Census, Young Americans Increasingly Diverse.

I don’t think white refers to the color, of course. In a dictionary at hand, there is a definition of white as a slang meaning (1) fair and righteous, (2) credible, (3) generous, well-intentioned, (4) happy, well-off. Does the phrase today’s young Americans are far less white here implies they are far less well-off (or happy) than old generation? Is the word ‘White’ used in this notion very often? The text in question reads:

Demographers sifting through new population counts released on Thursday by the Census Bureau say the data bring a pattern into sharper focus: Young Americans are far less white than older generations, a shift that demographers say creates a culture gap with far-reaching political and social consequences.

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Unfortunately, in America, "white" primarily means colour which primarily means skin colour which primarily means race. I think each of those equations is stupid (except possibly the first one), but that's reality. :p –  ShreevatsaR Feb 5 '11 at 11:38
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Just from the title I had assumed that "white" was being used in the slightly derogatory, cultural sense of "stiff, overly-formal, self-satisfied, and lacking in rhythm", and that the line meant these new youngsters where more hip than the last generation. Alas, that seems not to be the case. –  dmckee Feb 5 '11 at 15:11
    
When you come across a word, 'white' you'll naturally associate it with color as against ‘black’ - I mean race. But I did not like to think that a newspaper like New York Times uses the word, ‘White’ in contrast to ‘Colored’ straightfowardly in this way. That’s why I added ‘of course’ to the end of ‘I don’t think White refers to color,’ even though natural induction of the word seemed to be ‘White men and women.’ As a man grew up in uni-racial society like Japan, it’s beyond my imagination that there is still distinclion by color, White and Colored among people, though it may be reality. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 5 '11 at 21:08
    
Shreevatsa. When you come across a word, 'white' you'll naturally associate it with color as against ‘black’ - I mean race. But I did not like to think that a newspaper like NY Times uses the word, ‘White’ in contrast to ‘Colored’ straightfowardly in this way. That’s why I added ‘of course’ to the end of ‘I don’t think White refers to color,’ even though natural induction of the word seemed to be ‘White men and women.’ As a man grew up in uni-racial society like Japan, it’s beyond my imagination that there is still distinclion by color, White and Colored among people, though it may be reality. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 5 '11 at 21:15
    
Shreevatsa. Then my subsequent primitive question. Is it allowed to turn over the statement into ‘Young Americans are far more Colored (or black) than old generation’? Does it become a deligatory expression, or no problem? –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 5 '11 at 22:30
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3 Answers

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The dominant race/culture/population of Americans has historically been white (sometimes called Caucasian). It is one of the racial categories listed on the census form, which all Americans were supposed to fill out in 2010 (and every ten years). A census is used to count a population.

Because the article talks about demographers, whose profession is to count populations and parse them into various groups, and says these professionals are "sifting through new population counts" we may infer that they mean this is changing. Children of other races are in the ascendancy, especially children of mixed race.

It does not mean what the adjectives in the list you mention mean.

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Robusto-san. It was a surprise to know American citizens are requested to put down 'White,' 'Black,' or whatever color in census questionnaire? In our country, respondents tend to refuse to fill in age in the census these day for reason of privacy protection, which is head ache of research administrators. Yoichi –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 6 '11 at 7:50
    
Your reaction is normal. Many people, especially undocumented aliens, fear for their privacy. But there is nothing on the census forms that indicates who you are personally. The census forms are actually anonymous. –  Robusto Feb 6 '11 at 13:22
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@YoichiOishi - the reason people fill this out is because having more non-Caucasians has tangible material benefits. In all its "wisdom", US government extends preferential treatment - from more allocation of budgeting dollars to more special better voting distribution - to places with higher non-Caucasian demographics. It's the same with other non-census forms that ARE a privacy threat. non-Caucasians are frequently afforded official preferential treatment by both private and public institutions (look up "affirmative action"). So it pays to advertize yourself as "oppressed minority". –  DVK Dec 3 '11 at 13:12
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In the context of that article, white refers to people whose "race" is identified as "White". Race is one of the things demographers and census-takers are interested in. The sentence "Young Americans are far less white than older generations" is somewhat odd at first sight, but it's explained later as being about the total number of White people, not that fixed individuals are turning less "white" for some meaning of white.

Mississippi, Virginia, New Jersey and Louisiana all had declines in their populations of white residents ages 18 and under, according to the bureau’s first detailed report on the 2010 Census. […] The number of whites under the age of 20 fell by 6 percent between 2000 and 2008[…]

Instead, growth has come from minorities, particularly Hispanics, as more Latino women enter their childbearing years. Blacks, Asians and Hispanics accounted for about 79 percent of the national population growth between 2000 and 2009, Mr. Johnson said.

The result has been a changed American landscape, with whites now a minority of the youth population in 10 states, […] In contrast, the number of mixed-race children doubled, Hispanic children doubled, and Asian children were up by more than two-thirds, according to Mr. Johnson.

“Living in the suburbs used to mean white family, two kids, a TV, a garage and a dog,” he said. “Now suburbia is a microcosm of America. It’s multiethnic and multiracial. It tells you where America is going.”

So you see that "Whites" is contrasted with Blacks, Asians and Hispanics, and terms like multiethnic and multiracial are used. This leaves no doubt about the meaning of the sentence.

See Wikipedia on white people and Caucasian race for more discussion on the definition.

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It means not only fewer "white" people and more people of other races, but more children of mixed races as well. –  Robusto Feb 5 '11 at 11:48
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@Robusto: Right, I agree. What I meant to point out (perhaps unnecessarily) is that unlike the adjectives Yoichi came up with (righteous, generous, happy, etc.) which a certain individual can become less of with time (e.g. the same young American may be less happy today than three years ago), the level of "whiteness" of an individual, whatever that means, is fixed at birth and cannot change with time, so the quoted statement is one about numbers. :-) –  ShreevatsaR Feb 5 '11 at 11:56
    
Understood. I was just putting that in for amplification, not disagreeing with your main point. –  Robusto Feb 5 '11 at 11:59
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As the text speaks of culture gap with far-reaching political and social consequences, I think that writer is using white as counter-revolutionary or reactionary.

That is one of the meaning of white reported by the NOAD, which marks this usage of the word as historical. I guess the word is not used so often with that meaning, but (in contexts like the one reported here) people would be able to understand the sentence correctly.

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Sorry, @kiamlaluno, this is simply not correct. The terms white and red used in those contexts are taken from the Russian revolution. They are not used in America to mean those things at all, at least not when demographers are talking about population. –  Robusto Feb 5 '11 at 11:42
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@Robusto: I’d agree about white, but the contrasting usage of red (to mean something like radical left wing) has certainly survived in American usage, with relatively little drift in meaning. Although more recently, since the cold war ended and red has become the colour of the Republican party, this meaning may not be as strong as it was, say, 10 or 20 years ago. –  PLL Feb 5 '11 at 14:42
    
@PLL: Point taken, but the use red and white taken together to mean revolutionary and counter-revolutionary is decidedly not part of the language except in reference to the Russian revolution. Red has had the meaning of communist, but even that is getting lost. We used to refer to Red China as distinct from Taiwan, which we used to refer to as China ("Made in China" used to mean made in Taiwan), but now China means mainland China and Taiwan is not even called China. Red China has fallen out of the lexicon almost entirely. –  Robusto Feb 5 '11 at 14:52
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@Robusto: right, agreed that this sense of white is not part of the language — very few people even know it, I would think. Red for communist may be less commonly used today as communism figures less in America’s concerns, but I’m pretty sure most people are still familiar with the meaning. More current, I guess, is its derivative pinko, with a truly masterful conflation of two conservative bugbears in its connotations, leftwing politics and homosexuality… –  PLL Feb 5 '11 at 15:02
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