Tag: US census

More on That White Thing

Recently, I wrote about the Pew Research Center’s finding that, over the last decade, 2.5 million Latinos changed their racial classification to white. Now this development has caused consternation, rejoicing, or befuddlement, depending upon your perspective.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the whole concept of race “is a construct. Its meaning throughout history has had no basis in biological reality but rather in social domination and political contention.”

As we all know, racial classifications have no anthropological basis. So the people who say there is only one race (the human race) are correct, strictly speaking.

one finger

However, for something so arbitrary and minor, race sure causes a lot of controversy. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau has always perplexed people with its separation of race and ethnicity, particularly when it comes to Hispanics.

As such, many commentators have argued that a lot of those 2.5 Latinos who changed their race “may not consider themselves white. Many or even most might identify their race as ‘Hispanic’ if it were an explicit option.”

Indeed, we have to consider that “the confusion on the U.S. Census has little to do with evolving ideas about race among Latinos and a lot to do with the limited options available to Latinos.” As such, this is just “more evidence of Americans’ puzzlement about how the census asks separately about race and ethnicity.”

In essence, when it comes to the census, “Hispanics can be at once a race and not a race.”

It’s all very metaphysical, and possibly even a cool discussion if you’re high enough. But it also might say something very real about self-identity and cultural legacies.

You see, there is some debate over whether modern-day Hispanics are the sociological decedents of those huddled masses yearning to be free back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Keep in mind that when Ellis Island was an immigration hotspot, “all sorts of immigrants, including Irish, Jews, and Italians, were once considered irredeemably alien, even racially inferior to ‘white’ Americans.”

This sounds intensely similar to how Latinos are described today in many sections of the country. And yet, the longer a Latino family has been in America, the more likely its members are “to check the ‘white’ box.”

Yes, those Latinos who identify as white are more likely “to be second- and third-generation Hispanics than foreign-born and noncitizen Hispanics.”

This lines up with the experience of earlier immigrants. After all, when it comes to the Irish, Italians, and Jews, their fifth-generation descendants don’t hesitate “over how to fill out the census. They check ‘white’ — because that is how the rest of America now sees them.”

Again, that may say something very uplifting or truly disturbing about the direction in which Latino culture is headed. Or maybe it’s both — or neither.

See how tricky this gets?

But to end on an optimistic note, note that the recent census data has also supplied another “strong sign that fears of a unique ‘Hispanic challenge,’ where Hispanics immigrants might remain as a permanent Spanish-speaking underclass, are overblown.”

In fact, there is mounting evidence that “Hispanics are succeeding in American society at a pace similar to that of prior waves of European immigrants.”

And that will continue to be true — whether Latinos are white or not.

 


The Unbearable Whiteness

You may be surprised to know that Latinos can change their race at will. Oh sure, for most people, race is a fixed attribute that was determined at the moment of conception. But Hispanics, unlike mere normal humans, can just go snap, and presto we’ve changed our race.

It’s kind of like Mystique, except we’re not naked all the time.

mystique

The proof of this superpower is in a recent New York Times article, which stated that between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, 2.5 million Americans who said they were Hispanic and “some other race” changed their minds and declared themselves to be Hispanic and white.

This was the largest shift in racial classification among Americans, and it provides, according to the Times, “new evidence consistent with the theory that Hispanics may assimilate as white Americans, like the Italians or Irish, who were not universally considered to be white.”

The data, supplied by the Pew Research Center, is “particularly significant” because “the shift toward white identification withstood a decade of debate over immigration and the country’s exploding Hispanic population, which might have been expected to inculcate or reinforce a sense of Hispanic identity, or draw attention to divisions that remain between Hispanics and non-Hispanic white Americans.”

Basically, it implies that many Latinos are saying, “Enough with the la raza talk. Consider me white.”

Now, some commentators have called shenanigans on this whole story. Indeed, it is quite a leap to glance at some raw numbers and make the sociopolitical conclusion that America may not be “destined to become a so-called minority-majority nation, where whites represent a minority of the nation’s population.” That’s because those predictions “assume that Hispanics aren’t white, but if Hispanics ultimately identify as white Americans, then whites will remain the majority for the foreseeable future.”

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, however, that the numbers reveal something profound about American culture and its future. Namely, that Latinos face “pressure — and the growing opportunity — to blend into society and to identify with the majority.”

Of course, this is a familiar phenomenon. Since this country’s founding, white people have held the vast majority of the political, economic, and cultural power. As such, it makes sense that Americans today “go on unthinkingly treating whiteness as the ideal and social baseline of American life.”

Indeed, there are very real advantages to being white — even if you’re not traditionally white. For example, Hispanics who see themselves as white tend to have higher levels of education and income, and they are less likely to have experienced discrimination.

Now, as we all know, Latinos can be of any race. There are your traditional brown-skinned Hispanics, black Brazilians, blue-eyed blond Argentineans, and just about every hue and texture in between.

As such, it’s no surprise that Hispanics have forged “a cross-cutting identity that can feel like a racial category (shorthanded as ‘brown’) that is sometimes set beside the other major blocs of America’s racial color grid.”

With our place on this mystical grid so amorphous, Latinos are often free to move outside the boundaries, which other ethnicities have trouble doing. Of course, this “fluidity may suggest a lot of things, including a pattern of Hispanic assimilation into whiteness.” And, according to the Times, “white identification may be an indicator of assimilation,” which is a potentially alarming statement.

After all, doesn’t that imply that real Americans are white?

I’ll have more on this in a subsequent post, but I will leave you to ponder that inflammatory question for now.

 


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