Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Who Would Ever Want to be 'Black' Anyway? New Census Data Reveals How Hispanics are Crossing Over Into 'Whiteness'

The claim that America is going to become a "majority-minority" nation in the next few decades is a truism that does political work. For Democrats and the left, they see this as an opportunity to expand their voting base by embracing a multicultural America. For Republicans and conservatives, the "browning of America" is a type of threat which they can use to mobilize racially resentful white voters.

However, both perspectives are grounded in a short-term understanding of how race has historically worked in the United States.

A long-term view demonstrates how race is a dynamic process, one that evolves and changes, in response to the political needs and questions of a given moment. As such, who is considered "white" for example, is a reflection of a given arrangement of social and political power: "Whiteness" and who is considered "white" are not fixed or immutable categories.

Truisms and common sense understandings of race do not make them empirically true. New research from the Pew Research Center on the changing racial identities of Hispanic-Americans would appear to upset the "majority-minority" narrative which has come to dominate the media (and the public's) understanding of the color line in the Age of Obama.

The New York Times reports:
An estimated net 1.2 million Americans of the 35 million Americans identified in 2000 as of “Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin,” as the census form puts it, changed their race from “some other race” to “white” between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, according to research presented at an annual meeting of the Population Association of America and reported by Pew Research
The researchers, who have not yet published their findings, compared individual census forms from the 2000 and 2010 censuses. They found that millions of Americans answered the census questions about race and ethnicity differently in 2000 and 2010. The largest shifts were among Americans of Hispanic origin, who are the nation’s fastest growing ethnic group by total numbers.
The Times continue with:
The data provide 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. It is particularly significant that 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. Research suggests that Hispanics who have experienced discrimination are less likely to identify as white. 
The data also call into question whether America is destined to become a so-called minority-majority nation, where whites represent a minority of the nation’s population. Those projections assume that Hispanics aren’t white, but if Hispanics ultimately identify as white Americans, then whites will remain the majority for the foreseeable future.

The ways in which Hispanics are crossing over into Whiteness demonstrates how race is a learned concept. Here, Hispanics are embracing whiteness as a social identity--and the privileges which come with it--while mating it with their own particular history of colorism.

Social scientists have introduced new concepts such as "elevated ethnics" (African immigrants; immigrants from South and East Asia) in order to complicate and enrich our understanding of how race in America is ostensibly no longer a simple matter of "black" and "white". But in seeking to complicate (and perhaps even depart from) the theoretical framework provided by the black-white binary--a set of rules and a hierarchy that has dominated American life for centuries--we must also proceed with caution.

Pew's new research is a reminder that Whiteness (and most importantly, being perceived as "white") is still viewed as the preferred and most social desirable racial identity in the United States.

This is a function of political socialization, habit, and training.

The yearning of those immigrants who can "pass over" into Whiteness is also fueled by realpolitik: given the disparate life chances between blacks and whites, and the historic power of white supremacy to make black folks' lives a living hell, if given the choice, who would "rationally" decide to become "black"?

Race still impacts measures of social closeness in the United States. Black Americans are also ranked lowest for desirability as potential marriage partners by whites, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans.

Brother Malcolm X brilliantly observed, with his uncommon grace and candor, that the first word an immigrant to the United States learns is "nigger".

The "majority-minority" fictive narrative is compelling, but it is not able to overcome a basic fact: blacks are the bottom rung of the racial hierarchy in the United States against which all others are judged, and that many groups, quite literally, stand upon in their ascension to Whiteness.

Whiteness is a fictive category based on how one group arbitrarily defined as "white" is positioned as dominant over those others who are marked as "non-white". By definition and nature, Whiteness evolves to induct new members in order to maintain its majority status.

Whiteness must maintain power in order to have meaning as a racial category.

Consequently, it is very difficult if not impossible for the United States to conquer the inequalities of the color line unless Whiteness is destroyed because the latter's existence as a lived experience and concept is wholly dependent on maintaining in-group status, privilege, and power over people of color.

In the spirit of the comedian David Chappelle, if there is a "racial draft" in the United States "white" Hispanics and Latinos will become the newest group of official "white" people. They will be joined by "mixed race" Asians and Pacific Islanders who will also be fully inducted into the family of Whiteness.

By definition, black Americans can never be white because they are the lynch pin and cornerstone of the American racial order. Thus, a paradox: everyone wants to be "black" if it involves music, culture, and perhaps even sex. But no one really wants to be Black if it involves our lived personhood.


Myshkin the Idiot said...

Latin American societies have always been highly racially stratified. I think I have shared before that my family comes from Spanish/French Mexican roots and married into white families. I thought their racism developed in the United States, but I now believe it had always been there. I think many societies have had a multi-tier racial stratification, whereas the United States typically relied on white/non-white duality. Perhaps we are moving to an era of multi-tier racial stratification.

"The American idea of racial progress is measured by how fast I become white." James Baldwin

I saw an article about this today and immediately thought of you.

Shady Grady said...

Yes. The ironic thing about all the fuss over changing demographics of immigration (legal and illegal) is that some white people who were most vociferously against it may decide 20 yrs from now that it wasn't so bad while some of the black people who are generally supportive may look back and winder what the **** they were thinking.

chauncey devega said...

Cosign. And who will be hurt the most in the labor market by these new white ethnics? Black people, especially black men who are semi-skilled...or perhaps even college educated.

chauncey devega said...

I don't know if we will look like Brazil. The cultural and historical antecedents just aren't there. I will continue to bet money, as I always have, that the black-white binary ain't going no place anytime soon.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I didn't think quite like Brazil, segregation has been such a potent and powerful force here, I don't think segregation ever achieved as much in other Latin American societies. As stated above, the immigrant/illegal immigrant factor brings in a whole mix of folk. Studies show preference for Latino labor as opposed to black American.

It seems it would go as a good/bad sort of thing. You talk about politics the way you/we do and you get accused of being a black writer (met a guy who thought I was posing as a black man with a white persons account).

Blackness is held up as a pariah caste. To get ahead, you talk down on black folks as a class (Allen West), never on white folks or American culture/imperialism.

Miles_Ellison said...

Historically, white supremacy in America has been adaptive in the face of demographic changes. Anyone who's not black will have whiteness conferred upon them. All of the rather public (and rather recent) bigotry aimed at Hispanics will all be forgotten, and you're black and point it out, you will become the "real racist." 21st century America, ladies and gentlemen. Try the veal. Tip your waitress.

KissedByTheSun said...

Years ago my best friend and I were having a discussion with a friend of ours who is Dominican. Somehow the subject was about race and this Dominican friend announced that he felt like he was closer to being a white person than a black person. Mind you he is very much a darker skinned Dominican, yet he felt more closer to being a white man. My best friend and I were baffled. Everything I've learned over the years from this blog both as a lurker and sometimes commenter has made that conversation make so much more sense now.

Shady Grady said...

It wasn't Sammy Sosa by chance was it?

KissedByTheSun said...

No no not at all. No bleaching cream was in use that I know of.

Melody said...

Well written and interesting article!

The blog Racefiles has also broached the topic, if you're interested in reading an Asian perspective on this issue, I think you both have a similar point of view:

Craig said...

Would you agree that the struggle between black and white in the US has it’s direct international counterpart in Western vs non-western nations? I wonder if white vs black is the internal/national manifestation of Western vs non-western geo-politics. The West seeks to maintain its dominant position in the world so the excercise of western domination is practiced at home as white supremacy. The fact that people of different ethnicities come to the US (the most powerful western nation) to succeed is a testimony of its dominant position in the world (because their country of origin sucks) and once here, in order to achieve that success, they must align itself with whiteness because if they don’t then they’ll end up like the black people here - the re-embodiment of all that suckiness they escaped from. White supremacy requires its dark antithesis in order to exist.
Well, what does it mean now that two powerful nations, China and Russia, that adamantly define themselves as non-western nations, are forming closer and closer economic/military cooperation for the expressed purpose of developing without having to succumb to the demands of Western nations? Will the various former colonies of western imperialism and the various ethnicities living here in the West look at the success of China and Russia as an inspiration to de-couple themselves from the western/whiteness model of national and personal development?

ChuckieJesus said...

I work at a place that gives aid, and we collect demographic information. I've been working there for nearly ten years.

In that time, I've definitely seen people putting Hispanic under nationality, and W under race. I'm not sure why we keep track of it like that. It's usually the applications that are in English, with "Spanish-sounding" last names. The applications that are in Spanish? The question remains unanswered, or "H" under both race and nationality.

I also notice, in those born in 1980 and after, the people that Gen X blacks would have just called "black" regardless of blood quantum are calling themselves B/W/I, presumably for "Black/White/Indian". It solicits a weird emotional response from me. I was told I was black very early. I was told that having a white momma didn't matter. I was, as Aaron McGruder had Huey Freeman tell Jazmine DuBois, "as black as Shaft in Africa".

Having light skin never made me identify as anything other than black, having straight hair never did, either. Neither did my sour feelings about black people growing up. Regardless of how I felt about it, I was black. And still am.

It feels like putting on airs. I don't know. It feels like trotting out a goddamned pedigree, and that rubs me the wrong way. The kids say it's about claiming your whole heritage. I think something important got lost along the way.

I had a Mexican American coworker I loved very much. We would rap about space aliens and politics, and he physically reminded me of my dad, a fireplug of a man. He asked me how I identified, and I told him "Black, but I've got white heritage, and native heritage I don't know much about." He nodded sagely, and told me it was important "not to identify with the conquerors and colonizers, because then they win".

But then again, he's talking about my Moms!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this common sense. This 'people of color' nonsense has done little but dilute and stunt African American politics.

Riki said...

I greatly dislike when Hispanic is mistaken for a race. There are plenty of white hispanics out there and i am one of them. I have mixed cousins and what not, but my direct ancestors did not mix when they moved from Spain to the Carribean. Growing up on paper work i would always check white as my race and still do. When hispanic ethnicity and racial selection there after were both added to many forms i was thrilled to now have that option that defines me..

I know this only partially pertains to the article but I had to stick in my 2.cents about my ethnicity being confused for a race. I love being a hispanic but think its sort of odd when i have blonde hair and blue eyes and im standing next to another hispanic that is black and someone tells me im not white nor black but hispanic. It just blows my mind.

Renaissance Girl said...

Latin American societies became "highly racially stratified" due to colonization of European white men - the Spaniards. Because of this apparent superiority (slavery, colonization, etc) it's no wonder why Latinos and Hispanics today think that white is wonderful. It's a form of self-hatred that blacks were brainwashed into possessing.

Renaissance Girl said...

"Studies show preference for Latino labor as opposed to black American". And some studies are manipulated into reflecting or showing a desired result. Now, I'm not necessarily saying that these studies are not valid, but in order for "cheaper labor" to continue in this nation, Latino labor which is sometimes illegal, helps unsavory corporations to pinch pennies and abuse their workers. And for the workers that aren't here illegally? These men and women who are newly here would have had a hard time competing with blacks who have been here much, much longer (ancestors of former slaves) -- so, instead of competing these men and women thirsty for that glass of American Dream Chardonnay, they take whatever is offered. Now, I ask you, why should black people have to accept low paying wages to be "preferred"?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I should have said some studies suggest there is a bias or preference for Latino laborers. I have read examples of employers posting job ads in Spanish newspapers in American cities without posting the same jobs in English newspapers. There have also been instances of advertising in Latino communities for jobs instead of black communities.

Undocumented immigrants are certainly discriminated against with below minimum wage employment as well as harsh working conditions, no one should want that.

My thoughts about it, and I can't know for sure, are that immigrants are able to settle somewhere they can find work, they have already left their attachments, whereas natives of the US can be stuck geographically and that can prevent them from moving. We also want to stay close to relatives and relations and can be afraid to leave our comfort zones.

Black people don't have to accept low wage jobs. Evidence demonstrates that black Americans with college degrees are less likely to be employed than white Americans with high school degrees and I think even felony records. There is also the phenomenon of "whitening" your resume where you exclude evidence that an employer might tag as "black person" and then won't request an interview.

Renaissance Girl said...

You sure do say a lot without actually saying anything.

Myra Esoteric said...

Being that the definition of whiteness v. blackness is very different from Latin America to North America, the newer Hispanic immigrants will no longer be considered white as they integrate.

Their kids will definitely self identify as people of color. Anyone who is of Asian or Native American descent will not be considered white because of history, and Arabs have been losing their white card since 9/11.

I feel that with increased immigration, the black/white binary might go away. But I hope that it is not subsequently replaced with the Brazilian model where it depends on degree of European vs. non-European blood quantum.

And I hope that racial divisions are not somehow galvanized by warfare against a POC country, for example what we're seeing with ISIS today.