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Hispanics Increasingly Identifying As White: White Supremacy Endures

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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.

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