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 Angelo Falcón
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The White Latino Question

 

Note: A relatively obscure and very preliminary study of the migration of preferences between the 2000 and 2010 Census race and Hispanic questions has generated a sometimes heated, but not very illuminating debate about the possibly changing nature of Latino/Hispanic racial identity. The researchers involved and the initial reporting of their findings by one of those Pew data regurgitators were responsible in their characterization of these preliminary findings. But then enter this Nate Cohn character writing for something called The Upshot in the New York Times. He does so with the intellectual subtlety of a jackhammer, made some unbelievable leaps of illogic along the lines of the New York Post's recent calling of NYC Mayor de Blasio's wife a bad mother because she was real in an interview. This Cohn guy declares, based on the scantiest of evidence (and, obviously, thought) that Latinos were inexorably evolving into a racially White identity. Presumably, now real Whites would have nothing to fear in 2042 when the Census Bureau projected them to become a minority of the population. Whew, what a relief!

 

Or is it? Well, our good friend Juan Varela of that mighty band of disruptors, Latino Rebels, along with Baruch College professor Hector Cordero Guzman, took Cohn on, questioning the basis of his dramatic conclusions. It turns out that Cohn hadn't even spoken to the authors of this unpublished and very preliminary research nor even bothered to cite anyone who knew much about the subject. Then Roque Planas in The Huntington Post wrote a thoughtful piece (as did Mary Sanchez in The Kansas City Star),  which framed the issues in more reasoned and appropriate ways, also looking at a similar Cohn-head like piece by Jamelle Bouie that appeared in Slate.

 

In between all this there was also much silliness. The usually thoughtful Chris Hayes, on his "All In" show on MSNBC took on the subject under the title "Changing Your Race" and led one of the most ridiculous discussions on Latino racial identity I have ever heard. First of all, although they were discussing Hispanics, he had a panel that only included one of these, and one that was on their payroll no less. Following their embarrassingly racist Cinco de Mayo display on MSNBC's "Way Too Early" show, they finally announced they were hiring a Latino anchor, Jose Diaz-Balart. Well, he was the Hispanic on Hayes' show on "Changing Your Race" and spouted the most incoherent explanation of Latino identity I have ever heard (he did so, however, enthusiastically and with great conviction). While this is terribly non-PC of me (and I apologize profusely ahead of time), my immediate thought was, "We had to wait all this time to get a Latino anchor on MSNBC and they go and pick one of those Telemundo Cuban-Americans, and not a Mexican-American or Puerto Rican?!!! Damn, they already control the US Senate, give the rest of us a break!" Some of my best friends are Cuban, and I love the guy, but. . .

 

But then it got even sillier for Chris Hayes! For some reason, he also had this "Black" conservative surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, who they always drag out on Fox News to misrepresent the Black community. Now this guy makes the point that when he does brain surgery and cuts into a patient's head, he doesn't see the person's color! A more sane Heather McGee of Demos was sitting next to him, and I was impressed by the restraint she was able to show upon hearing this surgically-induced faux color-blindness! At this point, I was yelling "All Out!"

 

I could go on and on (I think I already did!), but I will finish this brief intro to the articles below by pointing out a couple of things. One, in this discussion, there seemed to be a general feeling that Latinos/Hispanics were totally free to pick their race, without reference to the impact of the attitudes and behaviors of the broader US society. Two, the implications of this for the Census Bureau's current initiative to improve their race and Hispanic questions for 2020 need to be more fully discussed, for which this current discussion was not perhaps well suited. Third, there are many references to Latinos being confused about their race; perhaps a more appropriate view is that it is American society that is confused about it. And four, who the hell is this Nate Cohn guy and why does the New York Times make space for such irresponsible writing? And to make things worse, they got him to write yet another commentary on whether it should be "Latino or Hispanic." How the hell would he know?!!!

 

---Angelo Falcón 

 

CONTENTS

* "Changing Your Race," All In with Chris Hayes,MSNBC (originally aired May 22)

* "The Census Can't Fit Latinos Into a Race Box and It's Causing More Confusion" by  Roque Planas, The Huffington Post (May 22, 2014)

* "New York Times Piece on Hispanics and Census Based on Study Not Yet Finalized or Public" By Rebeldes,

* "Hispanics More Likely To Change Race/Ethnicity Census To Census" By Mary Sanchez, The Kansas City Star (May 23, 2014)ino Rebels (May 22, 2014)

* "Speaking of Identity: Choosing Between Latino and Hispanic" By Nate Cohn, New York Times (May 23, 2014)

 

All In with Chris Hayes

ChrisChanging Your Race

MSNBC (originally aired May 22)

 

To view video, click here 

 

Chris Hayes examines new research that says millions of Hispanic-Americans have declared themselves "white" in the Census.

 

PlanasThe Census Can't Fit Latinos 

Into a Race Box and It's 

Causing More Confusion

by  Roque Planas

The Huffington Post (May 22, 2014)

 

Pew revealed the findings of a study this month that shows some 2.5 million U.S. Latinos changed their race category from "some other race" to "white" between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

 

The news prompted The New York Times and Slate to speculate that perhaps the United States isn't headed toward a majority-minority status as many envision, given that, in the words of Slate, "a surprising number of Hispanics opted to identify themselves as 'white' in the last census." Both articles say that the tendency toward identifying as white may mark an evolving pattern of assimilation into whiteness on the part of light-skinned Hispanics -- an idea disputed by Latino Rebels, who questioned the non-Hispanic authors' understanding of Latinidad.

 

The idea that Latinos will swell the ranks of the whites is an interesting theory, and perhaps even accurate, but the statistics released by Pew hardly support such a sweeping statement. What's equally if not more likely is that the study reveals less about an evolving Latino identity or pattern of assimilation and more about the Census's admittedly faulty system for classifying Hispanics.

 

The words "Latino" and "Hispanic" do not refer to a race -- they refer to a multiracial ethnicity composed primarily of indigenous, European and African peoples and, most commonly, people of mixed race. In Latin America, there's lots of different ways to describe people of mixed race -- mestizo (mixed European and indigenous heritage) and mulato (mixed European and African heritage) being the most common.

 

The study reported by Pew this month isn't the first indicator that more Latinos are identifying as white on the Census. The total share of Latinos self-identifying in the Census rose from 47.9 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2010.

 

But before jumping to the conclusion that Latinos are selecting "white" because of shifting racial ideas or assimilation, let's consider a few characteristics of the Latino community.

 

First off, some Latin Americans, and therefore, some U.S. Latinos, are European descendants and phenotypically white. Their racial identification has little to do with assimilation -- they were white and Latino from the time they were born, the same way a German descendant is white and European.

 

It does seem clear, however, that a large swath of Latinos of mixed race identify themselves as "white" on the census. But seeing mixed-race people identify as white is not unique to the United States, nor does it, in and of itself, demonstrate a uniquely American process of racial assimilation. In Latin America the same phenomenon occurs. Though Latin America did not generally experience the same sorts of rigid, legally mandated racial segregation characteristic of the United States, the region still suffers from racism and the legacy of creating a coerced labor pool made up of either black slaves or indigenous workers.

 

The fact that people of mixed heritage often identify as white in Latin America is well known and skillfully documented by social scientists Edward Telles, René Flores and Fernando Urrea-Giraldo. The researchers surveyed thousands of respondents in Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, asking them to identify their race and then collecting socioeconomic data about them, including level of educational attainment and household income. At the same time, the researcher used a palette with 11 shades running from off-white to nearly black to identify the respondents' skin tone.

 

When ordering the socioeconomic data by self-reported ethnicity, Latin America seems like a more or less racially democratic place, in which people of color appear to earn comparable salaries and attain similar levels of education. When ordered by observed skin color, however, the data reveals a sharp, repetitive pattern of inequality, in which earnings and education plummet as the respondent's skin color darkens. The research not only illustrates the fact that Latin Americans of mixed heritage have a tendency to self-identify as white, but it also shows the stark reality of the region's racial inequality.

 

Beyond these cultural issues that may help to explain why U.S. Latinos self-identify as white in large numbers, it appears that the census itself is partly responsible. As we've pointed out before, the reason for 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. After claiming Hispanic ethnicity on the Census, respondents get to select from the following choices: white, black, Native American, Asian/Pacific Islander or "some other race."

 

Given those options, it isn't surprising to see that a lot of Latinos would choose white. Despite the rush to draw conclusions about Latino assimilation into whiteness, Pew was clear about this when reporting the statistic.

 

"By some measures, the data provide more evidence of Americans' puzzlement about how the census asks separately about race and ethnicity," Pew wrote, though adding that "there could be other reasons, too, such as evolving self-identity or benefits associated with being identified with some groups."

 

That confusion is demonstrated by the fact that not only did 2.5 million Latinos change from "some other race" in 2000 to "white" in 2010, but another 1.3 million Latinos also made the opposite change, from "white" to "some other race."

 

That fluidity may suggest a lot of things, including a pattern of Hispanic assimilation into whiteness. But it just as likely reveals, once again, the longstanding flaws in the way the Census Bureau asks Hispanics about race. Hopefully the changes they're working on for 2020 will give us a more accurate picture in the future.

 

RebelsNew York Times Piece on 

Hispanics and Census Based 

on Study Not Yet Finalized or Public

By Rebeldes

Latino Rebels (May 22, 2014)

 

Yesterday, The New York Times' "Upshot" blog announced the following to the world: "More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White." The piece, written by Nate Cohn, included the animated image of a figure shifting from silver grey to ivory white and this lede paragraph: "Hispanics are often described as driving up the nonwhite share of the population. But a new study of census forms finds that more Hispanics are identifying as white."

 

Such a definitive statement in the opening paragraph of a NY Times piece with no clear attribution plus sweeping generalizations about Latinos made throughout Cohn's post raised several eyebrows, especially from our social community and specifically from Julio Ricardo Varela, this site's founder. Granted, Cohn's next paragraph made mention of "research at an annual meeting of the Population Association of America [PPA] and reported by Pew Research" which had yet to be published, but to many, the journalistic damage had already been done.

 

Did @Nate_Cohn have access original PAA study or just relied on Pew's much more nuanced article? @jbouie @mgcsilva @julito77 @RealAdrianC

- Hector Cordero (@HCorderoGuzman) May 22, 2014

 

Now emails and tweets about the story confirm that Cohn summarized the summary that Pew wrote about a study that does not yet exist, and he never was able to talk with researchers who are still working on their findings-data that is still getting reviewed, analyzed and possibly changed.

 

When asked today by Varela via email whether there was a public version of the study/presentation given at PPA, one of the study's co-authors, Assistant Professor Carolyn Liebler of the University of Minnesota, wrote: "At this point, there is not a public version of the study or presentation that we are ready to share with the press. This is because it is an ongoing study and we expect the numbers to change as we refine our measures and data selection criteria."

 

Furthermore, Liebler said that even though the math cited in Cohn's piece was correct ("2.5 million Americans of Hispanic origin... changed their race from "some other race" in 2000 to "white" in 2010; "an additional 1.3 million people switched in the other direction."), the rest of the conclusions in his post did not accurately represent the study's initial findings nor did Cohn present a complete picture of her group's current research.

 

The New York Times post included two numbers from our study that are correct: 2.5 million and 1.3 million. Our paper does not involve any interpretation of why people are changing and the inferences about that are entirely his. Also, the New York Times post focuses only on one aspect of the paper, rather than the full set of results. We plan to post a Census Bureau blog with a few more details soon and then the public paper will be coming out in late summer, we expect. We will send you both when they are ready.

 

On Twitter, the author of the Pew piece, D'Vera Cohn, tweeted clarifications about the census study:

 

@julito77 Authors have restricted distribution, so please contact them directly. - All Things Census (@allthingscensus) May 22, 2014

 

@allthingscensus I have, but was confirming whether study was handed out at conference or whether your story was a summary of session thanks

- Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) May 22, 2014

 

@julito77 Mainly a summary of the session. They don't have a study yet - just preliminary results. They hope to publish this summer. - All Things Census (@allthingscensus) May 22, 2014

 

@allthingscensus great thanks so much for that, I really appreciate it - Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) May 22, 2014

 

@julito77 You're welcome...Stay tuned. - All Things Census (@allthingscensus) May 22, 2014

 

Liebler did say via email that "D'Vera Cohn of Pew attended PAA and correctly reported quotes from the PAA presentation, which she attended in person. She did not receive a copy of the presentation." In addition, Liebler also added: "New York Times did not attend PAA (as far as I know) and we have not given them any materials (presentation, paper, etc) or done an interview with them."

 

On May 6, D'Vera Cohn said this to journalist Richard Prince: "This is preliminary data, so it's a heads-up to watch for more numbers-and a more complete narrative explanation-in the next few months. These are numbers, but each one is about a person with a story to tell. So the data could be a jumping-off point for journalists to interview folks about how they identify, and why."

 

Varela also sent an email to "Upfront" editor David Leonhardt asking whether Cohn had contacted Liebler or any of the other researchers of the project before writing his piece. Later in the day, Varela shared Liebler's comments about Cohn's piece with Leonhardt. As of this posting, Leonhardt has yet to respond.

 

This tweet to Cohn has also gone unanswered:

 

Dear @Nate_Cohn, for your piece about Hispanics, did u get PPA presentation from researchers or were u basing it on @allthingscensus story?

- Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) May 22, 2014

 

Interestingly enough, Cohn's post cited a 2013 NYTimes op-ed called "Hispanics, the New Italians," written by Leonhardt, identified on the "Upfront" post as the editor for Cohn.

 

Two years before Leonhardt's opinion piece, the Times published a story that easily challenges what both Cohn and Leonhardt had written. The first one, "Hispanics Identifying Themselves as Indians," stated the following:

 

The trend is part of a demographic growth taking place nationwide of Hispanics using "American Indian" to identify their race. The number of Amerindians - a blanket term for indigenous people of the Americas, North and South - who also identify themselves as Hispanic has tripled since 2000, to 1.2 million from 400,000.

 

In 2012, another Times piece, "For Many Latinos, Racial Identity Is More Culture Than Color," stated this:

 

More than 18 million Latinos checked this "other" box in the 2010 census, up from 14.9 million in 2000. It was an indicator of the sharp disconnect between how Latinos view themselves and how the government wants to count them. Many Latinos argue that the country's race categories - indeed, the government's very conception of identity - do not fit them.

 

The main reason for the split is that the census categorizes people by race, which typically refers to a set of common physical traits. But Latinos, as a group in this country, tend to identify themselves more by their ethnicity, meaning a shared set of cultural traits, like language or customs.

 

So when they encounter the census, they see one question that asks them whether they identify themselves as having Hispanic ethnic origins and many answer it as their main identifier. But then there is another question, asking them about their race, because, as the census guide notes, "people of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin may be of any race," and more than a third of Latinos check "other."

 

As for the Times? One Latino academic has questions.

 

"How does the New York Times writing an article based on a blog post of a presentation of a preliminary study no one has seen and without citing any other experts (or the authors themselves) help advance any science, any debate, or any public understanding of anything? The NYT article ended up obfuscating much more than it helped clarify," said Hector Cordero-Guzman, Ph.D. from Baruch College-CUNY. Cordero-Guzmán was one of the first people on Twitter to ask Cohn the question about whether he had the actual research with him when he wrote his piece.

 

UPDATE, 8:15pmET, May 22, 2014: Tonight Liebler sent another email, "Nate Cohn did reach out to us to talk, but we were not able to talk as quickly as he needed to get his article to press, so it didn't happen." Liebler then added that Cohn had contacted her on May 8 but one of the key principals of the study was sick and the group decided to "not to go forward with interviews about this preliminary research" until that individual was available.

 

SanchezHispanics More Likely To 
Change Race/Ethnicity Census To Census

 

By Mary Sanchez | 816-234-4752 | msanchez@kcstar.com | @msanchezcolumn

The Kansas City Star (May 23, 2014)

 

To all those who complain that Hispanics are unwilling to assimilate, listen up.

 

Research shows that not only do they embrace American culture, but many also buy into the convoluted messaging around race and ethnicity that has long been this country's specialty. Over time, a large number of Latinos have changed their minds about what race they belong to and have decided that they are white.

 

Researchers tracked how people changed their racial and ethnic identification categories between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census. They looked at how 168 million Americans, more than half of the population, filled out the forms. They tracked the same people, answering similar questions about their racial and ethnic makeup. More than 10 million people changed how they self-identified from census to census.

 

Most notable were the 2.5 million Americans who said they were Hispanic and "some other race" in 2000 but who a decade later declared themselves as Hispanic and white. Another 1.3 million people flip-flopped in the other direction. And more than a million Americans went from choosing non-Hispanic white to Hispanic white, or the other way around, according to initial findings being reported by the Pew Research Center.

 

So what is up with these racial and ethnic switch hitters? Researchers caution against reading too much into the data for a variety of sound reasons. Still, it's worth pondering why, within a mere decade, a large number of Hispanics decided to identify more solidly as being white.

 

A major likely factor is the pressure - and the growing opportunity - to blend into society and to identify with the majority. This is a familiar phenomenon. All sorts of immigrants, including Irish, Jews and Italians, were once considered irredeemably alien, even racially inferior to "white" Americans. Today you don't find their fourth- and fifth-generation descendants puzzling over how to fill out the census. They check "white" - because that is how the rest of America now sees them.

 

In the census study, Hispanics were not the only group with a tendency to shift racial identity. People of mixed races, American Indians and Pacific Islanders were also among those more likely to adopt a new race characterization; non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Asians were the least likely.

 

"Hispanic" is an ethnicity on the census; it's possible to be any race and also Hispanic. That's entirely fitting. Given the incredible diversity and melding of Latin American cultures, many Hispanics find racial classification problematic, to say the least. Non-Hispanics often mistake "la raza" - a phrase often used by politically minded Latinos - as a term of racial exclusion. Actually, it signifies "the people," as in all the people encompassed under the Spanish linguistic umbrella of the New World.

 

Still, there has been a tendency for Latinos in the United States to define themselves against "whiteness." That point of view has roots in Latin American anticolonial politics of decades gone by but also in the long history of discrimination by Anglos in this country.

 

The actor and activist Edward James Olmos alluded to this tendency recently when speaking at a Kansas City university. To an audience filled with Mexican-Americans, he asked how many identified with their indigenous roots. Hands flew up. Then he asked who in the crowd acknowledged their Caucasian roots - which, for many Mexicans, traces back to Spanish conquistadors - he received a much less enthusiastic response.

 

"What? You hate half of yourself?" Olmos joked. "Embrace the cultural diversity that is you."

 

He had a point, at least in this respect: Race is a construct. Its meaning throughout history has had no basis in biological reality but rather in social domination and political contention.

 

On the other hand, it has to be asked: Why are Latinos allowed to pass into the "white" category while others cannot or will not?

 

The question for Hispanics is whether they will maintain a sense of being an ethnically distinct minority - retaining affinity and alignment with other minority groups - or, whether over time they will blend into the landscape of so-called white ethnics.

 

The political and social ramifications of this will be significant.

 

Perhaps we'd all be better off if Latinos held on to a porous definition of race, embracing the complexity of their own histories when answering the question of their race. Or not answering the question. Racial ambiguity might just be a thing the United States needs more of.

 

The Upshot | Demographic Shift

NateSpeaking of Identity: 

Choosing Between Latino and Hispanic

By Nate Cohn @Nate_Cohn

New York Times (May 23, 2014)

 

Writers who cover demographics and politics are often confronted with the tricky matter of describing racial and ethnic groups. One particularly challenging question is whether to refer to people from Latin America as Hispanics or Latinos.

 

There's a wide-ranging debate, often playing out on blogs or in academia, about which term is preferable. These debates often center on whether differences in the meaning or the origin of the terms might be problematic.

 

But there is clarity on one important issue: In the United States, more people from Latin America prefer to identify themselves as Hispanic.

 

Among self-described Hispanics or Latinos, Pew Research found in 2013 that 33 percent preferred Hispanic, and 14 percent preferred Latino. Another 51 percent had no preference. Gallup had a similar finding last year, with 19 percent preferring Hispanic to 10 percent who preferred Latino.

 

The polls, unfortunately, did not ask whether Hispanics or Latinos thought either term was unacceptable or offensive, which might be an even more important measurement.

 

Separately, 54 percent of Hispanics or Latinos usually say they identify themselves using their family's country of origin, like Mexico or Cuba, followed by 23 percent who prefer American. Just 20 percent most often use a pan-ethnic term, like Hispanic or Latino.

 

Polling doesn't offer as clear an answer for a similar question about the terms black and African-American. A 2011 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 42 percent of respondents preferred the term black, and 35 percent preferred African-American. The most recent Gallup survey shows an even split, 17 to 17 percent, with 65 percent saying it doesn't matter.

 

In some cases, there's a clear substantive reason to prefer Latino to Hispanic, a term that doesn't clearly include people from Portuguese-speaking countries. That tips the scale in favor of Latino when referring to the Hispanic or Latino population in areas of large numbers of Portuguese-speaking people, like Massachusetts or Rhode Island.

 

But most of the time, there's no clear answer. Wednesday, the title of an article in The Latin Post, for instance, began with "US-born Latinos Driving Hispanic Population Growth."

 

Regardless of the merit of each side's arguments for or against the terms Hispanic or Latino, it seems that most Hispanics and Latinos don't yet have a strong preference - and that to the extent that they do, they prefer Hispanic.