Have faith in the melting pot
CHICAGO — If, among a certain subgroup of white Americans, there is an inherent fear of the Latin-ization of the United States, is there a parallel unease among some Hispanics? If not quite a fear, per se, then perhaps an version to becoming white?
In a recent New York Times story about the spread of white supremacist websites, there was a picture of refrigerator magnets decorating the kitchen of the ironically named Don Black of stormfront.org. They each called for no “white genocide.”
This fear of being wiped out sounded familiar. I often read similarly anxious comments about racial purity and community cohesion from Latinos who are repulsed by the idea of being considered, classified or identified as white.
Let’s recall the whole 2013 George Zimmerman “white Hispanic” controversy during which individuals who identify themselves as truly Hispanic (or Latino, as some prefer) complained that they were definitely, under any circumstance, who-cares-what-the-Census-has-to-say, NOT WHITE!!!
Then in 2014, the disgruntlement flowed when The New York Times’ Nate Cohn published an article titled “More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White.” It cited research presented at an annual meeting of the Population Association of America: “2.5 million Americans of Hispanic origin, or approximately 7 percent of the 35 million Americans of Hispanic origin in 2000, changed their race from ‘some other race’ in 2000 to ‘white’ in 2010.”
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Poor Cohn was digitally tarred and feathered for that one. His story unleashed a fury of oh-my-gosh-do-NOT-say-Hispanics-are-turning-white blog posts, social media rants and concerned emails.
One particularly amusing headline atop a nationally syndicated opinion column: “Are Hispanics in danger of becoming white?”
Another headline, this one from a blog post on the African-American-focused site watercoolerconvos.com, read: “Hispanics Are Becoming White and It’s Not Good.”
The author, Jenn M. Jackson, explained: “Many have said that whites will one day become a minority in this country. With Latino Americans standing as the largest minority group, they were said to surpass whites in total population — making the U.S. a majority-minority country as early as 2043. How exactly will that happen if Latino Americans are becoming white? It simply won’t. … While I would love to say this is not a threat to our collective well-being, I can’t. It is a threat, an imminent threat.”
A few months later, an analysis for The Washington Post of the 2012 American National Election Studies survey concluded that lighter-skinned Latinos are more likely than darker-skinned Latinos to identify as Republican and to vote for Republicans.
This year has brought yet more research on the topic. Nicholas Vargas, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Dallas, weighed in with a study about Hispanics who self-classify as white and report being perceived as white by other Americans.
His conclusion: “It appears that only a very small subset of Latina/os today may be ‘becoming white’ in the ways that some previous researchers have forecasted.” This made some of the few people who actually read Vargas’ paper stand up and cheer.
Much more widely read was sociologist Richard Alba’s recent New York Times op-ed “The Myth of a White Minority.” It basically asked those who can’t wait for that supposedly utopian day when whites are the minority to cool their jets.
“Even as the on-the-ground understanding of race and ethnicity becomes more fluid, contingent and overlapping, our public conversation lags,” Alba wrote. “Among infants with a Hispanic parent, about 30 percent also had a non-Hispanic parent — and for two-thirds of them, that parent was white. The percentages were similar for infants of Asian parentage.”
Yep, that’s my white husband and me. Our two halfsie sons have lived in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, gone to predominantly Hispanic schools and grown up in a predominantly Hispanic household (if you count grandma and grandpa) all their lives. Yet they still identify as white.
Trust me, they’re not scary or threatening — I rather like them. They are perfectly comfortable in their skin, respect other people’s heritage as well as their own and aren’t out to oppress anyone. They don’t even have enough privilege to get out of drinking their dreaded daily allotment of milk.
America aspires to be a melting pot. It’s not perfect, but we should let it do its work without baseless fears about becoming “the other.” Cupid appears to be colorblind, and he might yet be responsible for putting an end to much of our society’s racial anxiety.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.
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