The news: The concept of race is as crude as it is malleable.
So when the New York Times started telling people that more Hispanics are identifying as "white" — without asking any Hispanics, no less — reactions were mixed.
Image Credit: Latino Rebels via New York Times
Some took issue with the sweeping claim. Others were put off by its cheery tone. Many responded via social media, using the hashtag #ThisIsWhatLatinosLookLike to showcase the diversity and pride of this growing population:
They aimed to prove once and for all that an idea as complex as racial identity can't always be conveyed in a census box — and that plenty of Hispanics are (surprise!) perfectly fine not being white, thank you.
Here's what they posted:
Background: When the Times published Nate Cohn's now infamous report "More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White," the backlash seemed fierce enough to send the entire editorial staff packing.
Cohn claimed that America's white population was growing because a net 1.2 million Hispanics switched their racial designation from "Some Other Race" to "White" between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. But that's just part of the story: For one thing, America's Hispanic population grew by 43% in that time frame, meaning 1.2 million actually represents a smaller percentage of Hispanics than before.
The numbers are also skewed because the race question on the census changed. In 2010, it specified that "Hispanic origins are not races," which may have led respondents to check a Hispanic origin box, then forgo the following "Other" box in favor of a more clearly defined racial category.
Image Credit: New York Times
What? If that's confusing, rest assured it's kind of moot anyway: Latino Rebels founder Julio Ricardo Varela destroyed Cohn's argument most forcefully by pointing out that its data came from a study Cohn hadn't actually read because it hadn't been released yet.
So what's the problem? For starters, as stated earlier and then confirmed by the researchers themselves, these findings are just "preliminary" and have yet to say anything definitive. If Hispanics are indeed getting "whiter," you won't find it in this report.
But more importantly, Cohn's article hints that such white identification is a sign of assimilation, the kind that Irish- and Italian-Americans underwent in the early 20th century. He even suggests it correlates to their consequent "success" in American society.
Not only does this fail to account for the lived experiences of many Hispanics in the U.S., it does so without consulting a single Hispanic journalist or sociologist. Otherwise, Cohn might have found that being "white" can differ in connotation according to context — especially between the U.S. and Latin America.
The reactions to Cohn's piece suggest a widespread objection to his attempt to draw Hispanics into this narrative of American whiteness. Reasons for this vary, but in any case, discussing them without the input of someone actually affected by them is unwise, especially on something as tenuous and personal as racial identity.
Or even more basically, wait until the relevant research is complete before making such drastic claims. Next time, Nate.