Thursday, March 18, 2010
Latinos & the Census: Race isn't Real.
Oh, the Census. I always find this to be a good time to think about how race is viewed by the government. If you are simply white or black the US Census form is of no real issue. This is proof that we live within the black and white binary. Sure, if you are Asian, American Indian, or (my personal favorite) "Some other race", you can pretty much fill out this form with no family discussion. With Latinos...not so much.
As I have been saying all along on this blog, most Latinos do not understand their origin. Of course they can tell you that they are either Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Mexican, but they will not all agree if they are black or white. Personally and with no surprise, I selected black. I mean, just look at me. I think I would be lying to myself if I put down anything else. But, some people with my skin tone will have a very hard time selecting black. So what to do? American Indian will not fit the so that would mean you have to write in "some other race"? Perhaps Caribbean Indian (for lack of a better term)?
Thus, one of the issues with Latinos: the fact that we as a people have to choose within the binary. I made a joke that if you make brown a selectable category, then a large part of Latinos will indeed check that off. This maybe a cop out but, there are many Latinos that will only put white because they do not feel they are black.
First, lets break this down. Race is nothing more than a social construct that was created to separate all people. We all feed into this with racial stereotypes. The process of counting people the way the Census does feeds into the idea of the black and white binary. Back in the day, when people filled out a census form, you could check off mulatto or negro. Last time I checked, these were not considered races. Yet, Latino is not considered a race, but an identity. So we can identify as Latino, but we can be black or white. To me this is crazy because we all know what white means in this country. Unless you are from Spain (and even then), most White Latinos do not feel as Euro-centric as what average white American is. The same applies with black in America. While black in this country is not Afro-centric, it is still not what Afro Latinos fall into in terms of culture.
So, race is not real. In the words of Clara E. Rodriguez who wrote, Changing Race: Latinos. The Census and the History of Ethnicity in the United States: “...‘race’ is not fixed, is imperfectly measured, is at variance with scientific principles, is often conflated with the concept of ‘ethnicity’, and is under increasing scientific criticism and popular interrogation.” The idea that race is ever changing brings a new concept to how race is socially constructed. Rodriguez suggests that because traditionally oppressed groups of people are able to claim or in some cases reclaim their ancestral identity and change their race into more of a political identity that the idea of race is ever changing. Because the ancestry of Latinos are so widespread in the amount of countries groups of people are from, certain groups within the Latino/Hispanic category have had the ability to take on a political identity, such as Chicano or Nuyerican.
If know you anything about science, then you will know that there are no such thing as multiple races. There is only one race: the human race. So everything is just a popularity contest. The questions on these forms makes very little sense to Latinos because we are what we are.