Where Are Latinos in a Future Multiracial Society?

The U.S. Census and other institutions fail to recognize a unique Latino racial identity. If we are to have a future as a truly multiracial society, this has to change.
Mural in Pilsen, photo by puroticorico

The number of Latinos living in the US is set to double by 2050, placing whites in the national minority. Will our government and media institutions recognize a Latino racial identity—or attempt to expand the definition of "white"?

Photo by puroticorico.

In a piece posted on March 4, 2010, YES! Magazine’s Sarah van Gelder engages a panel of visionaries on “Our Future as a Multiracial Society.” An otherwise good discussion, the panel seems to overlook a centrally important issue—one that fundamentally undermines Ms. van Gelder’s initial premise:

In the year 2042, people of color will be in the majority in the United States. They already are in many of our cities and farming areas. Yet America still imagines itself—on television, in advertising, and in political rhetoric—as racially white and culturally European. What would it mean to change our self-image and recognize that we’re made up of a mixture of races, nationalities, and cultures?

The problem is that people of color will not be in the majority in 2042. Nor anytime soon thereafter. At least, not as long as the Census, government agencies, mass media and other shapers of cultural consciousness (or collective self-image), insist, as they have for the past few decades, on de-racializing Latinos.

Following colonial-period notions of the "one-drop" rule, people of Latin American origins have historically been racialized as something other than white: a designation originally reserved for British and other Christians of northern European descent; the Irish, southern and eastern Europeans, and Jews were eventually (and only quite recently) accepted into the white collective.

Yet since the 1960s, demographers have known that Latinos would numerically surpass African Americans and that, together with other populations of color, would outnumber whites by the mid-21st century. Since then, a gradual process of redefining the admission requirements into the white race has been in progress. Latinos are this process’ intended new recruits. Hence the invention of the term “Hispanic,” which orients one’s thinking toward Spain, Europe and whiteness, and away from Latin America, colonialism, resistance, revolution and—most significantly—large-scale and historic racial intermixing among Europeans, Africans and Native peoples. Hence, the reclassification of “Hispanic/Latino” as an ethnicity—and not a race—in the past two censal processes.

So, while the percentage of Latinos in the U.S. population will more than double in the 45 years between 2005 and 2050 (from 14 percent to 29 percent), we must ask: What race would we be considered? If the Census 2000 was any indicator, 48 percent of Latinos in the U.S.—and a staggering 80 percent in the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico—were identified as white.

Yet, if we remember that Latinos are already no longer considered a racial group, but an ethnic one—why would Latinos even be counted, as a group, at all? No other ethnic groups are counted in the Census or identified on any school, medical or police records or government forms. What makes us believe that Latinos just won’t be melted—or burned—in the good ol’ American melting pot?

This is why the Census 2010, currently underway, is so important to an anti-racism movement and to the possibility of a future multiracial society. Because only if Latinos (and perhaps Arabs, northern Africans, and others) are successful in resisting this reclassification, will those currently considered “people of color” be considered to constitute a majority some 30 years from now. Otherwise, in 2042, whites—including millions of “apparently white” Latinos—will remain the demographic majority, justifying a “moral right” to political and cultural dominance. There would be no external motivation to share power with black, brown, and other racial groups unable or unwilling to be assimilated and accepted into white culture.

We should remember that the U.S. has been a multiracial society since the arrival of pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Therefore, in transforming our current multiracial society to a more just one, it will be important that we move toward becoming an anti-racist multiracial society. That is, a society largely liberated from individual, institutional and cultural practices based on notions of racial superiority and inferiority. Clearly, this will take all of us.

:: A white guy confesses his fears and seeks out settings beyond his comfort zone.

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