Seen all over news websites and in political discussion is the widespread belief that somehow White people will become America’s minority within the next 20-40 years.
Newsweek touted “America’s Getting Less White, and That Will Save It.” This claim attempts to be substantiated by one of the strangest, most pervasive race myths of the modern Western world: The myth that “Hispanic” is actually a racial group. It is not. And the fact that people think it is has huge implications when discussing racial inequality and projecting into America’s future.
Currently, The US Census states Hispanic not a race, but an ethnic background and that makes complete sense when we delve, briefly, into recent Western History. When Europeans–specifically the English, Spanish, French and Portuguese– sailed across the Atlantic, they brought with them an unquenchable thirst for gold, their culture and language. We all know the story: Europeans encountered the Natives of the land and either mass-murdered them or pushed them into small areas, claimed the land for themselves and established new “colonies” (that would later become countries), and imported African enslaved people and, in smaller numbers indentured Asians, to toil the lands. The countries within “The Americas” all share a relatively similar history. The only differences being which European country settled/influenced where, how many slaves/indentured servants were imported, how many natives survived, whether or not certain demographics “mixed” or did not.
One of the most important distinctions between countries of the Americas is cultural, and even more explicitly, language. For regions “conquered” by the Spanish, the Spanish language became standard. The same for rule applied when the English, French or Portuguese colonized the Americas. So people of varying racial make-ups– be it Black, White, Native American. Pacific Islander, or Asian or some combination of the aforementioned– have adopted European language as their own. However, interestingly, only Spanish-speaking groups have somehow managed to become a new race. Genetically, what precisely is the difference between a person with a varying mix of African and European ancestry who speaks english and another person with a varying mix of African and European ancestry who happens to speak spanish? Um, none. That is precisely the case when we look at the average “mixed” Dominican, compared to a “mixed” Brazilian. The only real difference is culture and language. Genetically, a Dominican of African descent is more like an African-American, than a Dominican of European descent. So then, why precisely, are we comfortable categorizing a group of people as the same race merely because they speak the same language? Why aren’t English or Portuguese language speakers lumped together, as well?
There is a reason why this discussion is very important. Whenever statisticians project into the future where minority people will outnumber Whites in the United States (representative of a more racially liberated and accepting country, I suppose), they are often citing Census trends that show an ever-growing, exponential increase in Hispanic population yearly. It is expected that by 2060, the Hispanic population will reach an estimated 128.8 million– approximately 31% of the population. What they do not say is that most of these Hispanic or Latino individuals already identify as being racially White or “some other race”. That is because they are. Multiple genetic studies have found that the vast majority of “Hispanic” people– from Argentinians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans to Chileans– have a genetic make-up that is majority European or “White”. An autosomal study from 2014 found that the genetic ancestry in Cuba is 72% European, in the Dominican republic 51.2% European, in Colombia 60.0% European and so on and so forth. As many hispanic people assimilate into “American culture” over generations, cultural ties are severed– and thus so is the connection to the “Hispanic” identity and group. In other words, “Hispanic” people are absorbed into distinct racial categories over time in America. So, no, America will not somehow become “more racially diverse” simply because more Hispanic people arrive to the country.
Though it is argued that “Hispanics” have been long treated as “the other” in the United states, otherness can be overcome with time and access. With the examples of groups that were historically considered “non-White”, but later absorbed into Whiteness, like the Italians and Irish, it should come as no surprise that in the case of genetically European Hispanics in America, the same is likely to occur. Especially when we consider technologies that will become more pervasive within the next few decades, which narrow down with near exact precision, an individual’s genetic make-up. As many “Hispanics” become more aware of their mostly European/”White” heritage, why precisely would they not adopt that label when it could potentially allow access to a world of privilege?
The implications of this are very important. Whenever discussions about inequality across racial lines spring up, take for example the income gap, “Hispanic” people are always grouped together in a way that is harmful to the overall discussion and also muddies any attempt to reveal the reality of racial stratification. Based on the numbers provided by the U.S. Labor of Statistics, “Hispanic” people are the lowest income earners in the United States of America– with Hispanic women earning the lowest weekly dollar amount ($541) compared to $884 for White men and $722 for White women. Yet, what is often left out of the discussion is just how those numbers play out across racial lines within that subgroup. With certainty, a “White” Hispanic person is not making the same money as a “Black” or “Native” Hispanic person, so why should they all be grouped together? When White or Black Hispanics come to occupy different social/economic positions in America’s social strata, after generations of assimilation, they most certainly will not.
I personally believe that perpetuating the myth of the “Hispanic race” in the United States of America undermines the reality that racial binaries will always continue to exist in this country where White supremacy reigns supreme and Blackness is positioned as inferior. It is important that we are not sidetracked by such a myth, because it will be proven false. Eventually we will come to recognize that the time wasted entertaining this myth would most certainly have been better served combating the current system that tries to keep people of color subjugated.
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