More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White

I’m feeling some type of way after reading that, according to US Census data, more Hispanics are declaring themselves white.

Now I know race is a social construct, but that social construct has been (and is being) used to subjugate, discriminate against, and oppress people. Thus, I do not agree with comments that say people should ignore race since it’s a made up idea anyways.

Race may be made up but the effects of it are real.

Why am I feeling some type of way about this?

1.) I always get uncomfortable when the question of passing comes up. I never even heard of passing—when people of an oppressed race (e.g., black, but very fair-skinned blacks) assimilated into the majority (read: white) in order to not face legal and social discrimination—until I read Nella Larsen’s books Quicksand and Passing my first year of college. When I’m honest with myself, I have little to no sympathy for people who “pass” (though I can understand why people choose to do it). I’m sure someone would say it’s because it’s not an option for people of my hue. In short, you knock what you can’t try. I would counter that it’s not an option for me to reject or downplay the family and history that formed me because of potential privileges. No Imitation of Life story here!

2.) The US definition of race when it comes to the term Hispanic (Hispanic of Asian, African, White, etc…origin) still throws me off at times even with two college degrees and a workshop on Latino identity.

3.) Like all (yes, I said all) racial groups, people are of mixed heritage. (Im)migration, colonialism, slavery, trade, adventure, etc… created geographic areas where cultures blended. One of the reasons I got interested in Latin America to begin with was because it forced me to stop trying to categorize people based on race.  I met people whose grandparents were are as dark as me yet they were “fair enough” to be considered white. In short, I had to stop ASSUMING what race I would “encounter” when I thought Hispanic or Latino.

4.) I still (and always will have) memories of being called white in school because I spoke Standard English, did well in school, had tons of white friends, and did not “do the things black people were supposed to do.” Now, there’s no way in hell I could be considered white (see #1), yet The Ign’ant Ones referred to me as that as a way of insulting and demeaning me. I still flare up if someone even tries to HINT that a person may be “acting white.” Thus, when people self-identify as white when society (or researchers) are expecting another identifier, I often wonder what the story is behind the decision. For example, my Spanish speaking Venezuelan students’ names are lessons in European Geography: Italian, German, Czech, etc… (Im)Migration was alive and well in Venezuela! If their families are Italian—which is a group that was once considered not white but now it is considered white in the US—, they have African and Indigenous People’s heritage in their bloodlines, and they’re from Venezuela…what does that make them? If they check one box they’re not necessarily ignoring the others too. Or are they?

5.) At the end of the day, to each their own. One thing I refuse to do is tell people what they are. Just like I don’t like it when The Ign’ant Ones tell me I’m full Nigerian because my father’s Nigerian (and thus eliminating my Southern Black family), I’m not going to tell people what they should self-identify as. You can be as dark as midnight on the hottest summer day (i.e., look like the Langston Hughes poem I love and adore, “Dream Variations“) and if you want to identify as white I may raise the proverbial eyebrow and ask some questions about your thought process but I will not say “No you’re not this; you’re this.” The same applies in the opposite circumstance.

Just know why you’re doing it and own it.

Is it to reclaim ignored history? Is it to reap majority privileges? Or is it something more complicated than one blog post and one NYT article can adequately address?

 

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