The New York Times ran an article over the weekend on how the government's racial categories don't fit Hispanics well: For Many Latinos Racial Identity Is More Culture than Color. It's like a dumbed-down version of one of my articles.
More than 18 million Latinos checked this “other” [race] box in the 2010 census, up from 14.9 million in 2000.
What's not mentioned is that that's actually a decline in percentage terms: there was a rise from 2000 to 2010 in the percentage of Hispanic ethnicity individuals calling themselves white on the race question. (This likely doesn't represent an underlying change in race or thinking about race. It probably had to do with minor changes in the wording of the race question on the 2010 Census that were intended to elicit more comprehension from Latinos.)
It was an indicator of the sharp disconnect between how Latinos view themselves and how the government wants to count them. Many Latinos argue that the country’s race categories — indeed, the government’s very conception of identity — do not fit them.
Of course, there's no mention that Latin American countries themselves use terms like "mestizo" and "mulatto" and "Indio" -- those words are considered multiculturally insensitive in America, even though they are considered useful in Latin America.
The main reason for the split is that the census categorizes people by race, which typically refers to a set of common physical traits. But Latinos, as a group in this country, tend to identify themselves more by their ethnicity, meaning a shared set of cultural traits, like language or customs.
Of course, there's no mention that Hispanics are the only ethnicity to get their own question on the Census. There were only about 9 questions on the last Census and one was Are you Hispanic/Latino? Ethnically, to the Feds, either you are Hispanic or you are non-Hispanic. If you are non-Hispanic, the feds don't care about your ethnicity.
The general tone of the article is the usual: that Latino political power through ethnocentric solidarity is an unquestioned good. To newspaper reporters, what could be more self-evident? All the Latino leaders in their Blackberries tell them that. Granted, in the real world, not that many Spanish-surnamed people seem to care all that much, but that's just proof that we need to write even more articles telling the Latino masses to Get With The Program that their leaders have laid out for them. (If only we could get Latinos to read the Times instead of the Post.) These people who return my phone calls so promptly are the Martin Luther Kings of the 21st Century. If you don't believe me, just ask them.
Personally, the fact that all these newcomers to my country are internally divided by race and ethnicity so that they don't wield all that much political power would seem to me to be a feature, not a bug. I think we should get rid of the ethnicity category altogether and have only two race questions on government forms: "Are you descended from African-American slaves?" and "Are you an official member of an American Indian tribe?"
Readers will not be surprised that the person featured in the article (shown in the photo) as most outspoken in her indignation over the feds' insensitivity doesn't have a Spanish-surname herself: Erica Lubliner.