How did the Census come up with this claim that 48% of Hispanics in America were white?
Problem One: although the Census form provided checkboxes for 14 different races, including "Guamanian or Chamorro," it did not mention either "Latin American Indian" or "mestizo" (a mix of Latin American Indian and white). Something like 8% of the U.S. population is mestizo, but the Census chose to ignore their existence. Nor did the Census offer "mulatto" (a mix of black and white) as a choice. In the fine print, the Census says that "mestizo" and "mulatto" fall under "Some Other Race," presumably along with the little yellow-brown tongue-clicking Bushmen of the Kalahari and the tiny but fierce black Pygmy Negritos of the Andaman Islands near Indonesia.
Problem Two: the Latin American racial system discriminates severely in favor of whites. This encourages Hispanic mestizos and mulattos to label themselves "white." If you are not familiar with the depths of favoritism toward whites in Latin America, watch the Mexican telenovelas on Univision, the dominant Spanish-language channel in the U.S. Judging by the extraordinary numbers of blonde actresses featured, you would have to assume that Mexico is located on the Baltic Sea, somewhere between Latvia and Sweden.
Racism in Latin America has always been more insidious than in the U.S.. While the U.S. traditionally defined anybody with visible evidence of African heritage as "black," the Latin method is to allow anybody with a hint of white blood to call themselves white.
Fat lot of good it does them, though. By letting mixed race people call themselves white, the Latin system tricks mestizos and mulattos into imagining the game isn't rigged against them personally - just against those poor bastards who happen to be a little darker than they are. And by allowing a few of the most dynamic dark-skinned men to obtain blonde wives, and thus have lighter skinned children, the natural leaders of a potential revolt of the darker masses are co-opted into the white establishment.
In contrast, our "One Drop of Blood" rule enabled African Americans to enjoy extraordinarily formidable spokesmen. Most black leaders were part white. For example, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington had white fathers. W.E.B. Dubois looked like a Portuguese count. The fact that Thurgood Marshall was African-American is not immediately obvious from his photographs. Malcolm X was nicknamed "Red" after the color of his hair. Lani Guinier, whose mother was Jewish and father was a famous African American Communist Party official, looks like the sister of Gilda Radner. I called my wife in to watch Shelby Steele on TV so I could ask her what ethnic group he came from. She guessed Greek.
In Latin America, however, all of these impressive figures would have been admitted to the white power structure and encouraged to leave their darker cousins behind.
In Brazil, however, all of these impressive figures would have been admitted to the white power structure and encouraged to leave their darker cousins behind.
Sounds liberal. But this system inspires so much racial denial and self-loathing among the tens of millions of blacks and near-blacks in Brazil that, until only a few years ago, hair care products formulated specifically for African hair were largely unavailable - because few black Brazilian women would admit they didn't have straight Portuguese hair.
NEXT: Why We Can't Get Beyond Race.
June 03, 2001