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‘Hispanic’ Is Not a Racial Category

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion:
First of all, the term “white” is subjective. You are obviously of Italian heritage and I really consider Italians to be “Latinos” or Hispanic except they don’t speak Spanish.

Who coins the ethnic lexicon of terms for the vast ethnicity description that eventually finds its way into our American lexicon description on race and ethnicity? The term “non-white Hispanic” for example is so racist in my opinion that it alludes to Hispanics as being considered white but not all-inclusive, hence the term “I’m a white non-Hispanic” so don’t include me in that group!

The term “non-white Hispanic” seems to communicate a message of inferiority to such adamant exclusion that states “Yes, I’m white but don’t include me in that ethnicity.”

Being Hispanic or Latino is not a race but an ethnic identification, like Italian American, Irish American, Greek American, German American. Now, Hispanics have been grouped into a new ethnic general category, “people of color,” that encompasses ethnic groups from Europe as being the sole white people from European heritage. What is your opinion?

I agree with your assessment. Hispanics are not a racial group but are “lumped in” with people of color in common usage.

This will evolve with the increasing sophistication of our society. Just think about how things were 40 years ago.

By the way, I’ve become fairly well versed in Latino culture by being one of two Anglo members of PRIMER (Puerto Ricans In Management and Executive Roles)–so I would be quite pleased to be considered Latino! (I was also named an honorary black woman at Spelman College, but that’s another story.).




  • The designation of race and ethnicity categories by the US federal government are complex, and have evolved over time. The government invented the term “Hispanic”, and it is still not embraced by all groups. All race designations are both cultural and political. Why are there about 17 kinds of Asians on the federal forms, and no Hispanic race categories on US government forms? Why are only Hispanics are forced to pick both an ethnicity and a race? The short answer is that the Asian lobby was clear that it wanted race subgroups listed, while the Hispanic lobby remains divided. The combined race /ethnicity category that is used to summarize many government statistics is: “Non-Hispanic White and “Non-Hispanic Black”, “Hispanic” and “Other”.The term used by the writer above is not correct, a subtle, but important distinction.The idea of race is considered to be a particularly US obsession by those in other countries. The Canadians don’t collect race in their Census, as language is their main dividing issue.The Hispanic idea of ethnicity is based more on cultural and class distinctions than on genealogy. In Guatemala, for example, three brothers from the same village and the same Indian parents could be considered to be three separate races if one speaks Mayan and still lives in the village, one speaks Spanish and lives in a middle class neighborhood, and the third lives in a poor urban neighborhood and speaks a mixture of languages.In the US, parents of mixed race children were the ones who lobbied to allow multiple race designation on the US Census and other forms. Presiden Obama is a great example of someone who is mixed race and multicultural — neither black nor white.While Hispanics take advantage of the multiple race categorization possible now, the designation is not perfect. What a Hispanic means by mixed race is dependent on which language he is speaking – “mixto” probably means Indian/European, while “mixed” probably means black/white, a distincition that the US Government is not set up to notice.It is not clear whether or not Portuguese and Brazilians are Hispanic given that the language of these two countries is not Spanish.It is even less clear what “white” means any longer. In the early years of this century, Italian, Greek, English, Irish and Jewish persons were all considered to be of separate races.Educated Spanish friends(actually Catalans, a whole other story) have questioned why they should be designated as Hispanics in the US, when they don’t need minority programs. They prefer to be considered “European”. Actually, I like that one, and am starting to use it on forms for my bi-cultural child.

  • Anonymous

    Your response does nothing to answer this question.

  • Anonymous

    I think its confusing. Okay I am white non Hispanic…what the heck , why are Hispanics excluded from other groups? Why then don’t all races get to put what part of Europe or Africa, South America, or Asia they descend from, I am Irish, German, Scottish and black, so what the heck! OMG I feel why put Black and white as a race….that’s just the color of the skin NOT A RACE!!!!!! White people come from many different groups as do Black people!!! So why are they identified by the color of their skin! I think the whole thing is stupid. I always put one or more races on a form because I am!!!!!!!!!!

  • I find it an insult not being able to check (as a race) Mexican American.I am also a fourth Native American but don’t know what tribe. I am proud of my hertiage not a shamed.

  • Anonymous

    This situation is frustrating to me because I was born in Mexico and adopted into a welcoming white family when I was five days old. The culture I was raised in is naturally the culture of my white family — meaning my Texas father and my South Carolina mother who was a white/Blackfoot Indian mix. So my culture is whatever white-americans’ culture is. But my skin is definitly darker than any in my family and of that of my caucasion husbands. I know scientifically that I am a mix of Native American and Spanish-Cuacasion. I speak english with a Texas twang…so I suppose my grits-love’n self is a Texan! LOL!

    Seriously though, the census was set up to insist that one’s genetics define one’s cultural heritage. That;s impoly not true. Then it was set up to say the hispanic mix of Native American/White didn’t exist. I no more look white than I look Asian, Black, Polynesian, etc. I’m clearly brown-skinned with brown eyes and black hair. My whole life I’ve thought of my race as Hispanic and my culture as being part of the south where ya’lls are spoken and fried chicken is a favorite…this census made me feel forced to identify as what I am not. I choose instead to mark “other” and spell out Native American & Caucasion Mix”!

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