‘Hispanic’ Is Not a Racial Category

Question: 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?

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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.).


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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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”!

  • The problem is that “Hispanics” or “Latin-Americans” come from a vast, diverse, and large region and, being said, all races and various languages are represented. However, the American government and the U.S. Census Bureau Department have an innate desire, which stems from its long racial history, to put everybody into a certain category and give everybody a race, color, etc. Back to the problem, though, is that “Hispanics” or “Latin Americans” cannot be so easily put into one racial category and many of a mix of various races and ethnicities. Likewise, a White person from Spain would still be European and racially White…..so not sure why only Spaniards get put into a different racial category than other European-Americans regardless of language. Likewise, how is it that a White Argentine of German descent gets put into the same racial category as a Black Dominican…..oh because they’re both “Hispanic.” Furthermore, why are reporting ethnicity on census forms and, if that is the case, I guess that ALL Americans and residents of the U.S. Should now report their ancestry(ies) on census forms. Just kidding…..and this is coming from a White American of German and Native-American descent on my father’s side and a Serbian mother who came from the ex Yugoslavia in the 70s and got the “White” rubber stamp upon arriving as a refugee. Should she have been given the option to declare herself as “Yugoslavian”?

  • Just like the United States of America, Latin American countries have diverse populations. Like the USA, many Latin American countries have an ‘original’ Amerindian population. Like the USA, Latin American countries have descendants of European immigrants and Sub-Saharan slaves. Like the USA, Latin American countries also have descendants of Jews, Arabs, Turks, South Asians, etc. Like the USA, Latin American countries have mixed race people. Lumping all Latin Americans into one group because of their link to Iberian cultures/languages, is like linking all English speaking peoples/countries into one group because of their link to British culture. Should we call the Navajos, Jamaicans, Hong Kongnese, Maoris, Guamans, Indians/Pakistanis, and US Americans, “Britannics?”

  • Sebastian Zanatti

    American racial definitions have always been odd. But specifically on the topic, it is amazing how many people think “Hispanic” or “Latino” is actually a race. “Latinos” are just individuals born in Latin America, but as any educated individual would know, Latin America does not consist of only one race, but of many. For example, Bolivia is mostly Amerindian, but Argentina is mostly European (percentage-wise, they are more European than the USA). Heck, the largest ethnic group in Latin America are Europeans, at 34% of the total population. Basically, saying that Latin Americans are a race (“Hispanic” or “Latino) is like saying all of the USA is a race, which is preposterous.

    Furthermore Americans tend to define “white” as those who are European or descended from Europeans, but for some reason exclude Spaniards and force them to be part of their made-up race (Spaniards are European after all, their language (a European language) does not magically alter their genetics and make them coloured). The term “Hispanic”, after all, comes form the Latin tern hispanicus – someone from Hispania, the Iberian peninsula. Hispanic is a cultural and language group, but it is definitely not a race. For example, take me. Both of my paternal grandparents are Italian, and I hold Italian citizenship, while my maternal grandparents are Spaniards with some Sicilian descent. So, for the purposes of the topic I shall ask this question: Does the fact that I was born in Peru magically change my race and make me any less European than any European-American? Short answer is no.

  • Darryl K Jackson

    Being both African American and Puerto Rican….I’m forced to choose one. Also I see white non hispanic more than black non hispanic which both devided the already confusing racial excepting of Hispanics and decide them from African Americans…..why should African Americans be forced in the same group as Jamaicans and Haitians but not Cubans and Dominicans…..they were all slave colonies who were populated with much more African slaves than Europeans….African Americans are just as diverse and mixed as Hispanics from Mariah Carey to Wesly Snipes…both African American but only Snipes is black skin tone……antiquated racial policies that’s all

    • You know that there are millions of people of european ancestry in the rest of the Americas right?
      In all those countries, tradition has it for hundreds of years that these people have been called white. How is that being in the US makes white Hispanic wrong?

  • The purpose of a census is to describe, as closely as possible, the various characteristics of a populace. This not only includes race, ethnicities, and cultural origins, but also economics, age, family nucleus and numbers, sexual orientation and relationship status (married, divorced, single, widowed etc.), etc. It’s not a job application or an online dating resume. It’s a research tool.

  • This has always been an issue for me. I’m so used to people telling me what I am my whole life only to take a dna test and find out I’m 35 percent Native American…and of that more Northern Native American than Southern Native American. I also have some Basque ancestry…my mom is Rh negative and I have vitamin D deficiency. So, my daughter was born looking white. I feel that explains it. My husband is about a quarter Native American according to DNA. We are both admixed with different European nationalities…he has more Iberian than I do…I am all over the place. We both have under 10% African…but I get the feeling they rolled that into European nationalities somewhat but highlight it more for self admitted ‘latinos’ because some people’s kids look more non-white than mine. My guess is that Northern Europeans are related to Native Americans and Southern Europeans are related to biracials/Arabs a bit more who also have mixtures with gypsy like populations. I believe everyone is mixed; there is a time factor, however, as far as how far back someone dipped into a more distant pool. Latinos usually have some Iberian ancestry regardless of their main components and that is what joins us all…and then…mestizos the Native/Europeans are more alike than the heavily Mulatto populations who are also more alike…though there is some crossover in different degrees…just like all over the world.

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