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Pondering Patterson [III]: OK, How White Are Hispanics?
did the Census come up with this claim that 48% of
Hispanics in America were white?
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
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
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
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