1.2 Million Latinos Tell Census They’re Now White, and NYTimes Thinks It’s Awesome

May 21, 2014
5:52 PM

UPDATE, 8:15pmET, May 22, 2014: I had an email exchange with one of the study’s co-authors today, and she wrote me that Cohn’s inferences about the data were his and not her research group’s conclusions. She also wrote that the study was still not public, nor was it finalized. Read more here.

In the ongoing and rather ridiculous trend of how non-Latinos (see Slate) are addressing Latinidad for national outlets, this week Nate Cohn of The New York Times’ “The Upshot” got all analytical with the following piece, “More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White.”

Before proceeding to completely knock down Cohn’s conclusions and prove yet again that having non-Latinos talk about Latino identity without having Latinos at the center of the conversation (just read what Blanca Elizabeth Vega says), let’s review how the Times presents this piece.

We already mentioned the sensational headline: “More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White,” which is followed by an animated graphic of a figure in grey (grey?) going from grey to white.


Via NYTimes (Pablo Delcán)

Enough said.

The crux of Cohn’s piece is this paragraph, which refers to this Pew study:

The researchers found that 2.5 million Americans of Hispanic origin, or approximately 7 percent of the 35 million Americans of Hispanic origin in 2000, changed their race from “some other race” in 2000 to “white” in 2010. An additional 1.3 million people switched in the other direction. A noteworthy but unspecified share of the change came from children who weren’t old enough to fill out a form in 2000, but chose for themselves in 2010.

Let’s stop for a moment and do some math. First, in 2000, according to Cohn and the census, there were 35 million Americans of Hispanic origin. Of those 35 million, 2.5 million went from “some other race” to “white” in 2010. However, in 2010, according to the census, there were 50.5 million Hispanics in the U.S. What race did the additional 15.5 million people who identified as Hispanic in 2010 mark? And what about the 1.3 million who switched in the other direction? That would be just a net of 1.2 million people who changed back to “white,” and given the fact that there was a 43 percent increase in the U.S. Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010, wouldn’t Cohn’s definitive conclusion suggest a lesser percentage if you took into account the 2010 total numbers instead of basing it on the 2000 ones?

In addition, why not bring in the actual 2010 census numbers to give the Times piece more context? See this:


You can have all the separate Pew studies you like, but the actual census numbers reveal so much more:

  • The U.S. white population decreased by almost three percentage points and was the slowest-growing population in terms of percentage. So even if Cohn’s is piece is suggesting that more Hispanics are declaring to be more “white,” the actual white population is decreasing.
  • All other non-white populations grew by double-digit percentages. Is anyone asking how many Hispanics switched to those categories? Anyone?
  • There was also a 32% increase in “two or more races.” Is that a sign of a country that is becoming more “white?”

Nonetheless, even though Cohn’s logic is faulty, let’s still play with it. In the beginning of his piece, he says this, “Hispanics are often described as driving up the nonwhite share of the population. But a new study of census forms finds that more Hispanics are identifying as white.”

Then he makes it a point to say this:

The data provide new evidence consistent with the theory that Hispanics may assimilate as white Americans, like the Italians or Irish, who were not universally considered to be white. It is particularly significant that the shift toward white identification withstood a decade of debate over immigration and the country’s exploding Hispanic population, which might have been expected to inculcate or reinforce a sense of Hispanic identity, or draw attention to divisions that remain between Hispanics and non-Hispanic white Americans.

Just another paragraph down, Cohn says this:

White identification is not necessarily a sign that Hispanics consider themselves white. Many or even most might identify their race as “Hispanic” if it were an explicit option.

There is so much there, but interestingly enough, Cohn never really took the time to mention what “white” means, according to the census. This is the official definition:


Step back for a second and seriously tell me that someone with roots in the Middle East or North Africa would have the same exact experience as someone whose roots came from Europe? Yet, it seems that Cohn has fallen into the typical conclusion that since whiteness in the U.S. is the dominant culture, anyone who identifies as white would naturally want to assimilate and be part of that dominant culture.

Also, Cohn misses one really big point about how “a sense of Hispanic identity” had done little to withstand white identification. That is being redefined right now.

The messiness between race and culture once again gets confused, and Cohn lacks a deep understanding of Latinidad to communicate those points. It is obvious to that he didn’t read Vega’s piece or what Ed Morales wrote just a few weeks ago.

What is the future of Latin@s in a country of racism without racists? In the conclusion of “Latin/o Whitening” it says that contrary to previous speculation, Latin@s don’t appear to be actively seeking to claim whiteness. So is it possible, then, that the idea of blackness could also expand enough for many Latin@s to claim it? Instead of claiming the “brown” middle, maybe what a person of conscience should do is claim blackness regardless of whether or not one has a phenotypical appearance that would be considered “black.”

But if you need even more convincing, why not ask other Latinos?

True. Good point.

Maybe it’s time to change the description.

Then there are these nuggets from a Twitter friend:

Then there is this.


But this is also true.

Listen, I totally know that Latinos have serious issues when it comes to race and identity. And that some Latinos will identify as Latinos, some will completely reject it, while others will think this is all a result of centuries of oppression. I get that.

But let’s not fall into the mainstream trap that all of a sudden the United States is getting “whiter” because a small percentage of Latinos marked “white” on a government form that tries to put us all in this neat little box. Those days are over, and so are the ones where non-Latinos need to stop talking about Latinos without actually engaging Latinos. All Cohn had to do is read this comment on his own piece:

“Many or even most might identify their race as “Hispanic” if it were an explicit option”

This is the point. Hispanic isn’t a race choice on the forms people are filling in. I am Hispanic but if my choices are white, African or Asian or Native American, and they demand a number for Native American (we are Mestizo, so a mix of natives and Spanish settlers, but the tribal connection is long gone), then I have to choose white, particularly if it is required.

I prefer to accurately describe myself as of mixed heritage but that’s not always an option. If both my parents were Hispanic, I would have to choose White Hispanic.

That said, of course Hispanic, in and of itself, is European. But many North American Hispanics, like me, are actually mixed with the native population and that is who we represent in “racial” terms. You can see it on people’s faces. Native face, Spanish name, American accent. What’s a person to do?

Keep speaking out, I guess. And if you don’t want to read any more, just watch this:


EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  Univisionand The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.