Polling hispanics

It’s not really surprising that polling outfits avoid polling “hispanics.” The author of this piece even seems to acknowledge the slipperiness of that term by linking to a poll of what hispanics think about “hispanic” (turns out they don’t all think the terms is great or has that much meaning. How the Pew Center even conducted a poll of hispanic people’s opinion would be a good question, but they probably just used self-identification, thereby skewing a poll that’s about what that term means).

The term has different meanings to different people. For Americans not up on the issue, the word is basically used to refer to Spanish-speaking people form the American continents, as a race, although some Americans include people from Spain and Brazil and Belizeans, and some Americans exclude blacks from Latin America and people without Spanish-sounding names. I personally think the word should be used to refer to someone from Latin America as an elective ethnic marker that’s used in addition to a racial identity (a more common definition for South Americans, in my experience). Some other people (usually from Mexico and Central America) think it should refer to the mix of native and European ancestry, i.e., la Raza.

(To make this all more complicated, Latin American countries all have their own particular racial systems, often along lines that Americans wouldn’t even begin to understand how it came to be that way. And immigrants come bring these systems with them. One particular American I talked to last week told me how he was surprised that a Peruvian woman, who he said “looked hispanic,” identified as white and said she probably just hated her race. Because, you know, some American dude can totally pin down someone’s racial ancestry by looking at someone for a couple minutes.)

So I’m hispanic according to definition #2, sometimes according to #1 (depending on whether the Spanish last name requirement is important or not), and not at all according to #3. I personally identify as hispanic, although I prefer “latino” for sonic reasons, but I don’t mind being rolled in with white people. I probably would have responded to the survey. My siblings, who have the same parents I do? I have no idea.

It’s all part of the particular racial regime set up in the US of constructing and enforcing (legally and culturally, with violence) categories of black and white for two centuries (more if you start counting before the revolution), with “black” referring to people with ancestry from Africa and “white” bestowing the racial privilege that comes from the absence of blackness. A racial regime founded on the existence of two races isn’t going to include everyone, and it wasn’t meant to be inclusive anyway in the first place (it’s sole purpose was oppression).

Going from 2 to 3 or 4 or more is easier than changing the regime completely, I get that. But it’s not going to work unless the new definitions are enforced, like the first two, through the law, culture, economics, and, of course, violence. Applied for centuries.

Short of that, polling on racial issues is always going to be lacking.


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