What Is Your Race? For Millions Of Americans, A Shifting Answer

What Is Your Race? For Millions Of Americans, A Shifting Answer

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio

Gene Demby, Lead Blogger

Race is a much more elastic concept than we tend to acknowledge. American history has seen lots of immigrant groups that were the targets of suspicion and even racial violence — Jews, the Irish, Germans — gradually subsumed into the big, amorphous category of whiteness. The trajectory of that shift has been a little different for each of those groups — and notably, was informed by the fact that they were not black — but that’s been the general template of immigrant assimilation. For much of our history, the process of becoming American has meant becoming white. (Word to Nell Irvin Painter.)

A lot of people wonder if the same might eventually happen to Latinos, who sit at the center of contemporary conversations and anxieties around immigration. The New York Times’ Nate Cohn beat that drum last month after coming across some preliminary research from the Census bureau. The researchers were given access to anonymous Census records from the same households for the most recent two surveys in 2000 and 2010.

Before we go further, it’s helpful to remember how racial identity was queried in the most recent Census. Respondents first declare whether they are Hispanic — which was not counted as a race on the 2010 form — and in the next question, they were asked to give a race. For people who did check Hispanic on the Census, they would also then check the box for white, black or Asian. Respondents could and did write in “some other race,” (More on the Census category for “Hispanic” in a later post.)…

…The researchers did find a whole lot of people shifting from Hispanic and “some other race” in 2000 to Hispanic and white in 2010. But as they pointed out to me, a “similar” number of respondents went in the opposite direction, — from Hispanic and white to Hispanic and “some other race.”

“We think it’s interesting that the moves are parallel and in opposite directions,” said Carolyn Liebler, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota who is working on the study. “Our idea of assimilation is that people would be moving in one direction in terms of identification. But it’s not really a story that allows for the idea that people would move in the other direction. So a lot of stories that sociologists have told about how these things have worked are really not suited to what our research is finding.”

Sonia Rastogi, a statistician with the Census Bureau, agreed. “The larger point that everyone is sort of missing is that we’re sort of seeing these inflows [into one racial category] and outflows of quite similar magnitude,” she said…

Read the entire article here.

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