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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

One of my classmates posted the following AP article on Facebook this morning. Or afternoon. I’m not sure what time it was, but I had recently woken up so it counts as morning in my book. The article discusses changing notions of whiteness in America, and it cites how the population of the white race ‘jumped’ by 6% in the latest Census due to Hispanics being asked to mark “white” on their forms. Hispanic origin is an ethnicity, not a race.

Read the reference: “Census: Hispanics fuel US white population growth” (AP), by Hope Yen.

The article goes on to discuss historical trends that indicate whiteness as an expanding, inclusive race. The various European ethnic groups that immigrated in the early 20th century, while divided then, are now collectively known as white, adds sociology professor Robert Lang. One point I’d like to add is that skin color and other external factors do play large roles in assignation of races. Many of the European immigrants were physically white… Hispanics, not so much. But that’s an aside.

What I’m thinking about is the purpose of racial categorization, versus a recognition of ethnic difference. Is there a purpose? If what is white is simply vague and blindly snubs its nose at obvious cultural diversity, is there a point? Why do we need to divide our country into basic races without referent? To say that Irish, Mexican, Polish, and Iranian people are all white will, over time, rob them of the cultural notions of heritage. They will lose those identities for some kind of¬†homogeneous American white.

Past racial categories will need to be radically changed or even dispensed with in the next two or three decades. -William H. Frey, Brookings demographer

On the other hand, some would say that to mark ethnicity or country of origin would be further divisive. It would certainly create many more categories, but I’d argue that the visible connections that these ethnicities have with heritage and cultural markers allows for a more sustainable, organic, and understanding culture of difference in America. A celebration, even, of the experiences that make us who we are and the perspectives we bring to the table.

But all this is really just derivative discussion of things that most of you, if you’re reading this, have heard before. You understand that America is like this. While the Census can be well-intentioned, at least in its desire to understand and standardize the results of people who have needed assistance in the past, the fact that our nation and our culture cling so desperately to retain categories reflects the insistence on social control. Allowing freedom of self-identification could be scary in that it’s unknown, but I don’t see what it could hurt. I think the resistance comes from people who believe that a destruction of those walls will mean that ethnic differences will be ignored. The US knows better than to do that at this point. Organizations, both grassroots and large, will represent the needs of their neighborhoods, ethnicities, and peoples in a more democratic style.

Of course, a de jure abolition of racial categories doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be so, but it would be nice not to have a governmental authority perpetuating or even regressing the status quo. I feel like there’s something I want to say on the tip of my tongue, but I’m not yet sure what it is. I wish this post was better organized but oh well.


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