The Census Bureau has changed their racial categories over the years. The change made in the 2000 Census regarding Hispanics now leads to an interesting finding: more Hispanics are labeling themselves “white alone.”
The shift is due to recent census changes that emphasize “Hispanic” as an ethnicity, not a race. While the U.S. government first made this distinction in 1980, many Latinos continued to use the “some other race” box to establish a Hispanic identity. In a switch, the 2010 census forms specifically instructed Latinos that Hispanic origins are not races and to select a recognized category such as white or black.
The result: a 6 percent increase in white Americans as tallied by the census, even though there was little change among non-Hispanic whites. In all, the number of people in the “white alone” category jumped by 12.1 million over the last decade to 223.6 million. Based on that definition, whites now represent 72 percent of the U.S. population and account for nearly half of the total population increase since 2000…
Some demographers say the broadened white category in 2010 could lead to a notable semantic if not cultural shift in defining race and ethnicity. Due to the impact of Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing group, the Census Bureau has previously estimated that whites will become the minority in the U.S. by midcentury. That is based on a definition of whites as non-Hispanic, who are now at 196.8 million…
“What’s white in America in 1910, 2010 or even 2011 simply isn’t the same,” said Robert Lang, sociology professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, citing the many different groups of European immigrants in the early 20th century who later became known collectively as white. He notes today that could mean a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant in upstate New York or Jews and Italians in the lowest East side of Manhattan.
Fascinating – we have heard for some time now that within four or so decades, the percentage of whites within the United States would drop under 50%. But if more people see themselves as white, then it might be some time before this comes to pass.
I would be very interested to see who exactly has changed their self-identification from Hispanic to white. (We could also raise the question of whether those who categorize themselves as white are treated as white by others.) The article suggests it is second or third generation Hispanics and this would fit common sociological models: it is about at that point when immigrants assimilate more with the dominant group. If this is the case, does this suggest some widening gaps between Hispanics who have been in the United States longer versus those who are more recent immigrants?
What does this mean for debates about immigration? Implicit in some of these debates is the idea that Hispanic immigrants are not assimilating enough, hence a call for “English first” and limiting immigration. But if Hispanics are following a fairly typical American model where it takes a bit of time for new immigrants to become accepted as and/or see themselves as white, then more people can rest assured.