New Study begs the question: Brown Like Who?

by Special Correspondent Arturo R. García

A recently-released study by the American Sociological Association reveals something a bit disturbing: 79 percent of Latinos who took part in a specially-designed survey identified themselves as “white,” no matter their skin color.

Of course, the key words there are “specially-designed.” The New Immigrant Survey, as the study was called, specifically denied participants the chance to identify themselves as “Some Other Race,” as they can on the U.S. Census. According to the study’s co-author, Reanne Frank, this demonstrates a willingness by Latinos to recognize white privilege.

“Most are attempting to push the boundaries of whiteness to include them, even if their skin color is darker,” said Frank, an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

Frank also said the ASA has received feedback saying the race question “doesn’t fit” many Latino respondents: 50 percent of Latinos who took the 2000 Census identified themselves as “Some Other Race.”

Full disclosure: I have done this in both the 2000 and 2010 Census. But it wasn’t because I wanted to attempt to assert “an alternative Latino racial identity,” as Frank suggests; “Race,” as defined in both the Census and the NIS, is more closely related to phenotype, whereas I always interpret it as something more closely related to nationality.

Of course, that aspect is also covered specifically in Question 8 of the Census: Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin? Among the answers:

  • Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano
  • Yes, Puerto Rican
  • Yes, Cuban
  • Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin

However, it’s interesting to note that Question 9, while covering phenotype (White, Black/African American/Negro), also addresses nationality for other ethnic groups: American Indian and Alaskan Native, while grouped together, are listed apart from other groups, and various Asian nationalities (Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc.) are listed as racial options. The ASA study doesn’t ask why Latinos don’t get that same treatment.