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Man’s Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the 20th Century

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“OK, we know what we want to call ourselves, but what is everyone else called?” Is apparently a very difficult question to answer, even when the same people who ask the question create the answers.

Below: The WaPo’s cleaned-up version of the Census Bureau’s more informative chart.

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  • Ask Me Gently

    Title needs trimming…

  • ThrottleJockey

    Dear friend of mine is from Nicaragua. I asked her if she preferred the term “Latino” or “Hispanic”. She said, “I prefer Nicaraguan.”

    I said, “How is anyone going to know you’re Nicaraguan, and not Honduran?”

    She said, “I don’t care.”

    That’s my girl.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Question: Does anyone know if Brazilians are considered Latino??? (I don’t think they would be considered Hispanic). I haven’t been able to get a good answer to this.

      • AMK

        Brazil is hugely diverse…many are what we would consider “Hispanic” or “Latino” (mixed Iberian/Amerindian) but millions of others would be considered “African” or “Caucasian” based on appearance and primary descent

        • jon98101

          many are what we would consider “Hispanic” or “Latino” (mixed Iberian/Amerindian) but millions of others would be considered “African” or “Caucasian”

          For U.S. Census purposes, the ‘Hispanic or Latino’ category refers to ethnicity, the ‘Black or African American’ and ‘White’ categories refer to races. Thus, in the United States a person can be both ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Black or African American’ or ‘Hispanic’ and ‘White.’

      • wjts

        Hispanic, almost certainly not: that term almost always refers exclusively to people with some connection to Spain and is not used as a self-identifier by Brazilians (in my experience, anyhow).

        Latino, maybe sometimes: The Census Bureau says no, other people (like the AP style guide) say yes.

        Like almost any category, they can get a little murky around the edges.

        • John Selmer Dix

          I think that if Brazilians didn’t have a huge chip on their shoulder from people assuming they speak Spanish, they’d probably be fine with the appellation “Hispanic,” given its Roman usage. However, we do.

          • wjts

            I understand “Iberian” is the preferred Roman-derived term to use if you want to encompass people of both Spanish and Portuguese descent.

            • John Selmer Dix

              I guess that’s right. By the way, I’m not disagreeing with you or anything. It just bugs me when people try to “derive” which terms are correct and which aren’t from etymology, specially when the etymology points the opposite way.

              • Lee Rudolph

                “Lusitanian” is sometimes used to encompass both Portugal and Brazil (and other former Portuguese colonies), as in the phrase “Lusitanian Diaspora” (which I have seen used in scholarly, or semi-scholarly, productions in Southeastern Massachusetts). Similarly, when the emphasis is more on (verbal) culture than presumptive ancestry, for the adjective “Lusophone” (though I don’t know if there’s a noun “Lusophonia” that parallels “Francophonie”, which really is used).

                • Vance Maverick

                  Huh, weird, I would have thought that “Lusitanian” was more geographical than “Portuguese”. But well do I know that feeling of needing a term and grasping for it.

        • jon98101

          Latino, maybe sometimes: The Census Bureau says no

          Actually, the Census Bureau says yes:

          Definition of Hispanic or Latino Origin Used in the 2010 Census
          Hispanic or Latino” refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.

          This wasn’t always true, but the Census Bureau seems to be taking a ‘big tent’ approach to the category these days.

          • wjts

            …or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race…

            Talvez você deve ler o comentário de Jon Selmer Dix sobre a diferença entre “Espanhol” e “Português”.

            • jon98101

              You missed a spot:

              South or Central American

              But no need to take my word for it, from the Pew Research Center:

              One approach defines a Hispanic or Latino as a member of an ethnic group that traces its roots to 20 Spanish-speaking nations from Latin America and Spain itself (but not Portugal or Portuguese-speaking Brazil).

              The other approach is much simpler. Who’s Hispanic? Anyone who says they are. And nobody who says they aren’t.

              The U.S. Census Bureau uses this second approach. By its way of counting, there were 46,943,613 Hispanics in the United States as of July 1, 2008, comprising 15.4% of the total national population.

              As I said before, it wasn’t always this way, but the definition is much broader now.

              • wjts

                The U.S. Census does use that approach, but explicitly specifies “Hispanic” as originating from a Spanish-speaking nation in the Americas, as the very first quote you provided demonstrates. (Yes, it also says “South America”, but as the total context of the definition is constructed it specifically excludes Brazil and French Guyana as, you know, they don’t speak Spanish there.) And just as importantly, as both Jon Selmer Dix and I pointed out, Brazilians don’t self-identify as Hispanic, what with the whole not speaking Spanish thing.

                • jon98101

                  The U.S. Census does use that approach, but explicitly specifies “Hispanic” as originating from a Spanish-speaking nation in the Americas, as the very first quote you provided demonstrates.

                  Why are you ignoring the ‘Latino’ part of the ‘Hispanic or Latino‘ category?

                  Throttle Jockey’s first question:

                  Question: Does anyone know if Brazilians are considered Latino??? (I don’t think they would be considered Hispanic).

                  Your response:

                  Latino, maybe sometimes: The Census Bureau says no

                  Yes, Hispanic refers to Spain/Spanish. But that’s not what this thread is talking about. Its about whether the US Census Bureau includes Brazilians under the Latino part of the category. And the correct answer is that they now do.

                • wjts

                  The phrase “or other Spanish culture” modifies “South or Central American” in the earlier part of the Census Bureau’s definition of “Hispanic or Latino”, thereby excluding Brazil and the Guianas even though they’re in South America on account of how – once again – none of them are Spanish cultures. Is it possible to construct a reasonable definition of “Latino” that includes Brazilians? Yes, absolutely. But it’s not the definition the Census Bureau uses. (Though there’s obviously nothing stopping Brazilian Americans from identifying themselves as “Hispanic or Latino” on their Census forms. But I don’t believe many of them do.)

                • jon98101

                  excluding Brazil and the Guianas even though they’re in South America on account of how – once again – none of them are Spanish cultures

                  Which once again, isn’t the question.

                  Is it possible to construct a reasonable definition of “Latino” that includes Brazilians? Yes

                  You’re almost there …

                  But it’s not the definition the Census Bureau uses.

                  Ohh, you missed it by that much.

                • wjts

                  Census definition of “Hispanic or Latino”:

                  Hispanics or Latinos are those people who classified themselves in one of the specific Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino categories listed on the Census 2010 questionnaire -“Mexican,” “Puerto Rican”, or “Cuban”-as well as those who indicate that they are “another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.” People who do not identify with one of the specific origins listed on the questionnaire but indicate that they are “another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” are those whose origins are from Spain, the Spanish-speaking countries of Central or South America, or the Dominican Republic. The terms “Hispanic,” “Latino,” and “Spanish” are used interchangeably.

                  Notice how they keep mentioning the whole “Spanish” thing as central to the definition they use?

                • jon98101

                  ThrottleJockey says:
                  Question: Does anyone know if Brazilians are considered Latino???

                  wjts says:
                  Is it possible to construct a reasonable definition of “Latino” that includes Brazilians? Yes

                  jon98101 says:
                  Actually, the Census Bureau says yes …
                  As I said before, it wasn’t always this way, but the definition is much broader now.

                  wjts says:
                  The U.S. Census does use that approach

                  So you agree that a reasonable definition of Latino can include Brazilians, and you agree that the U.S. Census does use that reasonable approach, but you disagree with me because … ?

                  This has been an interesting “debate.”

          • A few months back someone was musing on Twitter about how Hispanics will be accepted by whites similarly to how blacks are, with a strong class element. I tried to explain the multiple problems with that conceptualization, including the fact that in the US “Black” has largely been defined by the “one drop of blood” standard, and that it’s one largely accepted by African-Americans, but that “Hispanic” is a catch-all for a multitude of dramatically different backgrounds. By the Census standards, “Hispanic” includes Cubans of all complexions, but not Jamaicans, it includes Dominicans but not Haitians, it includes Alberto Fujimori and the Pope and Carlos Slim and Giselle whatshername and Salma Hayek and Quechuan and Amaryan and Castillian and Azorian and Cape Verdian people and who knows how many other distinctive people who look like Europeans or Native Americans or Africans or even people from other parts of the world. It’s kind of a non-sensical catch-all.

            BTW, in the next census there will be a category for people of Middle Eastern/North African and SW Asian background.

            • Lee Rudolph

              A karass is a group of people whose unifying factor is some object or purpose called a ‘wampeter’. Otherwise there would be nothing at all common to them: ‘Oh, a sleeping drunkard up in Central Park, and a lion hunter in the jungle dark, and a Chinese dentist and the British queen all fit together in the same machine. Nice, nice, very nice, nice nice very nice, nice, nice, very nice – so many different people in the same device.’

      • John Selmer Dix

        I’m Brazilian and I have no clue. If I’ve shaved and it’s winter, I pass for Scandinavian. If I haven’t and I’ve been outside, people tell me I’m looking more “latino.” My mother’s mother is black and my mother’s father is native. My father’s family is Jewish. Hispanic sounds wrong because, etymology aside, it makes it sound like we speak Spanish, which is a very sore spot for Brazilians. Latino, okay, fine, but is that really a useful term for such a diverse population? The whole thing is weird.

        • Could you rewrite that without using the word “shaved”? It’s distracting.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Just read “shaved” as “waxed” and you’ll be okay.

      • DocAmazing

        Okay, wait: a Brazilian is a one followed by how many zeroes?

    • According to a quick look at DOE statistics on the two elementary schools here with ESL programs for Portuguese speakers only (Spanish and other languages are at other schools, but the totals below may include children who speak other languages including Portuguese at home, and younger siblings of kids who needed ESL services in previous years):

      One is in a predominantly poor/working-class, high-density neighborhood and is 76% white, 7% AA or black, 3% more than one race, 15% Hispanic; 46% English-language learner. (Also 70% low-income; 75% first language not English.) This is the only school located in a largely AA neighborhood but doesn’t have the highest percentage of black students, for whatever reason.

      The other is in what’s considered a very “nice,” residential, predominantly white neighborhood, near the border with a “nicer” town, and is 4% AA or black, 5% more than one race, 7% Hispanic, and 81% white. English language learners are 26% (46% first language not English; economically disadvantaged 23%).

      So that suggests most of the town’s large Brazilian population is classed, at least by the school system, as “white,” with maybe a few answering something else.

    • pianomover

      I would like to be a young blond Chinese/Swedish girl but alas I am a middle-aged white guy.

      • BubbaDave

        That doesn’t have to stop you; this is the Internet!

  • Cheerful

    Interesting that Native Americans were not counted separately until 1860, even though there were clearly large numbers present in the territorial boundaries of the U.S. Does anybody know the story there? Before 1860 did they not count for voting, etc., or were they simply relegated to “other”?

    • I’m wondering if the “All other free persons” category was used for Native Americans in the previous censuses.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Article I of the Constitution expressly excludes “Indians not taxed” for purposes of calculating apportionment and taxation. Thus Indians who were not U.S. citizens (i.e. the vast majority for much of the nineteenth century and substantial numbers before the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924) were not counted. Starting in 1860, the census established a separate category for Indians, but only those who were citizens (i.e. “The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under state or territory laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated.”). Here’s an interesting piece from the National Archives website on Native Americans and the census.

        • muddy

          Clearly they are just wild animals in the woods.

        • DrDick

          There were actually quite a few enumerated Native American persons before 1860, mostly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, where they had been settled on reservations or incorporated during the colonial period. There were also some in parts of the lower Midwest who had citizenship, as well as the South after 1836 (Creeks and Choctaws mainly, along with many Louisiana tribes). There just was not a standard label for them.

  • AMK

    This shows just how utterly pointless official “hyphen-izing” of the population is, given the fluidity of these categories and constantly evolving standards of self-identification. Congress granted citizenship to Native Americans (those who weren’t already citizens) in 1924; for the past 91 years everybody here is either an American citizen, a legal resident/immigrant or an undocumented immigrant. That’s it.

    People obviously can and should explore their identities, family backgrounds,etc….and yes, diversity is important in institutions, and double yes, American history taught in school should reflect the experiences of all Americans, not just people who look like they came on the Mayflower. But governent-sponsored balkanization does nothing to further those ends.

    • Latverian Diplomat

      In more recent usage, Census data has been useful in identifying discrimination and its effects.

      And, the propensity of people to divide themselves and others into categories is hardly driven by or shaped by what the Census does. Especially before computers and this Internet, most people have or had little or no idea what the Census data looked like.

      So, whatever the historical flaws of census taking, in modern use I think it’s useful, and not a source of the problems you ascribe to it.

      • jon98101

        And, the propensity of people to divide themselves and others into categories is hardly driven by or shaped by what the Census does.

        I disagree. Just look at the Asian category as an example. It lumps together groups with a long history of enmity (e.g. Koreans and Japanese) and also groups with very little genetic, cultural or historical connection (e.g. Koreans and Indians). But for the census, these groups would have little inclination to see each other as part of their in-group, and the rest of the US as their out-group.

        • Jackov

          Where are you from?

          • Lee Rudolph

            Presumably Seattle.

            • Jackov

              I mean originally.

              • jon98101

                Korea, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me.

        • weirdnoise

          The East Asian immigrant experience was actually pretty similar up until the middle of the 20th century, and it isn’t at all unusual for the children and grandchildren of these immigrants to make common cause. There are numerous “Asian Pacific American” professional organizations as a result.

          • jon98101

            it isn’t at all unusual for the children and grandchildren of these immigrants to make common cause.

            That’s my point. They do make common cause in America, but that is a totally unnatural thing for these disparate groups. If the census grouped them differently, they would not make common cause (or at least not as often, and not to the exclusion of other minorities — you would still see them get together under the umbrella of pan-minority organizations making common cause among all non-white groups).

            • Hogan

              It isn’t unnatural at all; it’s pretty predictable. It happened when all those Sicilians and Neapolitans and Apulians came to America and became “Italian,” before anything like that happened in Italy.

              It would be unnatural if they’d stayed in Asia and done this. Here it happens all the damn time, and it’s not driven by the wording of census forms.

    • Origami Isopod

      “HURRRR, JUST CALL YERSELVES MURRIKANS!”

      Maybe that’ll be possible when bigot-Americans stop trying to deny that they’re actually American.

  • max

    Whither Canada?

    max
    [‘How do they identify hosers on census forms?’]

    • wjts

      I prefer “Owl-Stretching Time”.

      • Confuse-a-Cat!

      • max

        Well, if we’re going there, I’d have to say I prefer being live from the Grill-o-Mat Snack Bar.

        max
        [‘I mean, is the box for Hoser under Moose? What happens if your sister is a Moose but you’re a Hoser?’]

  • Just_Dropping_By

    I’m mildly surprised that “Chicano” is still available as a “nationality” category. The term was already viewed by most Hispanic kids I knew as laughably archaic when I was in high school (which was approx. 85% Hispanic) and that was over 20 years ago.

    • Latverian Diplomat

      Other than organizational inertia, the fact that the Census counts old people too may explain it. There may still be some folks who most easily and readily identify with that term.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        The term Chicano has made a comeback among younger Mexican-Americans in Southern California recently.

  • FlipYrWhig

    Per the question of Brazilians above, my wife had a friend and coworker who was a Kurd from Turkey. One day the guys in the warehouse asked if she was white or black. She came back into the office and said with a frown, “what race am I?” When she got a driver’s license she left that box blank. She was pleased when the DMV lady sized her up and filled it out for her. (The answer was “white.”)

    • J. Otto Pohl

      Kurdish is an Aryan language like Farsi. But, the US census has long categorized all ethnic groups native to North Africa and the Middle East as white. That would include Kurds.

  • NewishLawyer

    These lists never seem to know where to put Jewish people. Admitedly, Jewishness falls into a weird nowhere land that mixes culture(s), ethnicity, and potentially race that leaves everyone uncomfortable and often can lead to shouting matches that leave no one happy/.

    Not all Jewish people are of European or Middle Eastern origin. There are small but known Jewish communities from Africa (mainly Ethiopia), India, and China. Middle Eastern origin Jewish people do not necessarily like being lumped with European Jews. In Israel, the reason Labor has been partially having a hard time for a while is because they are seen as the party of the Ashkenazi-European elite. Kind of like how the Democratic Party sometimes gets seen as the party of the white, urban, upper-middle class Brooklyn-San Francisco-Portland-Seattle-Boston,etc. elite.

    Yet European-originating Jewish-Americans in my generation and younger (Generation X and Milllennials) seem evenishly split on seeing themselves as White (and referring to themselves as having white privilege) and/or seeing themselves primarily as Jewish. The ones who see themselves as Jewish use the phrase “passing privilege.” We can pass on white on cursory glance most of the time but there is a feeling that this can be taken away.

    I’ve noticed similar dynamics among other white ethnic groups.

    • tsam

      Religion shouldn’t be anywhere near race in consideration, though. That’s a choice, not a lineage–even if the religion is present in said lineage.

      • DocAmazing

        I can think of a few times and places where Jewishness was not considered either a religion or a choice. My European Catholic ancestors were uninterested in the conversions of my European Jewish ancestors during Inquisitions and pogroms, and there was that unpleasantness during the ’30s and ’40s that some may recall.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Jews are not the only religion to become ethnicized or racialized. Sikhs, Parsis, Mennonites, and Bosnian Muslims all come to mind as other cases of ethno-confessional groups and the last one was racialized during the 1990s.

      • Murc

        Except that being Jewish can be both a distinct ethnicity and a religious choice.

        Ethnic Jews and religious Jews are disjoint sets.

        • Vance Maverick

          Pretty sure disjoint isn’t what you mean. They’re not equal, but they have elements in common.

          • Murc

            Dammit, you are right.

            What’s the word for ‘not overlapping, but also with elements in common?’ Is there one?

            • Lee Rudolph

              Word, I dunno. Phrase: “have non-empty symmetric difference”. Trips lightly off the tongue, no?

    • jon98101

      These lists never seem to know where to put Jewish people. Admitedly, Jewishness falls into a weird nowhere land that mixes culture(s), ethnicity, and potentially race that leaves everyone uncomfortable and often can lead to shouting matches that leave no one happy/.

      Jewish is an ethnicity, just like ‘Hispanic or Latino.’ It’s just that, like all ethnicities other than ‘Hispanic or Latino,’ it’s not recognized as such on the census. Thus, Jews are whatever their race is – those of European, Middle Eastern or Northern African ancestry are white, and those few of Asian or African ancestry are classified by the respective racial categories.

      • Murc

        Thus, Jews are whatever their race is – those of European, Middle Eastern or Northern African ancestry are white

        I know more than one Jew who would consider you telling them that they’re white valid reason to ask you to step outside.

        • I . . . haven’t. Presumably it’s not the blond, blue-eyed ones saying it?

          I have heard “Judaism isn’t an ethnicity,” which I generally find can be taken in context as some kind of mansplainy “I’m Jewish and you (whom I’ve met five minutes ago) are not, really” kind of thing, though WTF knows. OT.

          More on topic: the USSR did count “Jewish” as an ethnicity though religious practices of most kinds were prohibited by law for decades and in many cases hadn’t been taught in a couple of generations.

          • jon98101

            I . . . haven’t.

            Me either. My experience has been just the opposite, with most Jewish people I have known getting upset if someone didn’t consider them white.

            @Murc: What was the background of your Jewish friends that took offense at being called white?

            • Murc

              Ashkenazi. They are neither of them yarmulke-wearing New-York-accent Jewish, but neither are they “you would never know unless they told you” Jewish; they both have names and physical appearances that would lead one to believe “this person is probably Jewish” once you’d been around them for awhile.

              They don’t get upset if people think they’re white, it’s an honest mistake, but they get really goddamn pissed off if people try and tell them they are white. The explanation I got is basically that even in this day and age in America, and especially in Europe, Jews have to put up with a lot of bullshit that white people do not. And that seems pretty convincing to me.

              • AMK

                In reference to this and the question of Jewish inclusion as part of “white privilage” in the original post….there is no ethnic group more privilaged in the history of the modern world than Ashkenazi Jews in late 20th/early 21st century America. None. Zero. By every metric, we are far more privilaged than most “white” Americans will ever be. We are privilaged to the point that everybody is uncomfortable talking about it, because it so easily lends itself to classic anti-semitic tropes about Jewish control even though the reasons for our success are obvious: have you ever met a Jewish person without at least a four-year college degree? (billionaire dropouts don’t count). How about a Jewish kid whose parents went ahead and had him while they were living in poverty? Didn’t think so.

                And yes, it’s an ethnicity, irrespective of the religion.

                • WTF?

                • DocAmazing

                  have you ever met a Jewish person without at least a four-year college degree?

                  Uh, yeah: my dad and his mom.

                • Philip

                  have you ever met a Jewish person without at least a four-year college degree?

                  Yes, I have…?

                  To Murc’s original point: I’m half-Jewish, but wasn’t raised Jewish, so I don’t really think of myself as it and don’t worry much about it. But considering the way antisemitism always seems to worm its way back, all over the Western world, enough that even I’m conscious of it (and occasionally reminded that my last name is a fake, because a few generations ago it was changed to “sound English”)…I can understand why people who identify more with their Jewish ancestry, whether strictly speaking Jewish or not, would feel that way.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            Natsional’nost is not ethnicity as it is understood in the US. It is really an ethno-racial (like Fredrickson I have concluded that in practice these often are the same thing) category since there was no possibility of legal assimilation over the course of generations. No matter how Russian and how little Jewish in culture somebody of Jewish ancestry was always legally Jewish in the USSR from the late 1930s on when natsional’nost became fixed based solely upon biolgoical ancestry. The only way for one’s children to have a different legal natsional’nost was through intermarriage in which case they had to choose that of one of their parent’s at age 16.

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