dude, i am not white… but, um, thanks… not that there’s anything wrong with that
A few semesters ago, one of my social theory students asked me in class how I racially identified myself. I explained that my father was from South America (Colombia) but could trace (most) of his line back to Spain while my mother was almost certainly some mix of Indian and maybe some Spanish from Costa Rica. When I asked my aunt about this, she was a bit surprised. I asked where my grandmother’s ancestors where from and she said Guanacaste, which according to wiki has a population of people with Chorotega and Spanish background. The wiki also points out that Guanacaste’s population includes people from the African Diaspora. She ceded my point.
So I told my student that I’m “toasty brown.” This was the teachable moment. Racial groups are social things, which means that to be a member of the group you need to (a) consider yourself part of the group and (b) have other people affirm that membership. If we use the standard US classification, then I don’t fit in anywhere. I don’t consider myself white, or Black, and certainly not Asian. On a technical level, one might consider me some sort of European and Indian mix, but it would be very misleading to present myself as a tribal member. So that makes me just “kind of brown.”
On bureaucratic forms, I check off “non-white Hispanic” when possible but that’s not always an option. I don’t think that “mixed race” is appropriate since that seems to indicate a person who has parents from two of the “major” census groups (White, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American). But often I am at a loss since the “Hispanic” question assumes that the “Big Four” accounts for nearly everyone in the next question. Ie, all Hispanic self-identifiers are Black, White, Asian or Native American. There seems to be little appreciation that there is a mestizo identity and that is different than White or Black. A recent Pew survey highlights this issues. According to a recent press release, about one third of American Latinos do not consider themselves in the Big Four. Most just prefer “Hispanic” (20%) and others consider themselves to be “mixed race” (13%). The bottom line is that in American culture, mestizaje is still under the radar. It will be interesting to see how that changes as Latinos become a larger portion of the population.