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The Census Bureau Is Playing Games with its Racial and Ethnic Data

By: Ryan McMaken

Last week, Tucker Carlson asked Univision correspondent Jorge Ramos about earlier comments in which Ramos contended that “in 2044, the white population will become a minority.” 

In response, some conservative sites seized upon Ramos’s comments an an attempt to milk outrage from their readers. 

Breitbart, for instance focused on Ramos comment that “it is our country, not theirs.” and implied — in words meant to be received ominously by the reader — that by “our country,” he meant “Latino migrants.”

Ramos, meanwhile, was clearly using these words to attempt to stir up anti-Trump opposition based on triumphalist predictions of an imagined future of Latino nationalism. 

Wherever one comes down on this issue, however, it needs to be pointed out that both sides are abusing and distorting already-questionable information collected and published by a US government agency. Whether or not one views predicted demographic trends with glee or with dread, the fact remains that predictions of a looming “white minority” are largely the artifact of the way government data is collected and compiled. 

I’ll leave it to others to debate the importance — or lack thereof — of a white majority. The example is useful, however, because it serves as an excellent illustration of how government data, surveys, and reports can greatly distort how we view reality and those around us.

The Invented Category Known as “Hispanics”

Prior to the 1970s, the government in the United States engaged in no systematic counting of people now categorized as Hispanics. Except for a one-time inclusion of a “Mexican” race category on the 1930 Census form, there was no special Census category for people with roots in Spanish-speaking countries until 1970. (“Mexican,” by the way, is no more a racial category than is “Canadian” or “Texan.”)

As the Pew Research Center notes, it was only in 1970 that the federal government decided it was necessary to begin keeping track of a “person’s origin” with a list of categories limited to Latin American and Caribbean places including “Puerto Rico,” “Mexico,” and others. Only on the 1980 Census did the term “Hispanic” begin to appear, and only during the 1990s did the now-common formula of indicating both Hispanic origin and race appear. In this latter formula, someone who wishes to be identified as Hispanic, must choose “Hispanic” and then next is prompted to select a race. By 1990, the Census Bureau finally figured out that “Hispanic” is not a racial designation. The 1990 Census was also the first to introduce the term “Latino.”

Prior to 1970, though, “Hispanic” and “Latino” were by no means formal terms on which to base public policy or any sort of serious sociological endeavor. Mexican-Americans, who made up the largest Hispanic group at the time, commonly identified themselves simply as “Caucasian” which was more commonly used than “white” at the time. (Thus, there’s reason to believe that older counts of the “white” population in places like California and New Mexico inflate the number of non-Hispanic whites present.)

For a variety of political reasons — including the potential to expand government largesse — government agencies invented the new category and began to shoehorn a variety of different cultural and national groups into it. If one really wished to learn something about socio-economic realities, it would obviously be absurd to include an ethnic Italian from Buenos Aires and someone from an Indian village in Chiapas into the same group. But that’s what the Census Bureau in its wisdom has decided is the correct way to categorize people. Moreover, in the context of American interest groups, discussing both Cuban-Americans and Mexican-Americans as a single group which must share common interests is beyond useless and misleading.

30 years later, this method of classifying Americans into certain groups has thoroughly re-shaped the way Americans look at the world. It has led to millions of Americans of different cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds being lumped into a single group that has little relation to the how those same people would have classified themselves in teh absence of this newly-invented government category. 

This could have been just as easily done for Americans of Middle-Eastern or Eastern-European extraction. And had the Census Bureau done so, we’d have additional categories of “non-whites” whose “minority” status means little outside a little checked box on a form. 

The hamfisted nature of the Hispanic classification is sometimes painfully obvious. 

In Tucker Carlson’s interview with Jorge Ramos, for example, Carlson said to Ramos: “Let me just point out that you are white, obviously, you are whiter than I am. You’ve got blue eyes. I don’t know exactly what you mean by white or Latino.”

It becomes clear over the course of the interview that Ramos doesn’t know what he means by white either. And yes, Ramos is a white person of largely European ancestry. 

The Census Bureau Seeks to Maximize its Count of Non-Whites 

Moreover, if Ramos were to actually read the Census Report he likes to cite (found here) he’d realize his predictions of a white minority are based on a numbers that exclude the 52 percent of Hispanics that — like Ramos — are white people according ot the Census itself. 

As a result, out of the 50 million people in the 2010 census who were classified as Hispanic (which is not a racial designation), 26 million of those also listed themselves as white. Thus, in order to arrive at a total number of white people, we must add together the total for “non-Hispanic whites” and the total number of white Hispanics. 

In the 2010 Census, this brings us to a total of 223 million whites out of a total of 308 million people counted in the 2010 census. That’s 72 percent of the population. 

In the Census Report Ramos is citing, however, the prediction of a white minority by 2044 relies on the artificially restrictive definition of whites as only non-Hispanic whites. This conveniently erases 26 million people who called themselves white in the Census. Were those people counted, the numbers would look a lot different. 

At the same time, all of this erases the realities of intermarriage and the fact that the definition of  “white” is extremely malleable. 

150 years ago, for example, the Irish in the United States were often referred to as “below the Anglo-Saxons and just above the Negro.” In other words, the were anything but “white.” Italian-Americans, of course, were too once considered to be sub-human. 

Fortunately, the Census Bureau did not invent new racial and ethnic categories for these people, so they never had the opportunity to achieve a special government designation as being “non-white.” Today, of course, people with last names like Kennedy, Cuomo, and, and Scalia are regarded as members of the Oppressor Class. 

Intermarriage with Whites 

The ever-changing realities of ethnic identification was also analyzed in an article at the American Prospect subtitled “How Census Bureau statistics have misled thinking about the American future. “

The author, Richard Alba, notes that the very exercise of making demographic projections of this sort are extremely suspect: “Nevertheless, the Census Bureau and, more recently, the Pew Research Center have not hesitated to project an exact year when whites will lose majority status—2044 and 2055, respectively.”

Part of the reason any meaningful forecasts are impossible is due to the realities of self-identification which shift substantially over time and are not predictable. 

Alba notes, for example, that a significant number of children born to a single non-Hispanic white parent consider themselves to be white. This is especially true among people of white-Asian and white-Hispanic parentage. 

The Census Bureau however, as Alba notes, counts anyone and everyone with at least one non-white or Hispanic parent as a “minority.” By definition, then, all of those people’s children will be considered “non-white” as well. Alba writes:

Although the Census Bureau declared in 2012 that nonwhite births for the first time outnumbered white ones, 60 percent of the 2013 infants have a white parent. About 10 percent, then, have both a white and minority parent. These infants are counted as minorities in census statistics. And they are regarded as permanently so in census projections.

These methods can lead to sizable distortions in the future projections made, and Alba concludes: 

Census Bureau data exaggerate the decline of the white population by failing to take into account that many children from mixed backgrounds will likely be integrated into largely white social milieus and identify, at least some of the time, as white.

Thus, because of the Census Bureau’s methods, the children of Ted Cruz, who look like this, will be forever counted as “non-white” as will their children and their grandchildren, and so on into infinity. The logical conclusion of this method is that a century from now, there will be virtually no white people at all — according to the Census Bureau — since somewhere along the line, an enormous percentage of Americans will have had a Cuban or Mexican or Japanese great-great-great grandparent somewhere in mists of the past. 

For all these reasons (among others) Slate has quite plausibly suggested that Hispanics are simply “tomorrow’s whites” and 

[t]o say that America will become a majority-minority country is to erase these distinctions and assume that, for now and forever, Latinos will remain a third race, situated next to “non-Hispanic blacks” and “non-Hispanic whites.”

The American Obsession with Racial and Ethnic Categories 

Thanks to domestic identify politics, Americans — or, more correctly, the American government — has a certain predilection toward carefully dividing up Americans into a variety of distinct and never-changing groups. 

This is not the case, however in many other countries that keep similar types of statistics. 

In France, for example, it has been illegal to categorize residents along racial or ethnic lines since 1978, with the rationale being that dividing up residents into different groups violates norms of equality. In the US, of course, “equality” demands that all potential non-whites be identified and held up as irreconcilably different from everyone else. In France, the reasoning is exactly the opposite. 

Nor do the Germans keep government statistics of this sort. Since the Second World War, Germans have been understandably unenthusiastic about categorizing people along ethnic, racial, or religious lines. 

Many countries that do not keep track of ethnic or racial categories, do keep track of foreign-born totals. The descendants of the foreign born, though, become statistically indistinguishable from the rest of the population. 

Meanwhile, in the US, a Mexican-born immigrant of pure indigenous ancestry is lumped into the same category as a 5th-generation American whose ancestors immigrated from Mexico, and are completely of European ancestry. Only a government agency would invent categories so obtuse and useless in describing reality. 

So, the next time either Jorge Ramos or a Breitbart pundit begins predicting the exact moment at which whites will become a minority, realize that the entire enterprise rests on rather fanciful data put together by a government agency for political purposes. 

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