The Biden Administration Considers Whether Hispanic/Latino Should Be A Racial, Not Ethnic, Classification
The AP reports that the Biden administration is considering changes to official OMB racial and ethnic classifications. The most prominent proposals are to change the Hispanic/Latino category from an ethnic to a racial category, and to add a new MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) category. I will write about the latter in a later blog post, but here I will focus on the Hispanic/Latino classification.
As discussed in my forthcoming book, when the federal Office of Management and Budget invented the Hispanic category– Latino was not added until twenty years later–in the late 1970s, it was subject to several controversies. First, there was the question of what to name this novel classification–previously, what we now call “Hispanics” were generally either considered generically white by the federal government, or listed separately as Mexican, Puerto Rican, and sometimes Cuban. In the early 1970s, the government started to use classifications like “Spanish-speaking” or “Spanish-surnamed,” but these were ultimately deemed inadequate and imprecise for rather obvious reasons. Hispanic was chosen even though at the time few people thought of themselvse as “Hispanic.”
Second, there was controversy over how to define the category. Should it include white people of Spanish descent? (Yes!) Should the American Indian category instead be “Original Peoples of the Western Hemisphere” to include Latinos of indigenous origin? (No!) Should the Hispanic classification be considered a race or an ethnicity? (Ethnicity!) And should forms asking about race and ethnicity include “Hispanic” as an alternative to white, black, Asian, or American Indian, or should Hispanic identity be asked about separately from the racial classifications? (At first, institutions were given the option of doing either, but in 1997 they were ordered to ask about Hispanic ethnicity separately; it took the Departmen
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