The first time I truly had to think about my identity as someone who is half caucasian and half latino was in 10th grade. Filling out the SAT forms was critical to my future and college, so I wanted everything to be entirely correct. But what do you do when the form itself is incorrect? Who do you ask when it limits the number of races to just one? Who do you blame that you are forced to pick one identity over the other as if they weren’t equal? These were the questions I was left with as my teacher told me to simply mark “Hispanic/latino”. Although I am aware it is not exactly a race but an ethnicity, it felt off to put down white Hispanic, as if I wasn’t a person of color.
Millions of people every ten years in the United States are faced with this troubling issue in the US Census. As of now the US Census does not consider Hispanic/Latino a race, which leaves people like my mother (fully Hispanic) confused as to what her race exactly is. Yes, there is most likely some indigenous blood; however, she has never been associated with that culture and it would be immoral to try and claim that. At the same time, she is nowhere near being white or even white passing. How does she answer a wrong question correctly? Not to mention, the US Census didn’t consider mixed race people until 2000.
This forced categorization placed onto people by society has an ugly truth behind it. America likes people to be in neat little boxes. The clearer it is for others to understand your identity, the easier to discriminate against you. Take into consideration the “one-drop” rule that is deeply ingrained into America’s history, especially with slavery. Anyone who is even slightly African-American is automatically only black. This was created to keep black people enslaved, even when an enslaved mother was raped by a white slave owner. Even beyond the census, people who may be a quarter black would be forced to disregard their other identity because the rest of the world simply sees them as “black”.
The US census is simply a manifestation of American society’s tendency to racially categorize people with a complete lack of regard for the complexities of human identity, such as culture, nationality, and language.
Anyone who is biracial or mixed race knows the countless flaws a simple survey can have when asking for your race. Regardless of what you put down, any answer will never be truly correct if the question itself is incorrect.
Most, if not all of us learned about awful segregation that occurred during the 60’s. It was figures such as, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks who effortlessly stood against these Jim Crow laws. After learning about it, my 8th grade mind would like to believe that is all over and we live in a fair society now. While there may not be schools that explicitly exclude minorities anymore, it still exists around every one of us. Due to the correlation between race and yearly income, it’s evident that subtle segregation still occurs.
Unfortunately there is a tremendous amount of data that reveals, people who are Hispanic/Latino and African American posses a lower income compared to Asian’s and Caucasian’s. In result, these minorities are forced to live in neighborhoods separated from white dominated ones because the houses are simply cheaper.
But how did this split occur in the first place. Well in the 60’s and beyond it was the work of years of denying people of color to live in certain white suburbs. Mayors would enforce laws stating that people of color couldn’t live past their designated neighborhood. Then politicians would neglect the economy of the minority neighborhood and would provide enriched, well-funded schools in the white neighborhoods. Although, a federal law was eventually passed that prevented this act of segregation, the damage was already done. Years of segregation increased the wealth gap between these groups.
Today it may seem that people who have become successful worked hard for it and that is all you need to do. But in many ways this is not the case. Think of it as a race to success. Where minorities are shot in the foot before the race even begins, giving them a giant disadvantage. Then Caucasian’s can step two meters ahead. If the race started who would win?
When a family starts off poor their descendants can’t go to college and in turn those children end up in the same position as their parents. For the most part it is an endless cycle of poverty. While yes it is true that some families are thankfully able to break out of this cycle, the majority live with this reality every day.
So for next time you say, “I’m successful because I worked hard” just know that success is built on years and years of racist segregation laws and instead of criticizing other people’s failure to succeed because they are lazy consider the privilege and advantage you had from the beginning.And for anyone who is apart of the minority group, remember that you were most likely given a disadvantage that was out of your control. Your goal should be to break this unfair cycle for not just yourself, but your children in the future. Because with just one family at a time maybe we can exist in a society where the correlation between race and poverty is essentially non-existent.