Last week, Patterico
got kind of bothered about a sentence in an LA Times story about
Chief Justice Rehnquist announcing that he had no immediate plans to
retire, and how that affected Dubya's search for a replacement.
In the paper's print edition:
The leading candidates were all white men.
But in the web version of the story (here), this read:
The leading candidates were all men.
See the difference, Clarence? So do I. And so did Patterico:
This is an entirely fictional account, as anyone who
has been following the process well knows. …
Numerous reports in late June,
including reports crediting White House sources, reported that Latino
and women candidates were rumored to be on President Bush's short
For example, a June
18 AP article named Emilio Garza as one of six candidates
on Bush's short list. The article also named Edith Jones, Alberto
Gonzales, and Miguel Estrada as "plausible picks"; A June
19 Washington Post article and a June
22 Chicago Tribune article both listed Gonzales as among
the top contenders, citing anonymous sources close to (or working at)
the White House. And, of course, the well-connected Bill Kristol famously
predicted on June 22 that O'Connor would be the first
retirement, and that Gonzales would be nominated to take her spot.
Now: there's obviously no problem with Patterico pointing out Edith Jones
to refute the "men" part of
the LA Times sentence. But he takes special
note of the transformation of "white men" (in print) into just "men" (on
the web), and points to Gonzales, Estrada, and Garza to refute the
"white" part. And that's just, well, not exactly on the button.
When the LA Times refers to "white men," they're referring to
race. Attempting to refute the "white men" wording by
naming of three Hispanic counterexamples
misses the point (such as it is), since "Hispanic" isn't considered
to be a "race": it is an "ethnicity". It's entirely possible for
Gonzales, Estrada, and Garza to be "white", and as far as I know, they
But that is way too simplistic. Because once you start looking
into the classification of people by race and ethnicity, one
of the first things you realize is that it's a politically-charged
can of worms, where easy labels don't have much to do with reality
or people's perceptions.
We have, of course, a long and sad history in this country of counting
and classifying people by race. Racial classification was once important
to maintain segregation and Jim Crow; nowadays, it's considered important
for other allegedly more honorable reasons, like maintaining affirmative
action programs, enforcing civil rights laws, and monitoring racial
inequality. Classifying by ethnicity has some of the same pedigree. ("No
Irish need apply!")
There are many fascinating documents at the Census Bureau website that offer views
into how Your Federal Government currently thinks about this. A good
place to start is Revisions to the Standards for the
Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity written in 1997
by the Office of Management and Budget. Therein you'll find:
- The Five Official Races: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian,
Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,
- The Two Official Ethnicities: "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic
- How to tell: "Self-identification is the preferred means of
obtaining information about an individual's race and ethnicity, except
in instances where observer identification is more practical (e.g.,
completing a death certificate)"
- What order to ask: "When the two question format is used, the
Hispanic origin question should precede the race question."
It goes on and on in excruciating sensitivity and detail. ("A Cape
Verdean ethnic category should not be added to the minimum data
collection standards." Darn!)
The 2000 Federal Census asked questions based
on these regulations. The (PDF) document, "Overview of
Race and Hispanic Origin" summarizes the results. It's full of
interesting numbers, but for the purposes of this already-too-long
article, let's concentrate on the folks reporting Hispanic ethnicity.
Without peeking, and with reference to the OMB's Five Official Races,
what race mixture would you guess Hispanics reported?
I would have guessed: mostly "white", with some "black" (like Big Papi,
I was surprised to
find that only about 48% of Hispanics identified as "white"; only
2% said "black". But really surprising (and, I would imagine, kind
of embarrassing to the Census Bureau) was this:
about 42% said "Other". In other words, a huge chunk of Hispanics
looked at the Five Official Races, and said: "Nope, none of
So, returning to the LA Times and Patterico: are Estrada, Gonzales,
and Garza "white men"? I guess I've learned that there's no fixed answer
to that question. The LA Times was wrong to imply the "yes" answer;
Patterico was wrong to assume "no". A Census Bureacrat would ask them to
"self-identify" racially. That might be fun for entertainment value. Would it
settle anything? It might tell us how the individual viewed the nature of
"race", but …
I happened across this
page on the "Mixed Media Watch" website while researching this issue.
It discusses the recent movie Hitch, which has a romance between
characters played by Will Smith, indisputably African-American, and Eva
Mendes, indisputably Hispanic. Says the article:
Eva Mendes was given the role opposite Smith because the moviemakers
were worried about the public's reaction if the part was given to a
white or an African American actress, according to Smith. The actor is
saying that it was feared that a black couple would have put off
worldwide audiences whereas a white/African American combo would have
offended viewers in the U.S. …
Eva Mendes—who is of Cuban descent—was seen as a solution
because apparently, the black/Latina combination is not considered
OK, fine. I guess. But then we have the comments by
ordinary joes and janes following the article. "Mendes looks white."
"You must be blind or somethin." "EVA MENDEZ [sic] IS WHITE, SHE IS
PREDOMINANTLY MEDITERRANEAN, YOU CAN TELL" "Are you people blind or just
in denial? This woman is about as white as Will Smith is white."
"Obviously you have a distorted view of what white people look like.
Based on the language you use it is highly reflective of a desperate and
bitter white supremacist."
At this point, I invoked the name of an old Asian buddy:
Ho Lee Cao. It goes on and on.
How badly people want to pigeonhole others by "race"! After all this
rambling, I'm still not sure what "race" Mendes, Gonzales, Estrada
and Garza are; I'm sure I don't care.
What I do care about is that, somehow, it would be nice to make
progress toward some future where it didn't matter any more, where the
Census Bureau would just count noses without paying undue attention to their
hue or ancestry.
Unfortunately, the trends I see are mostly in the other direction.