In fact, despite the U.S. Census Bureau defining “Hispanic” as an ethnicity, two-thirds of survey participants considered it to be their race.
If the race-ethnicity distinctions don’t make sense to you, you’re not alone. But, fear no more, Latina is here with a quick primer.
Race refers to our physical characteristics, like our skin color and hair texture, while ethnicity refers to cultural factors, such as our regional culture, ancestry and language. That’s why Afro-Latinos, dark-skinned individuals who trace their origins to Latin America or the Spanish Caribbean, can, and sometimes do, identify as both black, a race, and Latino, an ethnic background.
But what about those olive-skinned and lighter Latinos who, though technically “white,” don’t always benefit from white privilege, aren’t considered white-passing and may have been hurled some racialized slurs?
Well, that’s where things get murky.
Despite the color of our skins, the ethnic identity “Latino” actually does become racialized for many of us, inspiring scholars like David Theo Goldberg and Linda Martín Alcoff to coin and use words like “ethnorace.” The term is used to identify identity categories that are viewed as interchangeably racial or ethnic. It complicates the black-white racial binary that the U.S. loves so much by showing how someone who may be visibly white is, by membership of a racialized ethnic group, made non-white, or “other.”
No wonder why a growing percentage of Latinos are selecting “some ‘other’ race” as their racial identity on the U.S. Census.
Yes, this is a lot (I mean, there’s an entire academic field that studies this very topic), and it can be difficult to comprehend at first, but hopefully this can help us begin to understand the anxiety-induced sweat that begins to form when hit with that unavoidable question every 10 years: What is this person’s race?