The U.S. Census Bureau does its big count every ten years, and
updates the numbers in the middle of the decade. The 2005 figures
show that the Hispanic population is pulling further ahead of
African Americans. There are officially 2.1 million more self-identified
Hispanics in the U.S. than self-identified Blacks, 41.3 million
Hispanics compared to 39.2 million African Americans. And, with
immigration and high Hispanic birth rates, there is no reason
to believe the trend will not continue.
Among most marketers and political demographers, it has long been
a done deal that Hispanics have replaced Blacks as the nation's
biggest ethnic group. But that's only true if one believes
that "Hispanic" is an ethnicity. And that is more
than open to question.
There is no doubt that Black Americans are an ethnic group. Their
ancestors, who came from many African nations, speaking many languages,
worshipping different gods, were forced to become one people during
slavery. Over the centuries, Blacks did become one people, and
remained so after Emancipation, within the confines of Jim Crow.
Indeed, even in that peculiar place called Louisiana, differentiations
among the Black population were blurred by the heavy hand of segregation.
Jim Crow further knitted Blacks together, as the freed men and
women of the South, as in the North, built Black social, cultural
and political infrastructures – monuments to Black identity.
The surrounding white nation relentlessly encouraged the flowering
of a Black polity based on Black ethnicity. This policy was the
other side of the coin of the American policy of assimilating
"all the nations of Europe" into a big white "melting
pot." The whites became "Americans." We remained
African Americans. The Black polity, which is a kind of nation,
already existed when the great waves of Europeans arrived after
the Civil War. It is a multi-textured but amazingly unified cultural
and political entity, now almost 40 million strong. We don't
all agree, but we share the same social and historical reference
points. Black Americans are an ethnicity and a polity.
Hispanic Americans come from many nations. In their ancestral
countries, they often comprise many separate ethnicities. A Peruvian
Indian is ethnically different than a member of the white elite
of that country, and remains so w hen both groups of Peruvians
emigrate to the United States, where both are ethnically different
than Afro-Caribbean Hispanic immigrants. Calling all Hispanics
in the U.S. one ethnic group in effect denies their actual, varied
ethnicity. Hispanics in the U.S. are many people. Often, Hispanics
in the U.S. who hail from the same country are ethnically different.
No, it is a stretch of social science to lump Hispanics together
as one ethnicity, although it is certainly possible that at some
time in the future a portion of the various Hispanic ethnicities
will forge a common culture and worldview within the U.S., as
have African Americans over the centuries. But that remains to
be seen. For Radio BC, I'm Glen Ford.