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and historical reference points.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
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.