Are Latinos Becoming "White" Folk? And What That Still Says about Race in America


  • Alisse Waterston


I use Karen Brodkin's How Jews Became White Folks as an analytic compass to consider the question: Are U.S. Latinos becoming "White"? The purpose of this paper is to meet the question head-on and to help unravel some of the complexity and contradictory issues related to the changing status of a historically marginalized and heterogeneous ethnic group within a society that operates in a Black/White racial binary. My goal is to also describe a social process that may already be under way. The essay explores several indicators that point to this process, including the growing importance of Latinos as consumers for capital accumulation in the neoliberal marketplace, the mounting significance of Latino elites to the American political scene, extant intra-Latino class differences, results of the 2000 U.S. Census, the growing xenophobia against new Latino immigrants, especially racialized indígenos coming across the southwest border, and the enduring power of the American dream, all of which must be interpreted in light of the dramatic and growing decline in the number of "Whites" in America. In this framework, I examine race as racism, and its role in reproducing a class structure where Blackness lurks in the shadows, the marker against which success can be measured and belonging determined. In an effort to anticipate the "dreadfully predictable" patterns and practices of Whiteness, I suggest that the White racial category is likely to expand to include a growing portion of Latinos, particularly those who are "aspiring," assimilated, and "English-proficient." In turn, we are likely to see their ever-growing distance from Blackness as well as from the poorer, "darker," more recent, and undocumented Hispanic indígenos.