Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the History of Ethnicity in the United States

Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the History of Ethnicity in the United States

Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the History of Ethnicity in the United States

Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the History of Ethnicity in the United States


In Whiteness Visible , Valerie Babb investigates the history, values, rituals, and shared consciousness that created whiteness in the United States, as well as the representations that sustain its influence on both cultural and literary vision. Babb formulates an understanding of whiteness by tracing its literary and cultural evolution, enlisting diverse sources from, among others, the Han dynasty, Aristotle's Politica, and excerpts from the recollections of white indentured servants.

Babb's textual analysis begins by surveying the construction of whiteness in early American writings and material culture, and continues through literature of the nineteenth century, surveying whiteness in texts commonly acknowledged as standards in U. S. literature-- The Last of the Mohicans and Moby Dick. She then investigates representations of whiteness in a variety of late- nineteenth and early-twentieth century cultural creations, among them immigrant autobiographies, World's Fair expositions, and etiquette books. Babb convincingly illustrates the ways in which a variety of cultural creations combine to help shape the concept of universal whiteness.

Whiteness Visible boldly claims that we can only understand the full significance of race and the ways in which it influences cultural understanding and cultural creation in the United States when we interrogate whiteness and make it visible.


Ethnicity is a hotly contested subject in the academy; even the term provokes intense scholarly debate. In addition, academic definitions and discussions of ethnicity are complex, with different disciplines emphasizing different aspects of the phenomenon. Anthropologists and sociologists focus on social and cultural factors and take for granted the psychodynamics of individuals. Conversely, psychologists place social phenomena in the background, stressing the importance of individual cognition and emotions (Leets, Clement, and Giles 1996). Social psychologists argue that all these dimensions must be linked through selfidentification and that culture and the individual must be considered together.

Unfortunately, much of the scholarly writing on ethnicity is not theoretically rigorous. A recent analysis of ethnicity in the social science literature, reviewing 190 articles and 10,000 citations published between 1974 and 1992 (Leets, Clement, and Giles 1996), found that an overwhelming majority (82%) of the articles lacked any coherent theoretical foundation from which to view ethnicity. Moreover, the majority were not empirical, and many did not report how they had measured ethnicity.

Most of the articles (43%) dealt with ethnicity only secondarily and usually measured ethnicity as a geopolitical category, for example, Hindus in India. Only 22 percent reflected multiple dimensions of ethnicity, acknowledged overlapping categories, or included objective and subjective components of ethnicity. Some scholars equated ethnicity with race. Generally, most investigators regarded ethnicity as an objective, self-evident social reality that needed little, or no further, elaboration.

Ethnicity and race, however, have a fluidity and complexity that are not often acknowledged but nonetheless are evident. When we reflect on how or why we consider an individual or a group to be “ethnic,” we think, for example, of language or dialect; common cultural and/or geographic origin; religion; physical difference from us, such as height . . .

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