Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Term `Non-Hispanic Whites' Invades the Newsroom

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Term `Non-Hispanic Whites' Invades the Newsroom

Article excerpt

The Term 'Non-Hispanic Whites' Invades the Newsroom.

by Roberto Rodriguez

Most demographers agree that, by our nation's social standards, the vast majority of Latinos are not white. Yet government-inspired terms -- such as "non-Hispanic whites" -- which suggest otherwise, are beginning to creep into journalism.

At best, the term is confusing, says journalism professor Mercedes Lynn Uriarte, of the University of Texas at Austin. The problem actually begins with the term "Hispanic," she says.

Latinos are a grouping of many peoples, a mixture of African, indigenous and European peoples. Most are mestizos (racially mixed), says Uriarte. In Latin America as well as the United States, light-skinned Latinos dominate the dark-skinned Latinos. In the United States, it is the light skinned Latinos who identify themselves as Hispanic, she says.

"Hispanic" is a code word, Uriarte says. It comes from the idea that we descend from Spanish dons and doñas, that we're Spanish as opposed to dark-skinned Indians. It favors the light-skinned Latinos at the expense of the dark-skinned, she says. "In our culture, güeritos (light-skinned individuals) are preferred."

Uriarte, an editor at the Los Angeles Times prior to coming to UT Austin, says that during the 1980s, she and two other Latino colleagues successfully battled against using the term Hispanic to refer to Latinos in the newsroom.

To this day, the L.A. Times stylebook discourages use of the term Hispanic except in quotes. The reason, says Uriarte, is that few Latinos describe themselves this way. Most refer to their own nationality, but as a group refer to themselves with pride as Latinos. Uriarte and her colleagues argue that "Hispanic" is a government term.

People from Mexico and Latin America fought a war of independence against Spain, notes Uriarte. "Hispanic" connotes connections with Spain, whereas "Latino" conjures up intercontinental pride, she says.

This aspect of Latino culture gives us insight into the fight for civil rights, she says. While Blacks may have been divided on certain issues, they were united in the fight against discrimination because all Blacks were discriminated against, says Uriarte. On the other hand, light-skinned Latinos, who could pass as whites, assimilated into U.S. culture and denied their Mexican heritage. It is dark-skinned Latinos who have traditionally been discriminated against and who have fought for civil rights, she says.

It is in this context in which the use of the term "Hispanic" arose, says Uriarte. Similarly, that's how the term "non-Hispanic whites" has crept into our lexicon. …

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