Interracial Marriage and Latino/a Racial Identity

05/19/2017 01:57 pm ET

Yesterday the Pew Research Center released a report announcing the dramatic increase of intermarriage in the United States (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/05/18/intermarriage-in-the-u-s-50-years-after-loving-v-virginia/). Looking at data since the United States Supreme Court struck down interracial marriage bans with its 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision, Pew discovered that since 1967 intermarriage amongst newlyweds has increased fivefold from 3% to 17%. Examined in isolation the data point that one in six U.S. newlyweds are now married to someone of a different race, appears quite astounding. However the role of Latino/a racial identity is a missing piece of the picture that serves to question the real rate of intermarriage.

The largest driving factor in the apparent increase in U.S. intermarriage rates is the pattern of intermarriage between Latinos/as and White Anglos. Pew reports that the largest amount of intermarriage between opposite sex couples is that between what it terms “Whites and Hispanics.” The White/Hispanic combination represents 42% of intermarriage, while in comparison the White/Asian combination represents only 15%, the White/Black combination 11% , the Hispanic/Black combination 5%, and the Hispanic/Asian combination 3%. Notably, the Pew report neglects to discuss the role of “Hispanic” racial appearance and identity.

For a number of Latinos/as, our African and indigenous ancestry is more prominent than it is for Latinos/as whose European ancestry is more pronounced. In fact, Latin America and the Caribbean have long histories of subordinating those of African and indigenous ancestry (see “Racial Subordination in Latin America” by Tanya Katerí Hernández https://www.amazon.com/Racial-Subordination-Latin-America-Customary/dp/1107695430/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me). Moreover, research shows that darker-skinned Latinos/as are perceived with less favor than their lighter-skinned group members in the United States (http://mumford.albany.edu/census/BlackLatinoReport/BlackLatinoReport.pdf).

So data about White Anglos marrying non-racially identified “Hispanics” tells us very little about the real rate of intermarriage in the U.S. Are these marriages with Latinos/as who identify or appear as Afro-Latino/a or of indigenous ancestry? Or are they primarily with Latinos/as who identify or appear as White? White Anglos marrying White identified Latinos/as is not quite as significant a racial crossing as the Pew Report suggests. But because the report lumps together Latinos/as of all racial identities and appearances, we have no way of gauging what real racial progress has been made in this country.

Treating Latino/a ethnicity as if it did not also encompass distinct racial identities, as the Pew Report has done thus comes with the risk of extrapolating inaccurate conclusions about the status of race relations today. Disturbingly, the U.S. Census Bureau’s recent proposal to discontinue collecting census data about Latino/a racial identity in lieu of treating the Hispanic category as a race in of itself (https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=OMB-2017-0003-0001), will only magnify the challenge of trying to monitor racial disparities. Just as assessments about “race-less” Latinos/as can skew our picture of the racial significance of intermarriage, data about “Hispanic” access to opportunity will veil the extent to which darker-hued Latinos/as are treated differently than European-looking Latinos/as. In short, being more attentive to the specifics of how Latinos/as are racialized in the United States is important not only to gathering an accurate understanding of racism against Latinos/as, but also our nation’s overall racial progress.

Tanya Katerí Hernández is a Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law and the author of the forthcoming book from NYU Press, “Multiracials and Civil Rights: Are Mixed-Race Stories of Discrimination a New Kind of Multiracial Racism?”

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