A panel at the Center for American Progress discussed “The Meaning of Race in a 21st-Century America,” billed as an “in-depth discussion on the meaning of race and ethnicity in a changing America.”
Julie Dowling, associate professor of Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke, in great detail, of how the U.S. Census questions have evolved over time. Historically, Dowling pointed out that Hispanics did not want to be label themselves as Latinos for fear of discrimination and actually called themselves “white” on early Census Bureau reports to avoid being labeled as such. Mexicans in the U.S. even “lobbied to have this removed” and the Latino designation was removed by 1930. The Census, instead of presenting options of nationalities, went with Hispanic from 1970 until the present day. She admitted, as a part-Hispanic woman, “we complicate the matter.”
Dowling said, “Latinos themselves can be a variety of races…[and] because of these issues as well, it becomes complicated.” Yet she worried that the Census does not narrow down the data on nationalities and origins.
“The idea that we’re post-racial, the idea that we live in a colorblind society, does seem to be the biggest impediment to moving somewhere because we see racial inequalities on the rise,” Dowling said. “We have this constant discourse that race is a part of the past and if you bring up race and racism, you’re the one calling attention to race, you’re the one sort of stuck in the past.”
People think “you brought up race, so you must be racist,” according to Dowling. Dowling stated, “When we see all these inequalities happening, we [still] want to think of ourselves as being post-racial as being colorblind.”
Dowling claimed that “For the most part, those who checked white were not lighter skin…but it was about saying ‘I am an American citizen.’” She continued, “It’s about I’m an American [and] I don’t want to be discriminated against.” Dowling added that these Hispanics no longer want to be stopped and have their papers checked by the police and that, “People don’t want to be racialized.”
She said that the anti-immigration rhetoric “keeps me up at night” and criticized the movement. Dowling then lamented that minorities refuse to acknowledge their ethnicity: “When we’re together, we’re more powerful.” She said, “I’m saddened” because this divisiveness within races “weighs on me as I think about race relations.”
How does she propose to resolve the divisions within ethnicities? Dowling proposed, “We need a forum to capture these nuances in communities.”