Sunday, October 18, 2009

Racial and Ethnic Classifications Used by US Gov't

The concept of race is a slippery one. Ethnicity is more substantial. I generally approve of the ability to be more specific in identifying ones ethnicity in recent US censuses. It allows for a clearer picture of the great diversity in this country despite the difficulty in the elusive pursuit of categorizing populations. If you're curious, check out this info from the US Census website about updates that went into effect in 2000. To read two excellent, opposing views on the validity of "race" check out Does Race Exist?, by Drs. C. Loring Brace (antagonist) and George W. Gil (proponent).

Anyway, I'm going to rant about this confusing request for demographic information on a Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) federal job application I recently came across (click on the image above for a close-up). The item in question is number one, option y (which, oddly enough, comes after options a-d), and reads "Not Hispanic, Puerto Rico." This is interesting because Puerto Rico's dominant language (and culture) is Spanish (or the Caribbean variant there of); therefore, by default, being Puerto Rican means being Hispanic (remember, we're talking ethnicity, so labels like black, Taíno, white, or indigenous do not apply in this case). The question does not seem to make sense. The only situation I can think in which someone might want to check "Not Hispanic, Puerto Rico," would be in the case of someone of Boricua ancestry, born somewhere outside the Hispano-world, say here on the US mainland--then perhaps a person might consider themselves Puerto Rican, but not Hispanic (as he or she may not necessarily speak Spanish), but again, if he or she accepted their Puerto Rican roots, almost certainly they would be considered Hispanic, no?

I'm open to interpretations. But it seems like a funny question on the application. This is a good case in point of how race and ethnicity can be a very slippery thing to pin-point or define. An excellent review of the terms "Hispanic" vs. "Latino/a" can be found at Notes from the newsroom on grammar, usage and style of the NY Times, by Philip B. Corbett. Of course, for better or for worse, we all know that here in New York, the adjective "Spanish" gets tossed around and added to the already confusing, soup of vaguely descriptive terms for people of the Hispanosphere (la hispanidad).

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