Reading an article this morning on Huffington Post titled “We have no idea how many Latinos get arrested or imprisoned in the US” reminded me of several conversations I’ve had recently where white allies were amazed that the U.S. government thinks I’m white.
Some actually didn’t even believe me until I showed them a photo of the census form, they thought I must not recall the form correctly. They were “sure” there was a box to check for Latino as a Race. And while there is now a box to check for Latino ethnicity, there has NEVER been a box to check for Latinos in the RACE section and that is the section that matters. This is true of every form I’ve ever filled out and those filled out for me since my birth…on my birth certificate it lists my mother and father as “white”. When I went to school I was told by teachers to mark “white” as often there was no “other” box.
Every time I face that damn box I have to decide if I should mark Black (it’s likely I have African ancestry from my Puerto Rican heritage) or perhaps American Indian (it is certain that my Cali-Mexican ancestors were Indigenous.) But the truth is, that is not how I go through the world, it is not how I am racialized by others and it is not how I primarily identify…and I think it is disingenuous to suggest that I have to deal with all the same issues as my black and indigenous siblings. So I’m left with “other” and in the worst possible way because I know, statistically speaking, marking “other” does absolutely nothing for my people from a government census/resources point of view.
So we could go into a long sociology conversation about how “race is a social construct” and blah, blah, blah….but what I want you to do is take a minute and really think about it. What would it feel like all your life to be told to identify as your oppressor when being counted by the government? Imagine on every form you’ve filled out you had to say that you are someone you are not.
And don’t even get me started on the truth of how labeling brown bodies as white perpetuates anti-blackness and isolates us from our Black and Indigenous siblings. It is so much easier to tell brown people “hey, you know, you really don’t want to be the other, let us call you white and then you won’t have to be associated with those real undesirables.”
So the question becomes who benefits from me being identified as white. Well if you have an “undesirable” population the easiest way to make them go away is to erase them. The easiest way to co-opt them is to tell them they are just like you. And the easiest way to pull resources to your group is to make your numbers “the majority.” And the easiest way to say there is no problem with brown bodies being enslaved by our justice system is to erase them to white upon entry.
So take a look at the Huffington Post article and discuss it with your sphere of influence because if you didn’t know that the U.S. government thinks I’m white then you just haven’t been paying attention.