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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

“The ‘White Race,’ ‘Hispanic’ Ethnicity, and the Politics of Census-Making” Response to Francis Wilkinson "Who's to Say Jeb Bush Isn't Hispanic?" by Jeffrey B. Perry

The letter that I submitted on April 10, 2015, to "The Record" newspaper in North Jersey was published by that paper on April 12. The newspaper changed the title and removed portions of my letter. The published letter can be found HERE and the letter that I submitted follows:

“The ‘White Race,’ ‘Hispanic’ Ethnicity, and the Politics of Census-Making”

Francis Wilkinson’s “Who’s to Say Jeb Bush Isn’t Hispanic?” (April 8, 2015) raises the question – “isn’t ‘Hispanic’ partly a contrivance”? He then points out that regarding the Census, “Hispanics can call themselves white or black or something else.” He is right on both counts.

The question arises, why do the decision-makers for the Census Bureau facilitate “Hispanics” being counted twice – as both Hispanic and as “white or black or something else”? One key to understanding the answer has to do with another contrivance -- a political contrivance – the “white race” -- and with the question of ruling-class social control.

Theodore W. Allen in “The Invention of the White Race” writes that “When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no ‘white’ people there; nor according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years.” He based this statement on the fact that he found no instance of the official use of the word “white” as a token of social status in any Virginia record prior to 1691. This was not merely a matter of semantics. His research led him to conclude – based on the commonality of experience and demonstrated solidarity between African-American and European-American laboring people -- that the “white race” was not, and could not have been, functioning in early Virginia.

It is in the context of such findings that he offers his major thesis -- the “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite, in its own class interest, deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the “white race” and 2) the consequences were not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans, they were also disastrous for European-American workers. He then points out that since that time the all-class formation known as the “white race” has served as the principal historic guarantor of ruling-class domination of national life.

Today, when the gap between rich and poor is at record proportions and white supremacy mars the land, and when increasing numbers are realizing the need for social change, the powers that be are still interested in using the “white race” to maintain social control. Thus, in the face of predictions that this country will be majority non-“white” by 2042, they are taking various steps to counter that prospect, including political steps with the Census that facilitates “Hispanics” (as Wilkinson notes) to “call themselves white” (and more do call themselves “white” than call themselves “black”). One important aim of such political census-making, and of allowing “Hispanics” to be counted twice and to call themselves “white,” is to enable the ruling powers to preserve the democratic gloss, if not of a “white” majority, then at least of a “white” plurality, in their efforts to maintain social control.

Jeffrey B. Perry

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