George Graham

“Hispanic” isn’t a Skin Color

The pundits are puzzled. Why have millions of Hispanics changed their racial designation on their Census forms in the past decade? Ten years ago, they listed themselves as “Hispanic and other.” Now, they’re “Hispanic and white.”

Does it mean they’re being absorbed by the Caucasian crowd? And does that imply they’re becoming (horrors!) Republican?

Of course not.

Hispanic doesn’t refer to a race or skin color. It simply means someone who speaks Spanish as their first language (or someone whose forebears did).

And it’s just one more sign of the failure of America’s education system that the pundits think there’s a Hispanic race out there somewhere. On MSNBC last night, Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart tried to enlighten Chris Hayes on the way we folks from Latin America and the Caribbean view race. I don’t think it got through, so, Chris – if you’re reading this blog – here is what Jose was talking about.

Americans who speak Spanish (or Portuguese, or Creole or Patois) are descended in large part from European colonists mixed with indigenous peoples and/or various African tribes. In some cases, Asian and Mideastern immigrants are also part of the mix. The mixtures vary – as does the color of their skin. Some look obviously white. Some look obviously black. Others look “Mexican” or whatever. And there is a wide variety of shades in between.

We’ve been living together for a long time, and – while we might resort to racial slurs in a  flurry of fury – we don’t attach that much importance to skin pigment. We instinctively know that race is a political creation that has little basis in biology.

Jose (above) pointed out, for example, that he looks white but has African blood in his veins.  So what is he in America, where skin color seems so important?

But here’s the heart of the matter.

The confusion over racial identity does not equate with political confusion. Hispanics – white, black, brown and in-between – know what policies are beneficial to them and what policies are frighteningly destructive. They vote their self-interest.

And that means all Hispanics do not vote as a bloc. Castro-hating Cubans in Miami traditionally vote Republican, for example, while Mexican-Americans tend to vote Democratic.

While I suspect many white Americans vote Republican because they abhor the idea of a black man in the White House, I doubt that Democrats get the minority vote just because President Obama is black.

Ever since Lyndon Johnson, the Democratic Party has pursued policies that protect and help Americans of all skin colors. Republicans have bent over backwards to insult and disparage minorities, and Republican policies are anathema to most non-white Americans – Hispanic or not.

Click for Chris.

Click for more on Hispanics and race.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for