This was the headline of a recent U.S. Census Bureau press release noting that Texas has now joined Hawaii, New Mexico and California as a state whose "minority" population exceeds 50 percent of the state's population.
Who are minorities? According to the Census Bureau, "all people except non-Hispanic single-race whites."
It's no wonder that I've gotten a spate of calls from reporters trying to help them understand if this Census Bureau announcement is as absurd as it sounds.
The press release continues in equally lucid fashion, introducing population statistics for all "minority" groups with this sentence: "The following race data are for people reporting their specified race, whether or not they reported any other races, and for Hispanics (who may be of any race)." If the source of this were not the United States government, I would assume there had to be some hidden logic not readily accessible to the casual, lay reader.
But, of course, there is no logic. This is about politics.
The list of "race" data, for whom Hispanics are the reported exception, includes Asians. Are Asians a race? People from Japan and from India look very different to me.
Regarding the idea of "race," according to historian Jacques Barzun, "no agreement seems to exist about what race means. Race seems to embody a fact as simple and as obvious as the noonday sun, but if that is so, why the endless wrangling about the idea and the facts of race. ...What is a race? How can it be recognized? Who constitute the several races?"
A clear definition of race itself eludes social scientists but does not seem to trouble Census Bureau bureaucrats.
Returning to the press release, we are informed at its conclusion that "The federal government treats Hispanic origin and race as distinct concepts."
What exactly is "Hispanic origin?"
According to historian Paul Johnson, the historic origin of Hispanic is not ethnicity but politics:" ...the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a powerful interest-group in alliance with the Democratic Party, succeeded in establishing a racial category known as "Hispanic," which included Latin mestizos; people of predominantly European, black, and American Indian descent; descendants of long-assimilated Californios and Tejanos; and other groups who once spoke Spanish _ almost anyone, in fact. who found it advantageous to belong, so long as they could not be accused of being "Caucasian" or "Aryan." This pseudorace came into existence as the result of statistical classification by bureaucrats."
Johnson goes on and relates other shenanigans that resulted in establishing the various so called racial categories use by the Census Bureau -- American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian, Pacific Islander, Black, and White -- and determinants of which ethnicities belong in which group.
Is this what America is about? How did we get to this?
It created somewhat of a stir in the black community when the Census Bureau reported several years ago that Hispanics surpassed blacks as the nation's largest "minority" group.
The only reason why anyone would care about this is that the very odious attitudes and ideas that historically provided the rationale for discrimination and persecution have been transformed into platforms for political power, preferences and entitlements.
It is ironic to me that, as we encourage Iraqis to create a new, free society in the Middle East -- as Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Kurds work to create a constitution with just and common rules for governing all -- that we Americans retain the concepts of race and ethnicity in our political formalities. I think it is insulting to all Americans and denigrates the ideal of freedom as we understand it at home and advocate it abroad.
My plea here, of course, is not to ignore ethnic differences. They are crucial. My plea is to remove them from politics where, rather than appreciating them as part of individual uniqueness, they are used to transform people into objects for political manipulation.
Back to Jacques Barzun: "...the race question appears a much bigger affair than a trumped-up excuse for local persecution. ... It defaces every type of mental activity - history, art, politics, science and social reform."
If the idea of race is elusive and abusive, the notion of minority is, of course, absurd. Hence we get ridiculous headlines like the Census Bureau's about "majority minority."
A truly free society understands and respects the fact that there really is just one minority _ each unique individual. Certainly this was the Rev. Martin Luther King's point about "content of character" being the standard to which we should aspire.
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