Monday, March 10, 2008

In America, who is white? The General Social Survey has asked people over the years where their ancestors came from, and they routinely ask respondents what race do they consider themselves to be--white, black, or other. You might expect that no Japanese, East Indian, or American Indian would answer anything but "other", but you'd be wrong. Look at how individuals from different groups see themselves racially:


Percent who see themselves as a particular race

Chinese
White 7.5
Black 3.2
Other 89.3

Japanese
White 18.9
Black 3.3
Other 77.9

Greeks
White 99.4
Black 0.6
Other 0.0

Mexicans
White 54.0
Black 0.2
Other 45.8

Filipinos
White 17.5
Black 0.0
Other 82.5

Puerto Ricans
White 54.8
Black 9.5
Other 35.7

Spanish
White 77.0
Black 1.5
Other 21.5

West Indies
White 5.6
Black 94.4
Other 0.0

American Indian
White 68.4
Black 18.4
Other 13.2

India
White 16.9
Black 16.3
Other 66.9

African
White 1.0
Black 98.8
Other 0.2

Arabic
White 73.8
Black 7.1
Other 19.0

American only
White 37.5
Black 59.7
Other 2.8

Jews
White 98.0
Black 1.2
Other 0.8

Clearly, many people are describing the color of their skin; that is what they understand "race" to mean. But I suspect that another factor is how you see yourself with respect to Americans descended from Europeans. If you identify with them, you are more likely to say you are white.

If people were merely describing their skin pigmentation, I would have expected more Greeks, Arabs, American Indians, and Mexicans to report "other." I'm sure many "American Indians" are whites who are so proud of their small amount of Indian ancestry, they claim it as their ethnicity.

Notice how almost no one whose ancestors were from Africa thinks of himself as white, and how quite of few blacks think of themselves as "Americans only", with no connection to Africa whatsoever.

Most important for this blog, most Mexican Americans see themselves as white, which is a positive sign that they identify with white Americans and want to integrate with them.


Update: I added American Jews to the bottom of the list. There is no indication that some in this group want to distance themselves from whites by saying their race is "other."

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Most important for this blog, most Mexican Americans see themselves as white, which is a positive sign that they identify with white Americans and want to integrate with them."


That actually is good news.



Its imperitave that if they are going to be here that we can get them to acculturate to white, middle-class norms and not the disatorous hip-hop norms. That really goes for everybody.

Vanishing American said...

Not to rain on the parade, but is it really true that Mexicans or Mexican-Americans' calling themselves white means they identify with the gringo Americans, or that they aspire to be like us, and assimilate to our ways? I just don't see any evidence of that in the real world.
Their self-identification as 'white' (which most of the Latino immigrants of today appear not to be, being mostly of Indian ancestry) may just reflect that, in Latin America, whites are at the top of the social pyramid, and there is very much a caste system based on skin color.
I simply see no indications that Latinos identify with us; I can think of much evidence to the contrary. I think it's tempting to indulge in wishful thinking about the potential for assimilation and adaptation on their part. So far, it's we who are expected to learn Spanish and adapt to their preferences.

SFG said...

Yeah, actually, I do think a lot of Mexicans would like to assimilate into mainstream American culture. Whether their kids get sucked into ghetto culture instead is another story.

And, um, yeah, Jews think they're white. They just don't vote white. But as you point out with the Episcopalian bit, this may be a matter of identifying with elite whites.

Peter said...

I'm sure many "American Indians" are whites who are so proud of their small amount of Indian ancestry, they claim it as their ethnicity.

That might also be true for many of the Chinese or Japanese who identify as "white." In fact I'm pretty sure that's the case. If you are of fully Chinese* or Japanese ancestry, with no mixing, there's no way you can be white!

Most likely this is also the case for some of the 54% of Mexicans who identify as white. While there are some white/white-looking people in Mexico, the percentage certainly isn't anything near that level.


* = some of the Muslim people in extreme western China are said to be vaguely European-looking.