Friday, August 21, 2009

Angelo Falcón Replies to Orlando Patterson's New York Times Op-Ed

NOTE: Below is a copy of a Letter to the Editor sent to The New York Times by Angelo Falcón, President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP), regarding Orlando Patteron's recent op-ed "Race and Diversity in the Age of Obama." The letter first appeared in the NiLP's network. All NiLP's materials republished by the organization's kind permission.

New York Times

Dear Editor,

In his recent Crossroads op-ed, "Race and Diversity in the Age of Obama", the preeminent sociologist Orlando Patterson unfortunately betrays great ignorance of the Latino community and the country's current racial-ethnic dilemmas. First, he gives much too much weight to demography and the Civil Rights Movement as the key factors in the election of Barack Obama as President and neglects other perhaps more important, or as important, political factors (but, alas, he is but a sociologist).

He goes on to argue that Latinos are a "varied collection of ethnic groups. They are not, and will never become, a single entity" (something that could be said of almost any social group, including Blacks). Well, that is a much debated and complex issue - the notion of a growing pan-ethnicity among Latinos and its implications.

The Latino population originates from 21 countries but a good 60 percent do so from one - Mexico. Research and experience are also finding that current anti-Latino and anti-immigrant attitudes in the United States are creating a greater pan-ethnic consciousness than ever before. Terms like "Latino" and "Hispanic," in fact, were literally invented in the United States and are creating new ways for people originating in Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Ecuador and other countries to identify and even organize themselves politically.
The increasing inter-marriage between Latinos of different national origins is also a trend that is promoting such a pan-ethnic consciousness. Another force in this direction is corporate advertising and Spanish-language media aimed at capturing this Hispanic market and creating a pan-Latino identity.

Patterson ignores all this.

He also tries to allay fears in the White community that they will be overrun by people of color. One of the culprits, he reports, is the "bogus demographic invention of 'non-Hispanic whites.'" By using the "White only" category employed by the Census, he assures Whites that they are currently 80 percent of the population and growing "thanks to the fact that almost half of all Hispanics now define themselves as 'white alone.'"

What Patterson ignores is that Latinos are not only identified in the Census racially, but also ethnically with a separate Hispanic question. About 40 percent of Latinos refuse to accept U.S. racial categories and chose to check "some other race." It is not particularly clear what Latinos mean collectively when less than half identify racially as "White only" in the Census. Professor Patterson's vast oversimplification of these complex racial-ethnic identities and manner in which they are defined is disappointing and misleading.

This problem of oversimplification also spills over into his interpretation of the studies he cites to make his case. For example, in his reading of "Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age," by Kasinitz, et al. he refers to a "second-generation advantage" as proof of a robust American assimilation process. However, he ignores that study's findings that not all racial and ethnic groups benefit in the same way, with US-born Blacks and Puerto Ricans (who have been US citizens since 1917) caught in troubling patterns of poverty and disadvantage. This selective reading of this study by Patterson is, at the very least, irresponsible.

I could go on raising problems with Patterson's essay, but his appeal to a kind of West Indian exceptionalism and his disingenuous inconclusiveness for the reasons for Black residential segregation would require much more space than I have to address them. But his question about "how complicit are Black Americans in their own social isolation?" takes the cake - it is so ahistorical and offensive that I just lost the desire to go on with this letter.

Angelo Falcón is president and founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP)

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