Sunday, June 7, 2015

Latin Americanization Of Racial Stratification in USA

(Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s research paper from the SPRINGER on 13 January 2014.)

(Abstract) Aside from what exists in the U.S. there is another layer of complexity in Latin American racial stratification systems. They include three racial strata, which are internally designated by “color.” In addition to skin tone, phenotype, hair texture, eye color, culture, education, and class matter is the phenomenon known as pigmentocracy, or colorism.

Pigmentocracy has been central to the maintenance of White power in Latin America because it has fostered:

(a) divisions among all those in secondary racial strata;
(b) divisions within racial strata limiting the likelihood of within-strata unity;
(c) mobility viewed as individual and conditional upon “whitening;” and
(d) white elites being regarded as legitimate representatives of the “nation” even though they do not look like the average member of the “nation.”

A related dynamic in Latin American stratification is the social practice of “Blanqueamiento,” or whitening, not a neutral mixture but a hierarchical movement wherein valuable movement is upward. Racial mixing oriented by the goal of whitening shows the effectiveness of the logic of White supremacy.

As a Latin America-like society, the United States will become a society with more, rather than less, racial inequality but with a reduced forum for racial contestation. The apparent blessing of “not seeing race” will become a curse for those struggling for racial justice in years to come. We may become “All Americans,” as commercials in recent times suggest, but paraphrasing George Orwell: “some will be more American than others.”


“We are all Americans!” This, we contend, will be the racial mantra of the United States in the years to come, as nationalist statements denying the salience of race are the norm all over the world.

Countries such as Malaysia or Indonesia, Trinidad or Belize, or, more significantly for our discussion, Iberian countries such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil, or Mexico, all exhibit this ostrich-approach to racial matters. That is, they all stick their heads deep into the social ground and say, “We don’t have races here. We don’t have racism here. We are all Mexicans, Cubans, Brazilians, or Puerto Rican!”

However, we argue in this chapter that race and racial stratification in Latin America exists as a three-tiered racial hierarchy and racial stratification in the United States is evolving into a similar tri-racial system.

How Race Works in Latin America?

Bonilla-Silva and Lewis (1999) has argued that racial stratification systems operate in most societies without races being officially acknowledged. For example, racial data in Latin America is gathered inconsistently or not at all, and most Latin Americans, including those most affected by racial stratification, do not recognize inequality between “whites” and “nonwhites” in their countries as racial.

“Prejudice”—Latin Americans do not talk about “racism”—is viewed as a legacy from slavery and colonialism, and inequality is regarded as the product of class dynamics (Wagley 1952).

Racial hierarchies in many Latin American countries are less obvious because they are more complex. In contrast to the historically biracial system of the United States, Latin America has a historically ensconced and pronounced tri-level racial stratification system which includes an intermediary mixed racial category.

The latter is a product of historical miscegenation that led to the development of a socially and, sometimes, legally recognized intermediate racial strata of mestizos, browns, or “trigueños.” Even though this group did not achieve the status of “white” anywhere, it nonetheless had a better status than the Indian or Black masses and, therefore, developed its own distinct interest and buffered sociopolitical conflicts.

Moreover, there is another layer of complexity in Latin American racial stratification systems. The three racial strata are also internally stratified by “color” (in quotation marks because, in addition to skin tone, phenotype, hair texture, eye color, culture and education, and class matter in the racial classification of individuals in Latin America), the phenomenon known as pigmentocracy, or colorism (Kinsbrunner 1996).

Pigmentocracy has been central to the maintenance of White power in Latin America because it has fostered:

(a) divisions among all those in secondary racial strata;
(b) divisions within racial strata limiting the likelihood of within-strata unity;
(c) mobility viewed as individual and conditional upon “whitening;” and
(d) White elites being regarded as legitimate representatives of the “nation” even though they do not look like the average member of the “nation.”

A related dynamic in Latin American stratification is the social practice of “Blanqueamiento,” or whitening. Whitening “is just not neutral mixture but hierarchical movement…and the most valuable movement is upward” (Wade 1997, p. 342).

Racial mixing oriented by the goal of whitening shows the effectiveness of the logic of white supremacy. Despite these indicators of racial awareness, most Latin Americans, even those obviously “black” or “Indian,” refuse to identify themselves in racial terms. Instead, they prefer to use national (or cultural) descriptors such as “I am Puerto Rican or Brazilian.”2

This behavior has been the subject of much confusion and described as an example of the fluidity of race and racism in Latin America (Rodríguez 2000). However, defining the nation and the “people” as the “fusion of cultures” (even though the fusion is viewed in a Eurocentric manner) is the logical outcome of all of the factors mentioned above.

Nationalist statements such as “We are all Puerto Ricans” are the direct manifestation of the racial stratification peculiar to Latin America rather than evidence of non-racialism. Although these statements also represent nonwhites’ agency to carve a space in the nation, these statements, which are taught to Latinomericanos in schools and at home as historical truths, also help maintain the traditional racial hierarchy by hiding the fact of racial division and racial rule (Goldberg 2002).

Racial Stratification in the United States

In this chapter, we contend that racial stratification and the rules of racial (re)cognition in the United States are becoming Latin America-like. We suggest that the bi-racial system typical of the United States, which was the exception in the world-racial system (Goldberg 2002; Mills 1997; Winant 2002), is becoming like the “norm,” that is, it is evolving into a complex racial stratification system.3

Specifically, we argue the United States is developing a tri-racial system with “whites” at the top, and intermediary group of “honorary whites”—similar to the coloreds in South Africa during formal apartheid, and a non-white group or the “collective black”4 at the bottom.

We suggest the “white” group will include “traditional” whites, new “white” immigrants and, in the near future, assimilated Latinos, some multiracials (light-skinned ones), and other subgroups.

We predict the intermediate racial group or “honorary whites” will comprise most light-skinned Latinos (e.g., most Cubans and segments of the Mexican and Puerto-Rican communities) (Rodríguez 1999), Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, Asian Indians, Chinese Americans, the bulk of multiracials (Rockquemore and Arend 2002),5 and most Middle Eastern Americans.

Finally, the “collective black” will include blacks, dark-skinned Latinos, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and maybe Filipinos.

This map is heuristic rather than definitive and, thus, is a guide of how we think the various ethnic groups will line up in the new emerging racial order. We acknowledge that the position of some groups may change (e.g., Chinese Americans, Asian Indians, and Arab Americans), that the map is not inclusive of all the groups in the United States (for instance, Samoans, Micronesians, and so forth are not in the map), and that, at this early stage of this project and given some serious data limitations, some groups may end up in a different racial strata altogether (e.g., Filipinos may become “honorary whites” rather than another group in the “collective black” strata).

More significantly, if our Latin Americanization thesis is accurate, there will be categorical porosity as well as pigmentocracy, making the map useful for group- rather than individual-level predictions. Porosity refers to individual members of a racial strata moving up (or down) the stratification system (e.g., a light-skin middle class black person marrying a White woman and moving to the “honorary white” strata).

Pigmentocracy, as noted above, refers to the rank ordering of groups and members of groups according to phenotype and cultural characteristics (e.g., Filipinos being at the top of the “collective black” given their high level of education and income as well as high rate of interracial marriage with whites).

This strategy for determining racial and ethnic stratification views groups as soft-, not hard-bounded or having the definitive closure of traditional ethnic groups. Instead, these groups occupy spaces in the field of race that are not cleanly delineated; thus, they have an element of pluralism.

Research suggests that there is a world tradition of preference for lightness (Bashi 2004; see also Weiner 1997 and Ashikari 2005) and that phenotype may be a better predictor of stratification outcomes in the U.S. than the three major racial-ethnic categorizations of White, Hispanic, and African American (Hunter 2005).

We predict that phenotype will become an even greater element of stratification in America’s racially mixed future. However, we cannot make a stronger empirical case for the importance of pigmentocracy because there is neither census data on phenotype nor a single data set that includes systematic data on the skin tone of all Americans.

We recognize that our thesis is broad (attempting to classify where everyone will fit in the racial order) and hard to verify empirically with the available data. Nevertheless, we believe it is paramount to begin pushing for a paradigm shift in the field of race relations, and we consider our efforts here as a preliminary effort in that direction.

Why Latin Americanization Now?

Why are race relations in the United States becoming Latin America-like at this point in our history? The reasons are multiple.

First, the demography of the nation is changing. Racial minorities are up to 30 percent of the population today and, as population projections suggest, may become a numeric majority in the year 2050 (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2001).

This rapid darkening of America is creating a situation similar to that of Puerto Rico, Cuba, or Venezuela in the 16th and 17th centuries, or Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In both historical periods, the elites realized their countries were becoming “black” (or “non-white”) and devised a number of strategies (unsuccessful in the former and successful in the latter) to whiten their population (Helg 1990).

Although whitening the population through immigration or by classifying many newcomers as White (Gans 1999) is a possible solution to the new American demography, for reasons discussed below, we do not think this is likely.

Neither do we believe that development of a mestizo “we” is likely in the U.S. because the U.S. “we” is rooted in the Judeo-Christian Anglo tradition. Moreover, the emphasis on the white element in the so-called mestizo “we” of Latin America suggests that, even if the U.S. developed a mestizo situation, it would give privilege to the white component culturally.

Hence, a more plausible accommodation to the new racial reality in the U.S. is to (a) create an intermediate racial group to buffer racial conflict; (b) allow some newcomers into the white racial strata; and (c) incorporate most immigrants into the collective black strata.

Second, as part of the tremendous reorganization that transpired in America in the post-civil rights era, a new kinder and gentler white supremacy emerged, which Bonilla-Silva has labeled the “new racism” (Bonilla-Silva and Lewis 1999; Bonilla-Silva 2001).

In post-civil rights America, the maintenance of systemic white privilege is accomplished socially, economically, and politically through institutional, covert, and apparently non-racial practices. Whether in banks or universities, in stores or housing markets, “smiling discrimination” (Brooks 1990) tends to be the order of the day.

This new white supremacy has produced an accompanying ideology that rings Latin America all over: the ideology of color-blind racism. This ideology, as is the norm in Latin America, denies the salience of race, scorns those who talk about race and increasingly proclaims “We are all Americans” (For a detailed analysis of color-blind racism, see Chapter 5 in Bonilla-Silva 2001).

Third, race relations have become globalized (Lusane 1997). The once almost all-white Western nations have now “interiorized the other” (Miles 1993). The new world-systemic need for capital accumulation has led to the incorporation of “dark” foreigners as “guest workers” and even as permanent workers (Schoenbaum and Pond 1996).

Thus, today European nations have racial minorities in their midst who are progressively becoming an underclass (Cohen 1997), have developed an internal “racial structure” (Bonilla-Silva 1997) to maintain white power, and have a curious racial ideology that combines ethnonationalism with a race-blind ideology similar to the colorblind racism of the U.S. today (Bonilla-Silva 2000).

This new global racial reality, we believe, will reinforce the Latin Americanization trend in the United States as versions of color-blind racism will become prevalent in most Western nations.

Fourth, the convergence of the political and ideological actions of the Republican Party, conservative commentators and activists, and the so-called “multi-racial” movement (Rockquemore and Brunsma 2002) has created the space for the radical transformation of the way we gather racial data in America.

One possible outcome of the Census Bureau categorical back-and-forth on racial and ethnic classifications is either the dilution of racial data or the elimination of race as an official category.

Lastly, the attack on affirmative action, which is part of what Stephen Steinberg (1995) has labeled as the “racial retreat,” is the clarion call signaling the end of race-based social policy in the U.S.

The recent Supreme Court Grutter v. Bollinger et al. decision, hailed by some observers as a victory, is at best a weak victory because it allows for a “narrowly tailored” employment of race in college admissions, imposes an artificial 25-year deadline for the program, and encourages a monumental case by case analysis for admitting students that is likely to create chaos and push institutions into making admissions decision based on test scores.

Again, this trend reinforces our Latin Americanization thesis because the elimination of race-based social policy is, among other things, predicated on the notion that race no longer affects minorities’ status. Nevertheless, as in Latin America, we may eliminate race by decree and maintain—or even increase—the level of racial inequality.6

A Look at the Data

Objective Standing of “Whites,” “Honorary Whites,” and “Blacks”

If Latin Americanization is happening in the United States, gaps in income, poverty rates, education, and occupational standing between whites, honorary whites, and the collective black should be developing. The available data suggests this is the case. In terms of income, as Table 9.1 shows, “white” Latinos (Argentines, Chileans, Costa Ricans, and Cubans) are doing much better than dark-skinned Latinos (Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, etc.).7

Table 7.1 also shows that Asians exhibit a pattern similar to that of Latinos. Hence, a severe income gap is emerging between honorary white Asians (Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Chinese) and those Asians we contend belong to the collective black (Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotians). 

Table 9.2 exhibits similar patterns in terms of education. Light-skinned Latinos have between three and four years of educational advantage over dark-skinned Latinos, and elite Asians have up to eight years of educational advantage over most of the Asian groups we classify as belonging to the collective black. 

A more significant fact, given that the American job market is becoming bifurcated (good jobs for the educated and bad jobs for the undereducated), is that the proportion of white Latinos with “some college” is equal or higher than the White population.

Hence, as Table 7.2 shows, 35 percent of Cubans, 37 percent of Costa Ricans, 48 percent of Argentines, and 44 percent of Chileans have attained “some college” or higher levels of education, proportions that compare very favorably with the 39 percent of Whites. In contrast, the bulk of Mexican Americans, Salvadorans, Puerto Ricans, and Guatemalans (74–86%) have just attained 12 or less years of education.

Likewise, the educational attainment of Asians reveals a similar pattern between elite and collective black Asians, that is, elite Asians substantially outperform their brethren (and even Whites) in having at least some college. (see Table 9.3).

It is worth pointing out that the distance in educational attainment between elite and collective black Asians is larger than that between White and a dark-skinned Latinos (e.g., whereas about 50 percent of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans have “some college” or higher level of educational attainment, more than 80 percent of Hmong, Laotians, and Cambodians have attained a “high school diploma” or less).

Substantial group differences are also evident in the occupational status of the groups. The light-skinned Latino groups have achieved parity with Whites in their proportional representation in the top jobs in the economy.

Thus, the share of Argentines, Chileans, and Cubans in the two top occupational categories (“Manager and Professionals” and “Sales and Office”) is 55 percent or higher, which is close to Whites’ 59 percent share (see Table 9.3).

In contrast, the bulk of the dark-skinned Latino groups such as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans,8 and Central Americans are concentrated in the four lower occupational categories. Along the same lines, the Asian groups we classify as honorary whites are even more likely to be well represented in the top occupational categories than those we classify in the collective black.

For instance, whereas 61 percent of Taiwanese and 56 percent of Asian Indians are in the top occupational category, only 15 percent of Hmong, 13 percent of Laotians, 17 percent of Cambodians, and 25 percent of Vietnamese are in that category (see Table 9.4).

Subjective Standing of Racial Strata

Social psychologists have amply demonstrated that it takes very little for groups to form, to develop a common view, and to adjudicate status positions to nominal characteristics (Ridgeway 1991). Thus, it should not be surprising if gaps in income, occupational status, and education among these various strata are contributing to group formation and consciousness.

That is, honorary whites may be classifying themselves as “white” and believing they are different (better) than those in the collective black category. If this is happening, this group should also be in the process of developing white-like racial attitudes befitting of their new social position and differentiating (distancing) themselves from the collective black.

In line with our thesis, we expect Whites to be making distinctions between honorary whites and the collective black, specifically exhibiting a more positive outlook toward honorary whites than toward members of the collective black.

Finally, if Latin Americanization is happening, we speculate that the collective black should exhibit a diffused and contradictory racial consciousness as blacks and Indians do throughout Latin America and the Caribbean (Hanchard 1994). We examine some of these matters in the subsections that follow.

Latino Self-reports

Historically, most Latinos have classified themselves as “white,” but the proportion of Latinos who self-classify as such varies tremendously by group. Hence, as Table 9.5 shows, whereas 60 percent or more of the members of the Latino groups we regard as honorary white self-classify as white, about 50 percent or fewer of the members of the groups we regard as belonging to the collective black do so.

As a case in point, whereas Mexicans, Dominicans, and Central Americans are very likely to report “Other” as their preferred “racial” classification, most Costa Ricans, Cubans, Chileans, and Argentines choose the “white” descriptor. This Census 1990 data mirrors the results of the 1988 Latino National Political Survey (de la Garza, DeSipio, Garcia, and Falcon 1992).   

“Racial” Distinctions Among Asians

Although for political matters, Asians tend to vote panethnically (Espiritu 1992), distinctions between native-born and foreign-born (e.g., American-born Chinese and foreign-born Chinese) and between economically successful and unsuccessful Asians are developing.

In fact, according to various analysts, given the tremendous diversity of experiences among Asian Americans, “all talk of Asian panethnicity should now be abandoned as useless speculation” (San Juan 2000, p. 10).

Leland Saito (1998), in his Race and Politics, points out that many Asians have reacted to the “Asian flack” they are experiencing with the rise in Asian immigration by fleeing the cities of immigration, disidentifying from new Asians, and invoking the image of the “good immigrant.” In some communities, this has led to older, assimilated segments of a community to dissociate from recent migrants.

For example, a Nisei returning to his community after years of overseas military service told his dad the following about the city’s new demography: “Goddamn dad, where the hell did all these Chinese came from? Shit, this isn’t even our town anymore” (Saito 1998, p. 59).

Latinos’ Racial Attitudes

Although researchers have shown that Latinos tend to hold negative views of blacks and positive views of whites (Mindiola et al. 1996; Yoon 1995), the picture is more complex. Immigrant Latinos tend to have more negative views about blacks than native-born Latinos.

For instance, a study of Latinos in Houston, Texas, found that 38 percent of native-born Latinos compared to 47 percent of foreign-born held negative stereotypes of blacks (Mindiola et al. 1996). This may explain why 63 percent of native-born Latinos versus 34 percent of foreign-born report frequent contact with blacks.

But the incorporation of the majority of Latinos as “colonial subjects” (Puerto Ricans), refugees from wars (Central Americans), or illegal migrant workers (Mexicans) has foreshadowed subsequent patterns of integration into the racial order.

In a similar vein, the incorporation of a minority of Latinos as “political refugees” (Cubans, Chileans, and Argentines) or as “neutral” immigrants trying to better their economic situation (Costa Rica, Colombia) has allowed them a more comfortable ride in America’s racial boat (Pedraza 1985).

Therefore, whereas the incorporation of most Latinos in the U.S. has meant becoming “nonwhite,” for a few it has meant becoming almost White. Nevertheless, given that most Latinos experience discrimination in labor and housing markets as well as in schools, they quickly realize their “nonwhite” status.

This leads them to adopt a plurality of identities that signify “otherness” (Flores-Gonzales 1999). Thus, dark-skinned Latinos are even calling themselves “black” or “Afro-Dominicans” or “Afro-Puerto Rican” (Howard 2001). For example, José Ali, a Latino interviewed by Clara Rodríguez (2000) stated, “By inheritance I am Hispanic. However, I identify more with blacks because to white America, if you are my color, you are a nigger. I can’t change my color, and I do not wish to.” When asked, “Why do you see yourself as Black?” he said, “Because when I was jumped by Whites, I was not called ‘spic,’ but I was called a ‘nigger’.”

Asian’s Racial Attitudes

Various studies have documented that Asians tend to hold anti-black and anti-Latino attitudes. For instance, L. Bobo, C. Zubrinsky, J. Johnson, and M. Oliver (1995) found that Chinese residents of Los Angeles expressed negative racial attitudes toward Blacks.

One Chinese resident stated, “Blacks in general seem to be overly lazy,” and another asserted, “Blacks have a definite attitude problem” (Bobo et al. 1995, p. 78). Studies on Korean shopkeepers in various locales have found that over 70 percent of them hold anti-black attitudes (Weitzer 1997; Yoon 1997; Min 1996).

The Collective Black and Whites’ Racial Attitudes

After a protracted conflict over the meaning of Whites’ racial attitudes (Bonilla-Silva and Lewis 1999), survey researchers seem to have reached an agreement: “a hierarchical racial order continues to shape all aspects of American life” (Dawson 2000, p. 344).

Whites express/defend their social position on issues such as affirmative action and reparations, school integration and busing, neighborhood integration, welfare reform, and even the death penalty (see Sears et al. 2000; Tuch and Martin 1997; Bonilla-Silva 2001).

Regarding how Whites think about Latinos and Asians, not many researchers have separated the groups that comprise “Latinos” and “Asians” to assess if Whites are making distinctions. However, the available evidence suggests Whites regard Asians highly and are significantly less likely to hold Latinos in high regard (Bobo and Johnson 2000).

Thus, when judged on a host of racial stereotypes, whites rate themselves and Asians almost identically (favorable stereotype rating) and rate negatively (at an almost equal level) both Blacks and Latinos. Bobo and Johnson (2000) also show that Latinos tend to rate Blacks negatively and that Blacks tend to do the same regarding Latinos.

Social Interaction Among Members of the Three Racial Strata

If Latin Americanization is happening, one would expect more social (e.g., friendship, associations as neighbors, etc.) and intimate (e.g., marriage) contact between Whites and honorary whites than between Whites and members of the collective black. A cursory analysis of extant data suggests this is in fact the case.

Interracial Marriage

Although most marriages in America are still intra-racial, the rates vary substantially by group. Whereas 93% of whites and blacks marry within-group, 70% of Latinos and Asians do so and only 33% Native Americans marry Native Americans (Moran 2001, p. 103).

More significantly, when one disentangles the generic terms “Asians” and “Latinos,” the data fits even more closely the Latin Americanization thesis. For example, among Latinos, Cuban, Mexican, Central American, and South Americans have higher rates of outmarriage than Puerto Ricans and Dominicans (Gilbertson et al. 1996).

Although interpreting the Asian American outmarriage patterns is very complex (groups such as Filipinos and Vietnamese have higher than expected rates in part due to the Vietnam War and the military bases in the Philippines), it is worthy to point out that the highest rate belongs to Japanese Americans and Chinese (Kitano and Daniels 1995), and the lowest to Southeast Asians.

Furthermore, racial assimilation through marriage (“whitening”) is significantly more likely for the children of Asian-white and Latino-white unions than for those of black-white unions, a fact that bolsters our Latin Americanization thesis. Hence, whereas only 22% of the children of Black fathers and White mothers are classified as White, the children of similar unions among Asians are twice as likely to be classified as white (Waters 1999).

For Latinos, the data fits even closer our thesis, as Latinos of Cuban, Mexican, and South American origin have high rates of exogamy compared to Puerto Ricans and Dominicans (Gilbertson et al. 1996). We concur with Moran’s (2001) speculation that this may reflect the fact that, because Puerto Ricans and Dominicans have far more dark-skinned members, they have restricted chances for outmarriage to whites in a highly racialized marriage market.

Residential Segregation Among Racial Strata

An imperfect measure of interracial interaction is the level of neighborhood “integration.”9 Nevertheless, the various indices devised by demographers to assess the level of residential segregation, allow us to gauge in broad strokes the level on interracial contact in various cities. In this section, we focus on the segregation of Latinos and Asians as the high segregation experienced by blacks is well-known and studied (Massey and Denton 1993; Yinger 1995).

Researchers have shown that Latinos are less segregated from and are more exposed to whites than blacks (Charles 2003). Yet, they have also \documented that dark-skinned Latinos experience black-like rates of residential segregation from whites.

J. R. Logan (2001) reports indices of dissimilarity10 and exposure11 for the Hispanic-white dyad in various SMAs for 2000. In SMAs with high concentration of Latinos, such as New York, Long Beach, Fresno, Hartford, or San Antonio, the dissimilarity index is relatively high and the exposure index is very low.

Although the latter index is impacted by the relative size of the populations while the former is not, it is worth pointing out that when Latinos have a significant presence in an area (10–40%), the level of exposure does not seem to fit (that is, it is lower than expected).

For example, in Fresno, Long Beach, and San Antonio, with Latino populations ranging from forty-four to forty-seven percent, one would expect high levels of exposure to whites. Yet, the index of Hispanic-white exposure Logan reported in these cities was 28, 17, and 22 respectively.

In predominantly Latino areas (e.g., Laredo, El Paso, and Brownsville, cities which are 80% or more Latino) or in white dominated areas (e.g., Altoona, Missoula, and Madison, cities which are less than 3.5% Latino), the indices seemed to fit the expected pattern (Logan 2001).

Thus, in cities with few whites, the index of dissimilarity is relatively low and the exposure index is very low—ranges from about fourteen percent in El Paso to five percent in Laredo. Conversely, in cities that are dominated by whites, the index of dissimilarity is also low but the index of exposure is extremely high.

But these indices may misrepresent race relations on the ground in these cities. First, the latter cities are cities that have not yet reached the “racial tipping point” for white flight.12 Second, in these cities the experiences for white- and dark-skinned Latinos may be totally different.

In Madison, Wisconsin, where the first author lived for nine years, white Latinos have a vastly different racial existence than dark-skinned ones. Lastly, in predominantly Latino cities such as Miami, new forms of residential segregation are emerging (e.g., segregation by streets, segregation by not associating with Latinos even if living in “mixed” neighborhoods, and so forth), which are not captured by any of these indices.

Of all minority groups, Asian Americans are the least segregated. However, they have experienced an increase in residential segregation in recent years (Frey and Farley 1996). C. Z. Charles (2003) found that from 1980 to 2000, the index of dissimilarity for Asians had increased 3 points (from 37 to 40) while the exposure to whites had declined 16 points (from 88 to 62).

Part of the increase in segregation (and the concomitant decrease in exposure) may be the result of the arrival of newer immigrants from Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) over the last two decades (Frey and Farley 1996).

Logan (2001) also reports the dissimilarity and exposure indices for the Asian-white dyad in selected areas of the United States for 2000. The observed patterns fit our thesis. Honolulu, the only Asian-majority area in the United States, has a moderate dissimilarity index of 40.5 and a low exposure index of 15.6 (however, Whites are only 20% of the population).

San Francisco, with a relatively large Asian population (about 25%), has a dissimilarity index of 35.2, which is close to the Latino index of 47.9, but less than the 62.5 index for Blacks.13 These lower dissimilarity indexes and higher exposure indexes vis-à-vis Latinos and particularly Blacks, tend to fit our prediction of the bulk of Asians belonging to the honorary white category.


We have presented a broad and bold thesis about the future of racial stratification in the United States.14 However, at this early stage of the analysis and given the serious limitations of the data on “Latinos” and “Asians” (most of the data is not parceled out by sub-groups and hardly anything is separated by skin tone), it is hard to make a conclusive case.

It is plausible that factors such as nativity or other socioeconomic characteristics explain some of the patterns we documented.15 Nevertheless, almost all the objective, subjective, and social interaction indicators we reviewed suggest a trend toward Latin Americanization.

The objective data clearly show substantive gaps between the groups we labeled “white,” “honorary whites,” and the “collective black,” and a variety of subjective indicators signal the emergence of internal stratification among racial minorities.

Finally, the objective and subjective indicators have an interactional correlate. Data on interracial marriage and residential segregation shows that Whites are significantly more likely to live near honorary whites and intermarry with them than members of the collective black. If our predictions are right, what will the consequences of Latin Americanization be for race relations in the United States?

First, racial politics will change dramatically. The “us” versus “them” racial dynamic will lessen as “honorary whites” grow in size and social importance. They are likely to buffer racial conflict—or derail it—as intermediate groups do in many Latin American countries.

Second, the ideology of colorblind racism will become even more salient among whites and honorary whites and will also impact members of the collective black. Colorblind racism (Bonilla-Silva 2001), an ideology similar to that prevalent in Latin American societies, will help glue the new social system and further buffer racial conflict.

Third, if the state decides to stop gathering racial statistics, the struggle to document the impact of race in a variety of social venues will become monumental. More significantly, because state actions always impact civil society, if the state decides to erase race from above, the social recognition of “races” in the polity may become harder.

We may develop a Latin American-like “disgust” for even mentioning anything that is race-related. Nevertheless, the deep history of black-white divisions in the United States has been such that the centrality of the Black identity will not dissipate. The research on even the “black elite” shows that they exhibit racial attitudes in line with their racial group (Dawson 1994).

That identity, as we argued in this chapter, may be taken up by dark-skinned Latinos, as it is being rapidly taken up by most West Indians. For example, Al, a 53year-old Jamaican engineer interviewed by Milton Vickerman (1999), stated:

I have nothing against Haitians; I have nothing against black Americans… If you’re a nigger, you’re a nigger, regardless of whether you are from Timbuktu…There isn’t the unity that one would like to see…Blacks have to appreciate Blacks, no matter where they are from. Just look at it the way I look at it: That you’re the same.

However, even among Blacks, we predict some important changes. Their racial consciousness will become more diffused. For example, Blacks will be more likely to accept many stereotypes about themselves (e.g., “We are more lazy than Whites”) and have a “blunted oppositional consciousness” (see Chapter 6 in Bonilla-Silva 2001).

Furthermore, the external pressure of “multiracials” in white contexts (Rockquemore and Brusma 2002) and the internal pressure of “ethnic” blacks may change the notion of “blackness” and even the position of some “blacks” in the system. Colorism may become an even more important factor as a way of making social distinctions among “blacks” (Keith and Herring 1991).

Finally, the new racial stratification system will be more effective in maintaining “white supremacy” (Mills 1997). Whites will still be at the top of the social structure, but will face fewer race-based challenges. The standing and status of “honorary whites” will be dependent upon Whites’ wishes and practices. “Honorary” means that they will remain secondary, will still face discrimination, and will not receive equal treatment in society.

Although some analysts and commentators may welcome Latin Americanization as a positive trend in American race relations, those at the bottom of the racial hierarchy will discover that behind the statement “We are all Americans” hides a deeper, hegemonic way of maintaining White supremacy.

As a Latin America-like society,16 the United States will become a society with more, rather than less, racial inequality, but with a reduced forum for racial contestation. The apparent blessing of “not seeing race” will become a curse for those struggling for racial justice in years to come. We may become “All Americans,” as commercials in recent times suggest, but, paraphrasing George Orwell, “some will be more American than others.”


Few Latin Americans object to the fact that most politicians in their societies are “white” (by Latin American standards). Yet, it is interesting to point out that Latin American elites always object to the few “minority” politicians on racial grounds. Two recent cases are the racist opposition in the Dominican Republic to the election of black candidate José Peña Gómez (Howard 2001) and the opposition to mulatto President Hugo Cesar Chavez in Venezuela by the business elite.

When pushed to choose a racial descriptor, many Latin Americans self-describe as White or highlight their white heritage no matter how remote or minimal it might be. For example, according to a recent study in a community in Brazil, a third of the Afro-Brazilians there were registered as Whites and a large proportion of the remainder were registered as pardos (Twine 1998, p. 114). For a similar discussion on Puerto Ricans, see Arlene Torres (1998).

To be clear, our contention is not that the black-white dynamic ordained race relations throughout the United States. Instead, our argument is that at the national macro level, race relations have been organized in the United States along a white-nonwhite divide. This large divide, depending on contexts, included various racial groups (Whites, Blacks, and Indians or Whites, Mexicans, Indians, and Blacks or other iterations), but under the white-nonwhite racial order, “whites” were often treated as superior and “nonwhites” as inferiors.

We are adapting Antonio Negri’s idea of the “collective worker” to the situation of all those at the bottom of the racial stratification system. See 1984, Marx beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse, edited by Jim Fleming. South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey.

Rockquemore and Arend (2002) have predicted, based on data from a mixed-race student sample (one Black and one White parent), that most mixed-race people will be honorary whites, a significant component will belong to the collective black, and a few will move all the way into the White strata.

We acknowledge that the United States has never had a monolithic racial order. Historically, areas that had “Latin American-like” racial situations, like South Carolina, Los Angeles, and other parts of the west coast, have more pluralistic racial orders. However, varieties of racial orders and exceptions to the national trend do not mean they replace the larger macro dynamics. We claim that the more plural racial orders in the U.S., which are due to five or six different demographic and political elements, are not becoming part of the national macro level trend.

The apparent exceptions in Table 1 (Bolivians and Panamanians) are examples of self-selection among these immigrant groups. For example, four of the largest ten concentrations of Bolivians in the U.S. are in Virginia, a state with just 7.2 percent Latinos (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2005). Whereas the Bolivian Census of 2001 reports that 71 percent of the Bolivians self-identify as Indian, less than 20 percent have more than a high school diploma, and 58.6 percent live below the poverty line, 66 percent of Bolivians in the United States self-identify as white, 64 percent have 12 or more years of education, and have a per capita income comparable to that of whites (Censo Nacional de Población y Vivienda 2002). Thus, this seems like a case of self-selection because Bolivians in the United States do not represent Bolivians in Bolivia.

The concentration of Puerto Ricans in the lower occupational categories is slightly below 50 percent. However, when one subdivides the category “Sales and Office,” where 20.46 percent of Puerto-Ricans are located, one finds that Puerto-Ricans are more likely to be represented in the low-paying jobs.

For some of the limitations of this index, see Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Gianpaolo Baiocchi (2001), “Anything but Racism: How Sociologists Limit the Significance of Racism,” Race and Society, 4, 117–131.

10 The dissimilarity index expresses the percentage of a minority population that would have to move to result in a perfectly even distribution of the population across census tracts. This index runs from 0 (no segregation) to 100 (total segregation) and it is symmetrical (not affected by population size).

11 The exposure index measures the degree of potential contact between two populations (majority and minority) and expresses the probability of a member of a minority group meeting a member of the majority group. Like the dissimilarity index, it runs from 0 to 100, but, unlike it, it is asymmetrical (it is affected by population size).

12 Researchers on residential segregation have documented that when neighborhoods reach about 7 percent blacks, a process of “white flight” begins. However, the real big “white flight” accelerates when the proportion black reaches 20 percent (Gladwell 2000).

13 Data on Latinos and blacks from website of Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research.

14 We are not alone in making this kind of prediction. Arthur K. Spears (1999), Suzanne Oboler (2000), Gary Okihiro (1994), Mari Matsuda (1996) have made similar claims.

15 A powerful alternative explanation to many of our preliminary findings is that the groups we label “honorary whites” come with high levels of human capital before they achieve honorary white status in the United States, that is, they fit this intermediate position not because of their color or race but rather because of their class background. Although this is a independent effect in this process (Kasinitz et al. 2001). It is also important to point out that, even when some of these groups may do “well” objectively, comparison of their returns to their characteristics shows how little they get for what they bring to the fore (Butcher 1994). And, as Waters and Eschbach (1995: 442) stated in a review of the literature on immigration, “the evidence indicates that direct discrimination is still an important factor for all minority subgroups except very highly educated Asians.”

16 Latin America-like does not mean exactly like Latin America. The 400-year history of the American “racial formation” (Omi and Winant 1994) has stained the racial stratification order forever. Thus, we expect some important differences in this new American racial stratification system compared to that typical of Latin American societies. First, “shade discrimination” (Kinsbrunner 1996) will not work perfectly. Hence, for example, although Asian Indians are dark-skinned, they still will be higher in the stratification system than, for example, Mexican American mestizos. Second, Arabs, Asian Indians, and other non-Christian groups will not be allowed complete upward mobility. Third, because of the 300 years of dramatic racialization and group formation, most members of the non-white groups will maintain “ethnic” (Puerto Ricans) or racial claims (e.g., blacks) and demand group-based rights.