That politics undergirds censuses is a truism. At least since Benedict Anderson wrote Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism in 1983[i] scholars have accepted that censuses are both political and scientific enterprises. Census racial classifications are a case in point because they have historically become instituted through political efforts. For example, “Mulatto” became a census classification in 1850 after politicians, alarmed by racial miscegenation, demanded that the Census Bureau enumerate those of black/white parentage.[ii] More recent ethno-racial categories have arisen as a result of the political efforts championed by community stakeholders. To wit, the Hispanic/Latino classification emerged as Mexican, Puerto Rican, and other community leaders pressured the Census Bureau for official recognition during the 1970s.[iii] And if a Middle Eastern/North African category is added to the next census in 2020, as is predicted, it will be because activists, academics, and others have lobbied over two decades for its inclusion. In effect, rather than reflecting an existing reality, all census racial categories emerge or are negotiated, in such a political fashion—none exists in nature.
Despite the political origins of our official racial and ethnic categories, lay and academic prognostications about the country’s demographic future rarely take politics seriously.
Mora, Cristina G. and Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz. 2017. “Latinos, Race, and the American Future: A Response to Richard Alba’s ‘The Likely Persistence of a White Majority’.” New Labor Forum 26: 40–46.