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What’s the Deal With ‘Latinx’?

November 5, 2019, 8:48 PM UTC

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Mario Carrasco, the co-founder and principal of ThinkNow Research, says it is time to dial back enthusiasm for the gender-neutral version of Latino. “It is unclear whether ‘Latinx’ is just a fad or an ethnic label that is here to stay,” he says in a Medium post.

Interest in the term spiked after a few of the Democratic candidates used it, says Carrasco, so ThinkNow launched a nationwide poll with a 508-person sample of Latinx/Latino/Hispanic people that they say is demographically representative of the census. (No non-binary people appear to have been surveyed.) 

The term “Latinx” ranked dead last:

“Despite its usage by academics and cultural influencers, 98% of Latinos prefer other terms to describe their ethnicity. Only 2% of our respondents said the label accurately describes them, making it the least popular ethnic label among Latinos.”

The most preferred terms were Hispanic and Latino/a. And while this survey doesn’t fully reflect it, a significant number of people have always preferred to be individually identified by their country of origin, rather than a pan-ethnic catchall.  

Hispanic identity is complex. There’s race to consider, generational preferences, and people’s personal history. What if their grandmother is from Guatemala and their grandfather is from Mexico? What if they’re also Indigenous? And identification often morphs between generations—the farther away a person is from their family’s country of origin, the less likely they are to identify as Hispanic at all. 

As a result, terms used to describe Latin American identity in the U.S. have always evolved, often prompted by perceived government overreach, racism, and political and social movements. 

“Latino” was initially a rejection of the word “Hispanic,” which was seen as a term imposed by the U.S. government in the 1970 census. “‘Latinx’ is an even further evolution that was meant to be inclusive of people who are queer or lesbian or gay or transgender,” George Cadava, Director of the Latina and Latino Studies program at Northwestern University told USA Today. “In some cases, it was a rejection of binary gender politics.”

But, he says, some people feel the term erases the work that Latin American feminists did in the 1970s to add the “Latina” identity into the mainstream. 

In the spirit of complexity, the editors at Latino Rebels are taking issue not only with the poll, but with the conclusion it draws. 

They say that some people are unfairly using the poll as evidence that inclusion-minded people are out of touch.

“Now, it seems everyone—especially people in the right-wing media and conservative non-Latino New York Times columnists—are taking this new data (a rare poll conducted by a marketing agency in the interest of making money for clients) as the gospel truth that American progressives are so out of touch with the U.S. Latino community,” they write in this opinion piece.

Instead, they recommend, embrace the identity journey. 

“There is some myth out there that the use of Latinx is a massive imposition coming from outside activist forces descending on a unsuspecting populace. It’s quite the opposite,” they say. “The term is supposed to challenge your conventional thinking, raising the issues of inclusion and not exclusion. It is supposed to question how messy self-identification within the U.S. Latino community really is.”

It’s all fascinating stuff but doesn’t solve the immediate problem for anyone—from a political candidate to a corporate communications department—who wants to identify a group of people without insulting them.

For now, it looks like everyone is on the journey together.

“We have always told any political campaign or company interested that they should know their audience: the use of ‘Latinx’ skews young and urban and college-educated and politically engaged. Those aren’t traits you should just dismiss, but at the same time, understand the complexities. Because trust us, if you say ‘Hispanic’ these days, you are stuck in 1982.”

Ellen McGirt


On Point

CVS refuses to recognize a customer’s Puerto Rican driver’s license as valid identification The customer, a Purdue University engineering student, was denied the purchase of cold medicine after employees said his license wasn’t valid U.S.-based identification, then went on to quiz him about his immigration status. Guzman Payano’s mother told the story in a Facebook post that went viral. "What caused this employee to ask him for his visa?" Arlene Payano Burgos wrote from the family’s home in Cayey, Puerto Rico. "Was it his accent? Was it his skin color? Was it the Puerto Rican flag on the license? Whatever triggered her to discriminate against my son embodies exactly what is wrong in the United States of America today." CVS apologized.
USA Today

A former Ogilvy exec aims to diversify the advertising industry Love Malone, a former Ogilvy global director, has had it with people saying there are no qualified non-white talent in advertising. "Qualified to do a commercial?" she said at a recent industry event. "I literally worked with people who were curing cancer. We’re talking about a commercial for chocolate." Her new venture, The Gradient Group, is a platform that will match diverse talent with creative, media, and entertainment firms, a one-stop-shop for anyone who has struggled to create a diversified pipeline of their own. "If you tell people your target market is 30% Latino, and you don’t have anyone on the team that’s Latino, how are you getting the best work?" she asked. The company launches in January—BBDO, Ogilvy, and Edelman have signed up on the agency side, along with mega-brands like Estee Lauder.

Teacher suspended for wearing blackface and rapping on Halloween An unnamed Milpitas, Calif., high school has been suspended after video of him rapping pro-science lyrics in blackface was posted to social media. "Opportunities limitless, possibilities senseless, what will you do? Millions of people, not enough to eat, what will we do? With A.I., Microsoft technology, the future is up to you, you can do it. With A.I. The future will blow your mind," the teacher says in the video. But evidently, it’s the past that will continue to trip you up.

Workforce diversity an unanswered question among environmental nonprofits According to a new report, only 3.7% of environmental nonprofits shared data about the gender of their staff or senior leaders, only 2.7% disclose data on race, and only 0.3% disclosed information about the LGBTQ members of their staff. Dorceta Taylor of the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability led the study, and says transparency is crucial to diversify the environmental movement. At some point, they just won’t be able to find people to join their cause. "If environmental organizations do not know how to recruit, retain, and incorporate people of color within their own work forces, they are going to be at a competitive disadvantage."
Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscription required)

On Background

The high cost of bullying bosses Here’s a fun idea! If you haven’t met the CEO of your company but would like to, consider forwarding this insightful piece from last fall’s McKinsey Quarterly. Written by Robert Sutton, prolific researcher of abuse and bullying in the workplace and author of the book The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt, it puts the responsibility for ending abuse back where it belongs, on the abuser. But there isn't always a simple cause or solution. The pressure of an always-on global business means that empathy goes out the window in email, text, and the like. "Meantime, some rising executives believe that treating people badly is a path to personal success—a conclusion bolstered by journalists and a few academics, who celebrate demeaning and disrespectful leaders." Jerk behavior, along with change, starts at the top.
McKinsey Quarterly

Another way to think about A.D.H.D. The diagnosis has become a thorny rite of passage for many parents eager to have their kids survive an education system that prizes order over the gentle chaos of some learning styles. But for some, the behaviors (yes, they exist on a spectrum, but still) may actually be an adaptive advantage in a rapidly changing world. Something to think about before you reach for the meds. "To thrive in this frenetic world, certain cognitive tendencies are useful: To embrace novelty, to absorb a wide variety of information, to generate new ideas," says physicist Leonard Mlodinow in this opinion piece. Now, if only we could stop punishing black kids for the same behavior we seek to treasure in white ones, right?
New York Times

Let’s talk about Irish slaves One of the most persistent racist myths cited by white supremacists involves Irish slavery, the intentional conflation of Irish indentured servitude with race-based, hereditary chattel slavery in the U.S. Its value as a meme and tactic can be summed up quickly: "The Irish got over it, what’s your problem, black people?" Liam Hogan, an Irish librarian, historian, and a truly heroic debunker of racist propaganda has collected years of his work de-mystifying the Irish slave meme, and even includes a geo-tagged map of Facebook users who have shared "Irish as slaves" misinformation. There are 39 articles, hundreds of citations, and a full exploration of the meme on social media and neo-Confederate sites. Even if you don’t read it all, just click through to savor this man’s dedication. Mo sheacht mbeannacht ort, Mr. Hogan. 


Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.


"The Latina in me is an ember that blazes forever."

—Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a speech at Hofstra University's Maurice A. Deane School of Law (1996)


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