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The new meaning of “White” New Yorker

The very meaning of “White” in New York City is changing.

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Many of Bushwick Hispanics identify racially as “White.” This self-proclaimed identity can mean many different things: a claim to inclusion or aspiration; an argument against discrimination; or an Old Country identity. But one thing is certain, the “Browns” are telegraphing that the very meaning of “White” in New York City is changing.



Whites are not particularly decreasing in numbers in New York City, but they are chameleon –like changing their identity. They are becoming Brown, Black, and Yellow, the founding palette of Europeans meeting the Moor and the Turks.

This is not the first time that the meaning of “White” has changed. The color of White America has never been a straight line drawn between colors and peoples. Other shades have bled into the meaning of White in America.

Originally, the Irish immigrants were derided as “Blacks” (and "papists") then they became Whites. The jeering “old stock Whites” then called out the Italians and Jews as dark stains on the Republic. Then, the outsiders made “White” something that included them. The pristine fundamentalist Whites desperately tried to find pureness by decreeing that just one drop of Black blood meant that you were not White. All of the Blacks who tried to avoid racial oppression by passing as Whites were ridiculed as impostures. White masters outlawed Black churches least their slaves get uppity. And that White-Black color line was held as an immutable category of the human mind and God's creation and was expanded to exclude Browns, Yellows, and Others of uncertain Whiteness.

Now, who lives by the one drop rule? Or accepts some sick magnanimous gesture “that’s sure White of you”? Such a paternalistic smear was a self-deception that White is an immutable moral value, like a White Jesus. Bushwick Hispanics put a lie to such disillusions. More than any American organization, the Pentecostal churches define the new spiritual, racial realities. These churches are quick to promote co-religionists of other races into positions of leadership. Maybe, this is partly because Hispanic Pentecostal Christians are used to thinking of themselves in multi-colored terms.

In Bushwick, Hispanics make up the majority of the Whites and a size-able number of Blacks and Asians. Brown is the true prophecy of the future of the races. Can the Whites admit that “White” is bound to change in ways that the Bushwick Hispanics forecast? The result of the meeting of the Conquistador and the Indian means that there is no straight, sustainable “line separating black from white,” as Richard Rodriguez wrote in his magnificent Brown. The Last Discovery of America. The old idea of White is obsolescent. Are the "Old Whites" making way for redefinition of White by the Browns, the Yellows, and the Blacks? As Whites assimilate into a new type of White identity, the cultural stew of being White will include Latin, Black, and Asian flavors without losing older recipes of being White.

Likewise – and supremely important—Hispanic cultures have their own magnificent styles that are definitive of Bushwick culture and religion.


Who are the Whites in this photo?
The Census Bureau would classify as non-White Hispanics Senator Ted Cruz and the two children that he had with his White wife Heidi Nelson Cruz.
Cruz himself is the son of a mother of Irish and Italian extraction and a father born in Cuba. In the 19th Century, he and his children might have been classified as “Blacks.” Today, the four individuals in this photo might be best classified as Hispanic Whites or "Hispanic" and "White." What do you think? (Example borrowed from Richard Alba of CUNY.)

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