Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

LATINA/O WHITENING?: Which Latina/os Self-Classify as White and Report Being Perceived as White by Other Americans?

  • Nicholas Vargas (a1)

Some scholars argue that Latina/os in the United States may soon become White, much like the supposed Whitening of Eastern European immigrant groups in the early twentieth century. High rates of White racial identification on surveys among Latina/os is one explanation provided for this assertion. However, personal identification is but one element of racial boundary maintenance. It is when personal identification is externally validated that it is most closely associated with group-based experiences. This article maps components of the White-Latino racial boundary that may be permeable to White expansion by examining conditions under which Latina/os self-identify as White and report that they are externally classified as White by other Americans. Employing novel data from the 2006 Portraits of American Life Study, this article shows that nearly 40% of Latina/os sometimes self-identify as White, yet a much smaller proportion—only 6%—report being externally classified as White by others. Moreover, logistic regression analyses suggest that for those with light phenotypical features and high levels of socioeconomic status, the odds of reported external Whitening are increased. Interestingly, phenotypically light Latina/os with low-socioeconomic-status levels have low probabilities of reporting external classification as White when compared to their phenotypically light and high-socioeconomic-status counterparts, suggesting that the combination of both skin color and class may be central to the White-Latino racial boundary. Results also indicate that many who report external Whitening do not prefer to self-identify as White. In sum, multidimensional measures of racial classification indicate that only a very small minority of Latina/os may be “becoming White” in ways that some previous researchers have predicted.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Professor Nicholas Vargas, The University of Texas at Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road GR31, Richardson, TX 75080. E-mail:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2004). From Bi-Racial to Tri-Racial: Towards a New System of Racial Stratification in the USA. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 27(6): 931950.

Mary E. Campbell , and Lisa Troyer (2007). The Implications of Racial Misclassification by Observers. American Sociological Review, 72(5): 750765.

Mary E. Campbell , and Lisa Troyer (2011). Further Data on Misclassification: A Reply to Cheng and Powell. American Sociological Review, 76(2): 356364.

William A. Darity , Jason Dietrich , and Darrick Hamilton (2001). Bleach in the Rainbow: Latin Ethnicity and Preference for Whiteness. Transforming Anthropology, 13(2): 103109.

Michael Emerson , David Sikkink , and Adele James (2010). The Panel Study of American Religion and Ethnicity: Background, Methods, and Selected Results. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 49(1): 162171.

Cynthia Feliciano (2001). Assimilation or Enduring Racial Boundaries?: Generational Differences in Intermarriage among Asians and Latinos in the United States. Race and Society, 4(1): 2745.

Reanne Frank , Ilana Redstone Akresh , and Bo Lu (2010). Latino Immigrants and the U.S. Racial Order: How and Where Do They Fit In? American Sociological Review, 75(3): 378401.

Herbert J Gans . (1979). Symbolic Ethnicity: The Future of Ethnic Groups and Cultures in America. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2(1): 120.

Tanya Golash-Boza (2010). Does Whitening Happen?: Distinguishing between Race and Color Labels in an African-Descended Community in Peru. Social Problems, 57(1): 138156.

Tanya Golash-Boza , and William Darity (2008). Latino Racial Choices: The Effects of Skin Colour and Discrimination on Latinos’ and Latinas’ Racial Self-Identifications. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31(5): 899934.

Steven Hitlin , J. Scott Brown , and Glen H. Elder Jr. (2007). Measuring Latinos: Racial vs. Ethnic Classification and Self-Understandings. Social Forces, 86(2): 587611.

Margaret Hunter (2007). The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality. Sociology Compass, 1(1): 237254.

Richard Jenkins (1994). Rethinking Ethnicity: Identity, Categorization, and Power. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 17(2): 197223.

Tomàs Jiménez (2008). Mexican Immigrant Replenishment and the Continuing Significance of Ethnicity and Race. American Journal of Sociology, 113(6): 15271567.

Verna Keith , and Cedric Herring (1991). Skin Tone and Stratification in the Black Community. American Journal of Sociology, 97(3): 760778.

Jennifer Lee , and Frank D. Bean (2004). America’s Changing Color Lines: Immigration, Race/Ethnicity, and Multiracial Identification. Annual Review of Sociology, 30: 221242.

Jennifer Lee , and Frank D. Bean (2007). Reinventing the Color Line: Immigration and America’s New Racial/Ethnic Divide. Social Forces, 86(2): 561586.

Daniel T Lichter . (2013). Integration or Fragmentation?: Racial Diversity and the American Future. Demography, 50(2): 359391.

Daniel T. Lichter , Julie H. Carmalt , and Zhenchao Qian (2011). Immigration and Intermarriage among Hispanics: Crossing Racial and Generational Boundaries. Sociological Forum, 26(2): 241264.

Mara Loveman , and Jeronimo O. Muniz ( 2007). How Puerto Rico Became White: Boundary Dynamics and Intercensus Racial Reclassification. American Sociological Review, 72(6): 915939.

Helen B Marrow . (2009). New Immigrant Destinations and the American Colour Line. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 32(6): 10371057.

Edward Murguia , and Rogelio Saenz (2002). An Analysis of Latin Americanization of Race in the United States: A Reconnaissance of Color Stratification among Mexicans. Race and Society, 5: 85101.

Zhenchao Qian , and Daniel T. Lichter (2007). Social Boundaries and Marital Assimilation: Interpreting Trends in Racial and Ethnic Intermarriage. American Sociological Review, 72(1): 6894.

Salvatore J. Restifo , Vincent J. Roscigno , and Zhenchao Qian (2013). Segmented Assimilation, Split Labor Markets, and Racial/Ethnic Inequality: The Case of Early-Twentieth-Century New York. American Sociological Review, 78(5): 897924.

Aliya Saperstein , and Andrew M. Penner (2010). The Race of a Criminal Record: How Incarceration Colors Racial Perceptions. Social Problems, 57(1): 92113.

Aliya Saperstein , and Andrew M. Penner (2012). Racial Fluidity and Inequality in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 118: 676727.

Luisa F Schwartzman . (2007). Does Money Whiten?: Intergenerational Changes in Racial Classification in Brazil. American Sociological Review, 72(6): 940963.

Jason Torkelson , and Douglas Hartmann (2010). White Ethnicity in Twenty-First-Century America: Findings from a New National Survey. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 33(8): 13101331.

Jessica M Vasquez . (2010). Blurred Borders for Some but Not “Others”: Racialization, “Flexible Ethnicity,” Gender, and Third-Generation Mexican American Identity. Sociological Perspectives, 53(1): 4571.

Jessica M Vasquez . (2014). The Whitening Hypothesis Challenged: Biculturalism in Latino and Non-Hispanic White Intermarriage. Sociological Forum, 29(2): 386407.

Paul T Von Hippel . (2007). Regression with Missing Y’s: An Improved Strategy for Analyzing Multiply Imputed Data. Sociological Methodology, 37(1): 83117.

Alisse Waterston (2006). Are Latinos Becoming “White” Folk? And What That Still Says about Race in America. Transforming Anthropology, 14(2): 133150.

Andreas Wimmer (2008). The Making and Unmaking of Ethnic Boundaries: A Multilevel Process Theory. American Journal of Sociology, 113(4): 9701022.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
  • URL: /core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 6
Total number of PDF views: 99 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 419 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.