Members of the Press here in Colorado are just wetting their pants with excitement. The census numbers are in and it turns out that many Western states have seen a sizable increase in the Hispanic population over the last decade. For three days the print media and the airwaves were full of stories about the “great challenge” lying ahead.
All the talk of new ethnicity bordered on the ludicrous with people wondering aloud about how to serve the Hispanic population in the future. Who are these people? What do they want? How will they shape the future? Apparently these are all very difficult and pressing questions since the assumption is that all these people come from some bizarre and exotic land where grass eats cows and ponies ride men. Or something like that.
The real ignorance of the journalists comes through when they try to grapple with what exactly to call the different ethnic groups in the pretty little pie charts that they have put together. It is clear that they are still having some problems working out the kinks. To their credit, it seems that many of them have finally figured out that Hispanic is not synonymous with “non-white.” To fix the problem, they’ve taken to labeling all non-Hispanic whites (lets call them NHW’s) as Anglos. They seem to really like the new Anglo label, but they can’t manage to stick to it. Take for example, one of last week’s local articles hailing the alleged new diversity: in one sentence they call the NHW’s Anglos, but in the next sentence revert back to the good ol’ “white” moniker. I suspect what they are trying to do is to get away with just labeling all NHW’s as Anglos so that they don’t have to bother with noticing the diversity present within the NHW population itself. Forget all that stuff about Scandinavians, Celts, Slavs, Semites, Latins, Greeks, and Spaniards. To read the papers these days, one would think that all NHW’s are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who all practice identical religions, have identical economic situations, and all perfectly understand each other’s backgrounds and family customs. The Irish, for example, are now all honorary Anglos. I guess there are not any hard feelings about the centuries of Irish oppression by Anglos. Thanks to modern journalism, they are now all one and the same.
Grouping all non-Hispanic whites together is just as foolish as putting all Hispanics into a single group. The impetus behind that, of course, is the belief that there is some formula out there that public administrators will be able to use to create a government solution to all population changes. They want a program that will figure out the needs of all Hispanics and direct the government to efficiently deliver everything such people could possibly desire. To recognize the differences within “official” groups only serves to complicate matters for the government planners. The fact that, like their NHW neighbors, rural Hispanics have different values and needs than urban Hispanics do, is but a trifle. That foreign born have very different skills than third generation Hispanics is but a minor consideration. In Washington and at the state capitals, politics demands a single face on the problem and a single solution. If the truly complicated nature of the internal diversity were recognized, the extremely limited power of government to manage such things would become evident. As long as people are thrown together into a few simple groups, government can pretend to be efficient. In real life, though, government is simply not equipped to deal with real diversity. Central planning schemes can only recognize so many groups of aggregates before the system can’t even pretend to work anymore. When it comes down to it, only the market will be able to respond to the needs and desires of the new population groups and new ethnicities. While journalists and government officials are rushing to embrace the “new diversity”, what they must do is ignore the real diversity in order to avoid the numerous traps of economic planning that governments must ultimately fall into when dealing with a truly diverse population that cannot be fully described by checking boxes on a census form.
March 26, 2001
Ryan McMaken lives in Denver, Colorado. He edits the Western Mercury.