When did you become white?

The news that the birth of "white" babies has fallen below 50 percent has created quite a media stir. Watching the Newshour last night I kept wondering if Ray Suarez, he of Puerto Rican descent, thought he was white or not white? A completely muddled discussion went on about how the U.S. was going to respond to this new factoid.A little study of American immigrant history demonstrates that many of our immigrant forebears only became white as time passed: Irish, Italians, Jews, and Poles were not white when they landed on these shores. In fact, the Irish were often regarded as sub-human and portrayed with simian features (See cartoons by Thomas Nast).Juan Cole gives a brief history of being and becoming white. Read it Ray!UPDATE: Apologies: Margaret Warner did that segment according to the video. Sure looked like Ray Suarez on my TV.....

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels is a former editor of Commonweal. 

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