Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How White is White?

In what has to be the dumbest statement of the post-election season, Bill Hobbs writes:
It turns out the woman who winks and says "Harold, call me," in the anti-Harold Ford Jr. advertisement that some decried as racist because she was white and blonde wasn't white. She's part Hispanic.
And so, what is the other "part"?

Kidding aside and without going into a discursus on slippery categories like race and ethnicity, I will say that in marketing, facts do not matter as much as appearances. The average viewer of the commercial in question was not lead to believe that Ms. Goldsmith was Hispanic (or as the Tennessean put it, of "Mexican heritage"). But even if she is Hispanic, the question of whether there is racism implied in the commercial is still a fair one, precisely because skin tint and hair color remain codes to some in the audience for race, regardless of actual heritage.

But let's pick nits, because a whole new dimension of dumbness opens up in Bill-Ho's comment when we consider more thoughtful definitions of race and ethnicity. According to the U.S. Government:
The minimum categories for race are now: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and White .... There are also two minimum categories for ethnicity: Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. Hispanics and Latinos may be of any race.
Thus, Ms. Goldsmith could still officially be White and be Hispanic. We cannot tell from the Tennessean whether the "other part" is White, but we can legitimately consider her to be both White and Hispanic. As if those semi-ontological categories really mattered to the political purpose of her appearance in the commercial. However, the Tennessean says that she is of Mexican heritage. So, how does Bill-Ho know she's part Hispanic and not part "Latina"? And what exactly would qualify her as White in his mind?


  1. I am glad you pointed this out so I didn't have to..

  2. Do you people in Tennessee understand that it was a commercial? That it followed a script? That the actress did not really have ex with Ford? That it makes no difference what race the actress is?

    Wait until I tell you about this character called "Murphy Brown" and a one-time candidate for vice-president of hte USA. Boy! Will you be shocked!

    All joking aside, I understand it wasn't until 1992 that black actors were permitted to play Romeo in Tennessee. Laws against miscegenation, I hear.