The Volokh Conspiracy

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Afro-Cuban Discriminated Against for Being Hispanic, Not Black


Here's a curious case described in the Washington Post in 1980, one that didn't make it into my forthcoming book on racial classifications:

Miguel Sandoval arrived in Harlem in 1959 from Havana, where he'd been an outspoken advocate of better civil rights for black Cubans. Sandoval was Cuban, but he thought of himself primarily as a black. Yet to the American blacks in Harlem, he was a Hispanic.

Nine years later, he applied for a job as director of the manpower office where he worked because he had heard that federal officials were looking for a black to fill the post. But, Sandoval said, he was told he could not have the job because he was Hispanic.

Sandoval convinced the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that he was indeed black and had been discriminated against, and won back pay.

The Post uses this case to explore Afro-Latino identity, but one wonders why the EEOC failed to point out that it's illegal to reserve a position for one racial group to begin with.

Meanwhile, in the ensuing decades, the federal government has made it clear that "Hispanic" is an ethnic, not a racial classification, so that Hispanics can be of any race. In practice, however, many Americans (including Supreme Court justices) treat Hispanic as a racial category.