The Volokh Conspiracy

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LA Mayoral Candidate Rick Caruso Mocked for Suggesting He is Something Other than Generically White


A Telemundo debate resulted in this colloquy between the moderator and mayoral candidate Rick Caruso:

"The next mayor of Los Angeles will be either an African American woman or a white man." Elvir said, referring to Bass and Caruso respectively.
"I'm Italian," Caruso shot back in apparent objection.
"Italian American," Elvir responded.
"That's 'Latin,' thank you," Caruso said in an apparent attempt to correct Elvir.

Caruso's reference to his Italian heritage was widely mocked, exacerbated by his apparent suggestion that he is "Latin," seen as a silly ploy to associate himself with Latinos who make up a substantial part of the LA electorate.

And yet… one reason that "Hispanic" was initially chosen in the 1970s as the government's official appellation for people of Spanish-speaking descent is that some people feared that Italian Americans would claim Latino status if that were the available option, given that they were traditionally considered to be "Latins." Caruso is 63, and thus grew up a time when referring to Italians as "Latins" was common.

Also, there seems to be some rather arbitrary distinctions being made by various pundits. In 2021, one of the two finalists in the Boston mayor election was Annissa Essaibi George. Ms. George is of half-Polish and half-Tunisian descent. She described herself, and was described by the media, as "a person of color," even though she was half-Polish and Tunisians are officially classified as white both by federal and state policy. While some would claim that Muslim identity has been "racialized" and thus Muslim Arab Americans should be considered people of color, Ms. George was raised Catholic.

Is there some objective reason why Mr. Caruso should be mocked for suggesting that his Italian ethnicity differentiates him from being described as generically white, but one should respectfully accept Ms. George's claim that she isn't white at all? Not that I can think of.