John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Friday, May 29, 2009

'White' is also an ethnicity

The nomination to the Supreme Court of Judge Sonia Sotomayor has generated a quantity of chatter about race, little of it edifying.

Tom Tancredo, a Republican and former congressman from Colorado, has been widely quoted: “If you belong to an organization called La Raza, in this case ... which is from my point of of view anyway ... nothing more than a ... Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses. If you belong to something like that in a way that's going to convince me and a lot of other people that it's got nothing to do with race. Even though the logo of La Raza is ‘All for the race. Nothing for the rest.’ What does that tell you?”*

It tells me something about Mr. Tancredo, but not much about the issue of race.

Let’s refresh the perspective: George W. Bush appointed two middle-aged white men to the Supreme Court.* White is as much an ethnic marker as black or Hispanic — particularly since demographic trends point to a future in which all three groups will be minorities in the U.S. population.

Given that that future is near at hand, it would be a good idea to abandon the practice of saying that ethnicity is an issue only when African-Americans and Latinos are involved. White is also an ethnicity, even if the news media and the commentators are not used to thinking in those terms.

*The quoted material is taken from It is possible that it’s a little garbled, but it is also plausible that Mr. Tancredo sometimes gets his feet tangled in his own syntax.

**It would be odious to identify middle-aged white men with a particular political party.


  1. The KKK without hoods or nooses would be an organization of quite a different character: still hideously racist, but not dangerous.

    As for the alleged slogan, which NCLR has denied ever using, it's not even grammatical Spanish: it looks like something an anglophone with a poor grasp of the language would invent.

  2. Back in the mid-sixties, the engineering college I attended, having mostly male students, decided to have a mixer with a local womens' college. Being engineers we decided to do computer matching to sort people out. On our questionnaire for "Race" we had: Causasian, Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Other. One afternoon a student came running into the office and asked for his questionnaire back. Asked why, he responded "I didn't know what Caucasian meant so I checked 'Other'." I hope people do now.

    Retired in Elkridge