The recent mass shooting at a mall in Allen, Texas, committed by a man named Mauricio Garcia, has once again highlighted the complex ways in which race operates in the United States.
Despite being confirmed by multiple news sources as a racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic individual consumed by hate, right-wingers on Twitter have denied that Garcia could be a white supremacist.
They insist that his Hispanic ethnicity automatically precludes him from being considered white.
However, the idea that certain groups can “become” white over time and with various signifiers is not only true but also incredibly useful in understanding the history and current state of race relations in America.
For instance, Greeks and Italians aren’t Anglo-Saxon either, but aren’t Greek and Italian Americans considered white?
Breaking Down How Certain Groups “Became” White
It is important to acknowledge that Irish Catholic immigrants, one of the most despised and discriminated-against groups in mid-19th century America, did not uniquely and resoundingly attack Black people to “punch their ticket to whiteness,” as argued by the late Noel Ignatiev in his book How the Irish Became White. Instead, all immigrant groups, including Italians, Greeks, Jewish immigrants, and others who are not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, learned to climb the social ladder by exploiting Black neighbors or coworkers, who would work for less money because that was the only money they could earn. Through this process, many of these groups “became” white and were able to access the privileges that come with being part of the dominant group.
The Denial of Garcia’s Whiteness and the Problematic Denial of Hispanic Whiteness
The denial of Garcia’s whiteness by right-wingers on Twitter is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of racial categories in the United States.
While Hispanic or Latino is an ethnicity and not a race, millions of people with this ethnicity consider themselves white. It is essential to recognize that Hispanic identity in the US is particularly complex and fluid.
For instance, I’ve befriended and dated Hispanics – even brown-looking ones – who considered themselves white and culturally assimilated more with whites than other Hispanics.
Perhaps that’s why Democrats’ liberalization of immigration policies has not helped the party among Hispanic Americans. Most consider themselves “white Americans” even if a lot of Anglo-Saxons view them as racially different.
And if a strong percentage of Hispanics identify as white, some can be white supremacists just as easily as Anglo-Saxons if they harbor racial hatred.
Pew Research Poll
According to a 2021 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, when asked about their race separately from Hispanic ethnicity, over half of Hispanics identified their race as White, with the next largest share selecting the “some other race” category.
Foreign-born Hispanics were more likely to choose the “some other race” category, while U.S.-born Hispanics were more likely to select multiple races.
Nonetheless, a majority of both groups identified their race as White. This demonstrates the complexity of Hispanic identity in the United States, and the need to move beyond simplistic notions of race and ethnicity.
Garcia was a Hispanic who obviously considered himself white and harbored white supremacist views. There’s no way around it.
Mental Illness, Racism, and Misogyny in America
It is crucial to understand that rising mental illness among young American men is being channeled into racism and misogyny – and guns. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch has compiled a shocking compendium of different social media sites where the alleged shooter posted deranged and violent stories and imagery. And Garcia was caught up in that world as he worshiped Nazis and guns and had a particular hatred for Indian women. His twisted world of hate does not need further promotion.
The issue of who can “become” white and who cannot shock some people. However, it is essential to recognize that “whiteness” does not have to metastasize into “white supremacy.”
… And Garcia’s story is a reminder that no racial or ethnic group is a monolith, and Hispanic identity in the US is, particularly complex and fluid.