Will today's Hispanics be tomorrow's whites?

Going forward, will white Hispanics see themselves as part of a different race—light-skinned but distinct from whites—or will they see themselves as another kind of white? Will the government treat them as white in its forms and surveys, and will so-called traditional white Americans understand them as such? What about the children of mixed marriages? As Pew points out, we live in an age of intermarriage. More than 15 percent of new marriages are between partners of different races, and the large majority of them are Hispanic and Asian “out marriage” to whites. Will these children retain a racial identity, or will they join the vast tapestry of American whiteness?

These are critical questions, since—in a country where white Hispanics are just white, and Asians intermarry at high rates—the white population of the United States could stay steady or actually grow.

Of course, not all Hispanics and Asians will enter the white mainstream. We don’t see them in popular culture, but there are sharp racial and class divisions in both groups. Low-income, dark-skinned Latinos and Pacific Islanders, for instance, face prejudice, racism, and a huge array of socio-economic challenges. And going forward, that might stay the same, as their fair-skinned, more affluent counterparts “become” white. Or, put another way, now might be the last time we have a public debate over the whiteness of a figure like George Zimmerman. To Americans of 2050, the answer would be obvious: “Of course he is.”