Many of our categories are human constructions which map upon patterns in nature which we perceive rather darkly. The joints about which nature turns are as they are, our own names and representations are a different thing altogether. This does not mean that our categories have no utility, but we should be careful of confusing empirical distributions, our own models of those distributions, and reality as it is stripped of human interpretative artifice.
I have argued extensively on this weblog that:
1) Generating a phylogeny of human populations and individuals within those populations is trivial. You don’t need many markers, depending on the grain of your phylogeny (e.g., to differentiate West Africans vs. Northern Europeans you actually can use one marker!).
2) These phylogenies reflect evolutionary history, and the trait differences are not just superficial (i.e., “skin deep”).
The former proposition I believe is well established. A group such as “black American” has a clear distribution of ancestries in a population genetic sense. The latter proposition is more controversial and subject to contention. My own assumption is that we will know the truth of the matter within the generation.
I wanted to clarify a few issues with the Census’ American Community Survey. These data come from the interval of 2006-2008, and they allowed me to query the proportional of various Latino/Hispanic groups who identified as white. I knew in the aggregate that the majority of America’s Latinos identified as white, but I was curious about two things:
1) The variation in white identification by group (by national origin)
2) The variation in white identification of Mexican Americans by selected states
Results below. There are stories in these data….