Death certificates are a means of assessing the racial classification of foreign-born Americans that is based neither on a set of formal racial identification criteria nor self-identification. Instead, local informants typically report the race of decedents. According to a sample of 1,884 records filed between 1859 and 1960, individuals born in China were progressively less likely to be identified by racial terms (e.g., white or yellow) and more likely to be identified by their country of origin (e.g., Chinese). The opposite is true for those born in Mexico or Puerto Rico, who are less likely over time to be identified as Mexican or Puerto Rican and more likely to be identified with a racial term—typically white. Most of the records analyzed are from southern states (n = 1,335), although an additional 548 records, primarily from Illinois and Ohio, are compared to the southern records. In some cases, white identity can serve as a mark of racial confusion, acting as a default or neutral identity rather than a mark of privilege. Conversely, it can represent a status that is actively striven for to provide freedom from discriminatory treatment. It serves primarily as the former for those born in China and the latter for those born in Mexico and Puerto Rico.
- racial identity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Sciences (miscellaneous)