What is the Powder Room?

At the end of May, the New York Times published an article written by Nate Cohn that claimed that in the U.S. more people of Hispanic descent are identifying themselves as white. Cohn's piece, an article that should have required extensive research and interviews, was poorly reported and angered many of the same people he was trying to write about.

According to Cohn's article, a branch of Pew Research, the Population Association of America, recently conducted a study based on figures from the two most recent censuses in 2000 and 2010. The most important piece of information from the study was this:

"An estimated net 1.2 million Americans of the 35 million Americans identified in 2000 as of "Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin," as the census form puts it, changed their race from "some other race" to "white" between the 2000 and 2010 censuses."


The article, which is rather brief for such a complicated topic, is problematic for a number of reasons, the first being that Cohn failed to mention a key piece of data to supplement the above information. As Zak Cheney-Rice at Policymic pointed out, "America's Hispanic population grew by 43% [between 2000 and 2010,], meaning 1.2 million actually represents a smaller percentage of Hispanics than before."

Secondly, Cohn did not talk to any Hispanic people for his article — no experts and not even any men (or women) on the street for their perspective on the matter. In fact, Cohn did not consult anyone — Hispanic or otherwise — for his article.

Finally, and most damning of all, while Cohn states in his article that the study has not yet been published, he neglects to mention that the researchers themselves were still finalizing the data at press time. In other words, Cohn cited a study that had not even been finished in any meaningful way. Julio Ricardo Varela of the blog Latino Rebels contacted the Population Association of America, the group that conducted the study, and this was the response he received from one of the co-authors:

"Assistant Professor Carolyn Liebler of the University of Minnesota, wrote: 'At this point, there is not a public version of the study or presentation that we are ready to share with the press. This is because it is an ongoing study and we expect the numbers to change as we refine our measures and data selection criteria.'"


Liebler also told Varela that,

"'Cohn did reach out to us to talk, but we were not able to talk as quickly as he needed to get his article to press, so it didn't happen.' Liebler then added that Cohn had contacted her on May 8 but one of the key principals of the study was sick and the group decided to 'not to go forward with interviews about this preliminary research' until that individual was available."


Cohn's piece was originally published on May 21, and as of Friday, June 13, Varela and his cohorts at Latino Rebels have yet to receive any real explanation as to why Cohn reported facts from a study that had not yet been published and did not even reach out to Hispanic people and experts.


In the meantime, Cohn's article has led to the Twitter hashtag #WhatLatinosLookLike in order to show the diversity of the Latino population and how they are very much not white.


Maybe next time Cohn can interview some of the people using #WhatLatinosLookLike.

Twitter screenshots via PolicyMic.com.

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