The Missing Latinos: Racial Bias in Political Science Textbooks

The 2000 decennial census counted just over 35 million Latinos, persons whose national origins (or whose ancestors’ national origins) are in the countries of Latin America—that is, much of the Caribbean, Central, and South America. This figure is estimated to have grown by 2010 to about 47 million. These Americans are increasingly voting in large numbers, and are having ever more significant effects on US politics, as in the 2008 election. Over more than five decades now, they have already had important impacts on US civil rights and political issues. Yet much of social science seems to have missed this message–this proverbial Elephant (actually, more like Democratic-Donkey) in the room.

A report at summarizes recent research by Jessica Lavariega Monforti and Adam McGlynn, professors at the University of Texas (Pan American) that found little discussion of Latinos, Latino civil rights movements, Latino civic organizations, and Latino politics in 20 textbooks used in basic political science classes in the U.S. Here is the summary of one key finding:

In 20 of the textbooks, the pages focused on any Latino political issues was less than 1 percent. (Latinos currently account for about 15 percent of the U.S. population, a share projected to double by 2050, the authors note.)

On specific issues such as labor and civil rights movements, and key politicians, there is little substantial discussion:

Many of the texts discuss César Chávez, but for most that’s about it for sustained discussion of Latino civil rights leaders or movements. The Latino civil rights movement is portrayed as “a few random events, not as part of an overall movement,” the article says. Key figures like Dolóres Huerta rarely appear. Only three of the textbooks studied explained terms such as “Chicano” or “Brown power.”

Clearly, these are the main books (often only books) the “best educated” Americans read in college years about how U.S. political institutions and politics have developed over time.

I have been writing about these issues in my racial and ethnic relations textbook for decades now, so I know from personal research that such material on Latino civic and political issues is not hard to find.

This ignorance and downplaying of not-white histories and realities seems to be a matter of mostly white political scientists looking at U.S. society from the old white racial frame. A key feature of that frame is not just its negative, distorted, and ignorant views of people of color, but also its central focus on the supposedly great virtues of white values, views, and institutions.

In this case, I suspect that these political science textbooks, like many in other social sciences, accent the “greatness” of white-created institutions, such as the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate, etc – all of which were given to us by the elite white male, often slaveholding and slave-supporting, “founders” who dominated our constitutional convention.

We have been faking democracy ever since that very undemocratic 1787 convention.

Americans of color have had to struggle politically and in civil rights movements against these often undemocratic US institutions. In that process they have often made this country a bit more civil-rights-oriented and a bit more democratic. Their great democratic struggles most certainly should be central in major social science textbooks dealing with US political and civic organization issues.