Latino Studies White-Latino Relations
Betina Cutaia Wilkinson, Liz Torres-Ramirez
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0138


The United States is often regarded as a country of immigrants given its long history of immigration. While American Indians are the original inhabitants of this country, whites (individuals with primarily Western European and Anglo Saxon roots) have held most of the social, political, and economic influence in this country since the birth of this nation. A minority group in the United States (in terms of population size and power in general) is Latinos. This racial, ethnic group makes up the largest minority group in the United States and are individuals with direct or indirect ties to Latin America (Latinos is used here as a gender-inclusive term). While Latinos immigrate from various parts of Mexico, Central America, and South America, the largest percentage of Latinos are of Mexican descent. Actually, the largest percentage of immigrants in the United States were born in Mexico. The Latino population in the United States is multifarious. Not only do Latinos differ by national origin but they also differ by nativity, citizenship status, and skin tone, among a variety of characteristics. The term “Latino” is a pan-ethnic term used to describe the Latino population yet not all Latinos identify pan-ethnically. Further, Latinos do not identify by the same race. Since the US Census considers Latino origin an ethnicity, it provides Latinos the opportunity to identify by race. According to the 2010 US Census, the majority of Latinos identify as white (53 percent); some classify themselves as some other race (37 percent); and very few (3 percent) identify as black. Latinos’ increasing presence and emerging social, political, and economic clout has been noticed by many individuals, particularly whites. Some whites have responded positively to Latinos’ presence and influence, yet others have not. This article addresses race relations between whites and Latinos with a focus on what extant research reveals to us regarding whites’ perceptions of immigration with a focus on Latino immigration, Latinos’ views toward whites, and the determinants of white-Latino racial attitudes and relations. The bibliography below begins with a discussion of studies that have established the foundation for our understanding of white-Latino relations. This discussion is followed by a presentation of extant research (primarily from the political science discipline) focused on three major themes. The first theme is perceptions of immigrants and immigration with a focus on the determinants on these attitudes. The second theme of the following studies center on Latinos’ social, economic, cultural, and political incorporation into the United States and whites’ perceptions of their behavior. Lastly, the third major theme focuses on white-Latino racial attitudes, the precursors of coalition formation, and the factors that structure inter-race relations. This article culminates with a discussion of critical data sources that individuals can consult for further research on white-Latino relations.

Foundational Contributions

While there are numerous subtopics associated with research on white and Latino relations in the United States, there are key foundational contributions that have established a theoretical foundation for our understanding and analysis of whites’ response to immigration, whites’ perceptions of immigrants’ incorporation, and whites’ perception of racial threat in a world that is becoming more racially heterogeneous. Overall, the literature reveals how social contact, racial threat, racial context, and prejudice structure how whites regard blacks, Asian Americans, and Latinos and their behavior toward these groups. Allport 1954 introduces the contact theory, a linchpin of the literature. The studies Sigelman and Welch 1993 and Pettigrew 1998 build on Allport’s contact theory and discuss the extent that psychological and social processes affect the extent that contact can positively impact racial attitudes and diminish prejudice. Another major theory that is at the heart of the literature on white-Latino relations is the group position theory by Blumer 1958. Citrin, et al. 1990, Bobo 1999, Oliver and Mendelberg 2000, and Oliver and Wong 2003 discuss the extent that racial prejudice and racial context relate to the group position theory. The racial threat hypothesis, what some would consider a theory that emerges from the group position theory, is analyzed and tested in these studies. While most of these studies focus on white racial attitudes, a few of these studies branch out to test the effects of racial threat as created by context on minority group’s racial attitudes.

  • Allport, Gordon. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1954.

    In this seminal work, Allport discusses prejudice, its causes, and how it can be reduced. He defines and explains the positive effects of social contact on inter-race relations. The author asserts that the necessary conditions for the positive effects of contact to occur are direct equal-status contact, common goals, cooperation, and authority support. This study sets the foundation for how later scholars theorize how contact that can has the potential to improve inter-race relations.

  • Blumer, Herbert. “Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position.” Pacific Sociological Review 1 (1958): 3–7.

    DOI: 10.2307/1388607

    This is another seminal study on white relations with minority groups. Blumer develops the group position model which posits that as whites feel that blacks (the out-group) are encroaching on their status and level of power (based on context), they begin to view blacks as rivals. A central component of Blumer’s theory is whites’ perception of where they “ought” to stand in relation to the out-group, in this case, African Americans.

  • Bobo, Lawrence D. “Prejudice as Group Position: Microfoundations of a Sociological Approach to Racism and Race Relations.” Journal of Social Issues 55.3 (1999): 445–472.

    DOI: 10.1111/0022-4537.00127

    This article takes a sociological approach to the study of racism. Not only does it elaborate on the key premises of the group position theory of Blumer 1958, it also presents the areas of agreement between the approach of Allport 1954 to analyzing prejudice and that of Blumer’s. The study ends with a discussion of the approaches that future studies can take to answer unanswered questions regarding prejudice and race relations.

  • Citrin, Jack, Beth Reingold, and Donald P. Green. “American Identity and the Politics of Ethnic ChangeThe Journal of Politics 52.4 (1990): 1124–1154.

    DOI: 10.2307/2131685

    Citrin and scholars rely upon survey data to examine the effects of the increased racial heterogeneity of the US population. Focus is placed on the relationship between subjective conceptions of national identity and the public’s sentiment toward cultural minorities and policy stances on ethnic topics.

  • Oliver, J. Eric, and Tali Mendelberg. “Reconsidering the Environmental Determinants of White Racial Attitudes.” American Journal of Political Science 44.3 (2000): 574–589.

    DOI: 10.2307/2669265

    Oliver and Mendelberg build on sociology and psychology research regarding the effect that threat can play on whites’ racial attitudes. They assert and conclude that socioeconomic contexts, particularly an area’s education level, significantly affects whites’ perceptions of threat. When economic disparities between whites and people of color are high, whites are more predisposed to respond negatively to the emergent minority population.

  • Oliver, J. Eric, and Janelle Wong. “Inter-group Prejudice in Multiethnic Settings.” American Journal of Political Science 47. 4 (2003): 567–582.

    Oliver and Wong examine how out-group perceptions among blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, and whites differ based on racial context. They find that interracial hostility is higher in metropolitan areas with large minority populations than with smaller populations. Casual exposure to out-groups in a neighborhood context can actually decrease the in-group’s racial resentment and competition. The scholars also conclude that whites in high-education settings sense less competition with and feel less threatened by Latinos than those in low-education contexts.

  • Pettigrew, Thomas. “Intergroup Contact Theory.” Annual Review of Psychology 49 (1998): 65–85.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.49.1.65

    Pettigrew critiques parts of the contact hypothesis of Allport 1954 and asserts that the hypothesis fails to take into account process, particularly how the effects of contact generalize to situations involving the outgroup or uninvolved outgroups. The author concludes individual differences and societal norms structure intergroup contact effects and different outcomes result from distinct stages of contact.

  • Sigelman, Lee, and Susan Welch. “The Contact Hypothesis Revisited: Black-White Interaction and Positive Racial Attitudes.” Social Forces 71.3 (1993): 781–795.

    DOI: 10.2307/2579895

    Sigelman and Welch explore the contact hypothesis and contend that the primary psychological mechanism that mediates the relationship between interracial contact and whites’ positive racial attitudes (of blacks, particularly) is availability of information about another racial group. The authors argue that when whites have contact with blacks and thus gain positive information of blacks, the positive information obtained from that social interaction should affect whites’ perceptions and expressions of racial hostility.

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