Why are black mothers and babies dying? It’s unlikely to be weathering.

Racism, discrimination, prejudice and social exclusion message

A piece that will appear in The New York Times Sunday Magazine attempts to answer the question Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis. Unfortunately, the answer it gives — that black women’s health is uniquely “weathered” by racism — while intuitively appealing, is probably wrong.

The tl;dr answer can be summarized as follows:

While racism is hardly limited to African Americans (think Native Americans nearly wiped out in a de facto genocide) the high rates of maternal and neonatal mortality are nearly exclusive to those of African descent.

And though the attention to the tremendous discrepancy in black vs white mortality rates has focused on the US, the problem is the same or worse for women of African descent in other countries.

Let’s look closer at the NYTimes piece and the existing research.

Linda Villarosa clearly lays out the problem:

Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel. In one year, that racial gap adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies. Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.

This tragedy of black infant mortality is intimately intertwined with another tragedy: a crisis of death and near death in black mothers themselves. The United States is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality — the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy — is now worse than it was 25 years ago. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States. In addition, the C.D.C. reports more than 50,000 potentially preventable near-deaths, like Landrum’s, per year — a number that rose nearly 200 percent from 1993 to 2014, the last year for which statistics are available. Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts, according to the C.D.C. — a disproportionate rate that is higher than that of Mexico, where nearly half the population lives in poverty — and as with infants, the high numbers for black women drive the national numbers.

What explains the disparity? The causes could be genetic, environmental or both. Villarosa favors an environmental explanation.

Dr. Arline Geronimus, a professor in the department of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, first linked stress and black infant mortality with her theory of “weathering.” She believed that a kind of toxic stress triggered the premature deterioration of the bodies of African-American women as a consequence of repeated exposure to a climate of discrimination and insults. The weathering of the mother’s body, she theorized, could lead to poor pregnancy outcomes, including the death of her infant.

That’s an extraordinary claim and it falls apart fairly quickly when extended beyond black women.

If “weathering” were an accurate explanation of the black/white disparity in mortality, we would expect to find evidence of it in other populations exposed to racism. But that’s not what we find at all.

This graph comes from the 2017 paper Pregnancy-Related Mortality in the United States, 2011–2013.

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As you can see, black maternal mortality dramatically exceeds white maternal mortality. But if the weathering theory were true, we would expect that other ethnic groups would also experience weathering and that’s not what happens. One might argue that discrimination against African Americans is worse than discrimination against other ethnic groups but it’s simply not possible to argue that there is no discrimination against Hispanics. Nevertheless, maternal mortality statistics for Hispanic women are better than those of anyone else including white women.

The mortality discrepancy extends to other countries, too. The UK Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths and Morbidity 2013–15 shows that maternal deaths of black women is 4X higher in the UK; that’s a greater discrepancy than the US.

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The situation is similar for perinatal mortality:

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One of the strongest pieces of evidence in favor of the weathering theory is that black pregnancy outcomes get far worse as women get older. According to the theory, the effect of discrimination and insults is cumulative. Therefore, the disparity gets greater as women get older. If that were the case, though, we should see widening disparities in deaths rates as women get older and that’s not what we find. The disparity actually decreases as women get older.

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White women born in 2015 are expected to live for 81.1 years, Hispanic women for 3.2 years more and black women for 3 years less. In contrast, among women who turned 65 in 2015, white women had a further life expectancy of 20.5 years, Hispanic women an additional 2.2 years more and black women only 0.9 years less. Similarly, for women who turned 75 in 2015, white women had an additional life expectancy of 12.9 years, Hispanic women an additional 1.8 years more and black women only 0.2 years less.

Obviously the best way to test the weathering hypothesis would be to look at maternal and neonatal mortality rates in countries where black people make up the majority of the population and are governed by other black people. Such countries are in sub-Saharan Africa and they have the worst maternal and perinatal mortality rates in the world as illustrated by this map of maternal mortality from the WHO.

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There are a myriad of factors that result in high maternal and perinatal mortality in Africa so it’s impossible to blame race. Nonetheless, it means that if race is a specific risk factor for genetic reasons, it is hidden behind the socio-economic problems of the continent.

Racial discrimination undoubtedly plays a role in high rates of maternal and infant mortality but there are other groups that face considerable racial discrimination and they don’t have comparably poor mortality rates. Moreover, women of African descent have higher mortality rates regardless of where they live; indeed, the driver of maternal and perinatal mortality rates in industrialized countries is the percentage of women of African descent in the population.

Although Villarosa, the author of the NYTimes piece, implies that genetic factors have been ruled out, that’s hardly the case. Scientists and physicians are loath to invoke genetics when it comes to racial differences and there are good reasons to be wary. Nonethess, we know that there are certain genetic mutations that conferred benefit on African populations (like the mutation for sickle cell anemia that was protective against endemic malaria) that now, in the absence of malaria, only confer harm. It would be a tragedy if we failed to look for such explanations for high black maternal and perinatal mortality and fell back on environmental explanations that are more intuitively appealing but could very well be wrong.

  • Francesca Violi

    Also, in West Africa there is a very high rate of twin births, and that must be genes. So, genetics might well be involved in other pregnancy outcomes.

  • Amy Tuteur, MD

    A paper published just this week reports on UK data:

    “There are marked ethnic differences in infant mortality rates for singleton live births in England and Wales. Crude infant mortality rates are highest in Pakistani, Black Caribbean, Black African, and, to a lesser extent Bangladeshi infants. Adjustment for maternal sociodemographic characteristics including area deprivation and mother’s country of birth does not fundamentally change the pattern. Further adjustment for gestational age, however, significantly attenuates the risk of infant death in Black Caribbean and Black African infants but not in Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian infants…

    As Black Caribbean and Black American women are predominantly descended from people from West Africa, the possibility of a genetic component cannot be ignored. Other studies have also suggested that genetics might be an important factor that can partially explain ethnic disparities in infant mortality. In this study, we did not disaggregate the Black African groups. A study of low birth weight in Black Caribbean and Black African infants, showed that when the Black African group was disaggregated by mother’s country of birth grouped into United Nation population regions, infants of mothers born in West Africa and Middle Africa but not those born in other parts of Africa have higher rates of preterm and very preterm birth than infants of mothers born in the UK.”

    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195146

    • Sarah

      It’s interesting that Bangladeshi infants are slightly less affected than Pakistani and Black, because Bangladeshis as a cohort are poor and are at the bottom of most tables.

    • fiftyfifty1

      Interesting. Especially the part about mothers from West Africa and East Africa having elevated risk of preterm delivery but not mothers from other African regions. This supports the impression that we have in my city; that African American and West African immigrant women are at increased risk but not East African women.

  • lawyer jane

    I finally read the whole article. It’s concerning. I think like so much else with childbirth, popular attention is going to be gripped by a slogan (“weathering”) and fake solution (doulas!) rather than the actual hard work it would take to solving the problem. I do think the author makes a good case for the impact of cumulative stress unique to African American women (not sure that the comparison to Hispanic & Native American women is so dispositive.) But the implication in the article is that a DOULA is going to solve the problem! The mother should have had access to excellent, continuing care by a high-risk OB team. The fact that she could only get continuous care through a doula is pitiful, and NOT an argument that doulas will solve everything. It also sounds like the doula pressured her to have a vbac, not good.

    Given that we KNOW the kinds of procedures that can reduce maternal mortality (PPH crash carts; better attention to hypertension and pre-e symptoms), you’d think that anyone truly interested in reducing maternal mortality would be interested in those things. But writing about “weathering” and doulas is simpler and more dramatically appealing as a narrative.

    • PeggySue

      DOULAS??? Jesus Christ. These mothers and babies need and deserve consistent and respectful and highly competent care. Assuming that untrained support people WITH AGENDAS are the solution is just wrong.

    • Merrie

      I could see somewhat of a role for good (non-woo-filled) doulas if they help their patients advocate for themselves when they do need attention and their providers are being lax. A less vociferous woman in an acute situation like that of Serena Williams, for instance, could have benefited from a doula to help her insist on getting more medical attention right away. But I agree that overall many more solutions than that are needed.

  • MaineJen

    To me, it looks like advanced maternal age in ANY population is the biggest driver of maternal and perinatal mortality. Are more black women having babies later in life? We know they are less likely to have comprehensive maternity care or health insurance, so that combined with AMA may push their risk higher.

    • Daleth

      I don’t know about that, but African-American women are more likely to have high blood pressure at a young age than Caucasian-Americans are. And that can cause serious problems in pregnancy and childbirth, both for the baby (placental abruption, etc.) and for the mom (stroke, etc.).

      “Blood pressure levels have consistently been higher for African Americans with an earlier onset of hypertension.”
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4108512/

  • fiftyfifty1

    Looking for genetic differences between races is a fraught topic. And it should be. “Genetic factors” has so many times been used to bolster racism and explain away disparities in everything from school success to death rates.
    And yet, with caution, I think we should keep looking for genetic factors when it comes to pregnancy outcomes. We already know that African Americans seem to respond differently, on average, to certain blood pressure medicines than white Americans–Ace inhibitors, in general, seem not to work as well as they do for whites. What is it that makes African Americans not respond as well to this one particular class of medicines? It seems like it must be something genetic. And why are so many more African Americans found to have “salt sensitive” changes in blood pressure than whites? This sort of biological nitty-gritty difference seems likely to be genetic.
    And so much of pregnancy is about the workings of blood vessels. The main cause of low birthweight is abnormal blood flow to the placenta. And eclampsia etc, seems to be mainly blood vessel function. Even postpartum bleeding can be blood-vessel related. This should be a hot topic for study.

    • lawyer jane

      Agree, but racism in health care (which we know exists) would act as a multiplying factor to exacerbate any genetic differences.

      • fiftyfifty1

        Absolutely. You can see it at every level, including which problems we chose to take seriously. Who we consider the “normal standard.” For example it took decades for us to figure out that Ace inhibitors are less likely to work in African Americans because we were studying it in white people. If white women were dying at the rate that black women are, we would be devoting a lot more resources to fixing it..

        • attitude devant

          It would seem that if you study ‘black’ women, which in the US is a very heterogeneous group, and see if outcomes worsen with higher percentages of Africa-linked genes you might be able to tease out the effects of racism and genes. But man the pitfalls…..

          • Wouldn’t it follow that women with a larger proportion of African ancestry may have darker skin and be subject to worse racist treatment?

            There must be a way to solve this problem.

          • Mel

            Skin coloration is poorly correlated with genetic ancestry and weakly correlated with area of genetic origin. Coloration of skin and accessory organs like hair is super-duper polygenetic with scads of alleles at each point. Because of that, it’s a hot mess of mixing and having children born who do not have the same skin tone as their parents is really common.

            There is a way to sort it out, but it’s expensive or inaccurate.

            The potentially inaccurate – but cheap – way is to ask participants to estimate the amount of DNA they have from each area. (Obs, I do not recommend that. It’s super-inaccurate. My MIL knew that her kids have roughly 15% Jewish ancestry from between the two parental lines. Of her four kids, none of them knew that…. ) The expensive way is to test the DNA of each participant to see what their personal ancestry is while also running tests at points of interest in maternal and neonatal outcomes.

            I doubt there is a way to test how much racism a person receives over a lifetime, but a researcher could use a survey that allows participants to report self-perceived exposure to racism.

            So…if I’m counting correctly, this is a three-way statistics test with ordinal, interval and ratio measurements which is way outside my pay-grade so meeting with a stats prof would be in order.

          • fiftyfifty1

            Yes, lots of pitfalls. I would also be curious to compare health outcomes in African immigrants from different places in Africa. My city has large immigrant populations from both West Africa (Liberia, Nigeria etc) and East Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia etc.) I have not seen anyone study this, but my anecdotal impression as a doctor is that they have very different health outcomes. For example, East African women don’t seem to have a lot of preemies. They actually have a reputation for going late. I would love to see if this impression is backed up by data. The other is hypertension. Sure I have elderly East African patients with hypertension, but I don’t have any young East African patients with the sort where they present as young, otherwise healthy people with really bad hypertension “for no good reason.” You know, the kind that can blow out your kidneys by the time you are in your 30s. I do have both African-American and West African immigrant patients with that. Is this impression just a result of a statistical fluke within my patient panel, or is it real? Granted, East African immigrant patients have a totally different lifestyle than those from West Africa, but they have been subjected to many of the same stressors: racism here in the US, trauma from civil war, immigration. And although their diets are different, both groups are developing obesity here in the US.

      • Sarah

        And sexism too, misogynoir.

    • mabelcruet

      I agree-I don’t think it’s racist to say that people of different ethnic origin might have different variations that affect responses to drugs. After all, we know that ginger haired people (usually Irish/Scottish origin) need more anaesthesia because of genetics. And there was all that research done into why long distance runners from East Africa, and especially Kenya, dominate in the medal tables and it’s partly due to variations in slow twitch muscle fibers, so I think it’s reasonable to look into biological/ genetic differences that might explain some of the differences. Obviously there are going to be a lot of other issues involved about access to care which absolutely need to be dealt with as well, but research into biological tailoring of drugs might improve outcomes.

      • maidmarian555

        I had no idea that people of Scottish decent may need more anaesthesia. I don’t have ginger hair although when I grow mine long, it has a lot of red in it. I also have green eyes. I’ve always needed several lots of anaesthetic at the dentist before my face would go numb. I went for almost a decade of not going to the dentist after a horrible experience where I needed a crown and the dentist kept telling me the agonising pain I was experiencing during the procedure was ‘all in my head’ and I was ‘being dramatic’.

        • mabelcruet

          It’s to do with one of the genes that codes for hair colour. But when it comes to toothache, you might have an aberrant nerve. I had the same as you-I had a filling about 40 years ago as a child in one of my molar teeth, and that has had to be replaced a few times. It was always absolutely agony because it never numbed properly. I changed dentist the last time I moved house, and when the old filling cracked, he replaced it. The first injection didn’t work and I told him it never did, and he said ‘oh you must have an aberrant branch of the something-something nerve’ (can’t remember the name, head and neck anatomy was never my strong point!), and he did a second injection in a slightly different spot and it worked-pain free! Apparently variations on nerve branching is quite common, but my other dentists had never suggested it.

          • maidmarian555

            I’ve been seeing a new dentist now for about 4yrs and I’ve not had any problems with this one, still takes a while for anaesthetic to properly work but he waits rather than drill into my face when I can still feel it! When he did my x-rays, he said the evil dentist had put a screw so large in for the crown it looked like he’d got it from B&Q rather than use a proper tiny dental screw. He said he’d never seen anything like it. So I felt somewhat vindicated that evil dentist was just evil and not a very good dentist either.

          • mabelcruet
        • Heidi

          My husband is a redhead and can confirm this. He has to be renumbed during fillings. I, however, have the unpleasant side effect of being numb for hours after a procedure.

          • Charybdis

            I can also confirm this. I’ve had to have enough anesthesia to bring down a couple of rhinos for my surgeries. You know how they will tell you to count backwards from 100? I’ve gotten down to 85-84 before going under. This is also why I have terrible nausea and vomiting after surgeries. DH overheard the anesthesiologist saying that I needed so dang much anesthesia to go under and stay under, that he wasn’t surprised that I got so sick, even with preventative measures. Being aware of the long needle stabbing into my neck for a nerve block was a *special* treat.

          • Heidi

            Now I did have issue with getting the epidural to work and consequently had to have so much that my BP dropped and I barfed a dozen times during labor. I have never had luck with opioid medications administered orally either. I get the nausea but no pain relief and I feel severely depressed. But the meds that put you under and dental anesthesia work for me.

      • AndreaRealMPH

        Since a lot of these pregnancy-related tragedies are blood pressure-related, I think recruiting, retaining, and compensating black people (men and young people, too!) in clinical trials for blood pressure meds is going to be huge.

  • Empress of the Iguana People

    It is very odd that Native Americans aren’t experiencing similar rates. Lord knows, they’ve got it hard, too. If I remember correctly, Native Americans have an even higher rate of poverty.

    • fiftyfifty1

      Well, it’s not like Native American rates are good. At least not maternal mortality rates. I wonder what has caused them to shoot up lately? Better measuring? Statistical noise? The opioid epidemic?

      http://www.skepticalob.com/2018/03/latest-data-on-us-maternal-mortality-confirms-it-is-a-problem-of-race-and-healthcare-disparities.html

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        One of those topics i’m leary of speculating about. Teaspoonful of knowledge

        • Daleth

          Oh thank you so much for declining to speculate or, worse, state a strong opinion on something that you don’t know much about! Man I wish more people were like you in that way. So many people don’t hesitate to have firm beliefs about all kinds of shit they don’t even understand.

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            Text being what it is, you aren’t teasing me, right?

          • Daleth

            No, not at all! Sorry. There should be an “I mean it” emoji.

            People who have strong opinions about things they don’t even understand are a huge pet peeve of mine.

    • Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild

      Native Americans might have more access to care: IHS, medicaid, & tribal medical centers. Its inadequate but better than no health care providers.

  • Sarah

    It’s a hugely pressing problem and one I confess I don’t really understand. I have a question though.

    If it were something about genetics or biology of black women rather than anything else, would we not expect to see higher rates of problems in non-black Hispanic women than in white women? Because the former have on average more black African heritage than the latter? I mean women like say Jennifer Lopez, who is not black but whose mother’s appearance suggests some African descent. So we’d expect people with Lopez’s background to have a higher risk than someone who’s only/more white. Or is that wrong?

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      I’m not sure anyone has yet investigated whether percentage of African genome has any impact.

      • Sarah

        I guess that’s unlikely to happen if the prevailing hypothesis is weathering.

      • fiftyfifty1

        Percentage of African genome was briefly discussed in the NEJM study that was referenced in Villarosa’s piece:

        http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199710233371706#t=article

        It’s the 1997 study that compared the birthweights of babies born to American white women (3446 g) vs. African-born black women (3333 g) vs. American-born black women (3089 g). The authors cited other findings that showed that average American-born black people have 3/4 African genes and 1/4 European genes. Using this, the authors concluded that the differences in birth weights were unlikely to be due to genetic factors as the African-born black women were higher percentage African in their genes, so if “African genes” were the problem, the immigrants from Africa should have the smallest babies..
        But the NEJM study has one huge limitation in my opinion: smoking status was not looked at. Smoking is a huge confounding risk factor for decreased birth weight (245 g difference in one study.) American-born black women historically had similar or higher smoking rates than American white women. But smoking rates are very low for
        women from sub-Saharan Africa. I have many female patients who are immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, and I literally can’t think of a single one who smokes.

        • lawyer jane

          There’s also an association between air pollution and low birth weight, and between race and exposure to air pollution. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1306837/

          • Merrie

            Though presumably at least some of that would be screened out in the educational and socioeconomic status controls, assuming black women of high SES are more likely to have similar living conditions to white women of high SES than to black women of low SES (though you’d potentially also have to look at the conditions they lived in when they were younger).

        • The absence of smoking status is interesting. 1997 is after most people found it unacceptable for pregnant women to smoke and when public smoking was really starting to be shunned in the US, so I wonder what the correlation between smoking and other unhealthy behaviors during pregnancy might have been.

        • Daleth

          Wait, did that study not consider gestational age at all? It doesn’t say they were comparing full-term infants. Wouldn’t part of the birth weight difference suggest that there were more premature births among black women? That’s a completely different problem than low birthweight full-termers.

      • Roadstergal

        The problem is, the “African genome” is an utterly massively diverse one…

        The “African-American” genome less so, because of the role of slavery in founding the African-American population – and we tended to get our slaves from specific areas. :/ I’m sure this has been studied, but I’m not familiar with the work, sadly.

    • Mel

      The other confounding point is the fact that “Hispanic” is an ethnic term that covers a huge combination of genetic types.

      By adding “non-white” to Hispanic, people who self-identify as white Hispanics are moved into the white/Caucasian category, but that leaves a wide variation in the amount of European, Native American and African DNA among people who self-report as Hispanic in the US.

      • Daleth

        but that leaves a wide variation in the amount of European, Native American and African DNA among people who self-report as Hispanic in the US.

        Yeah. Hispanic doesn’t even mean anything, genetically. According to Ancestry.com I’m just under 50% “Iberian” (Spanish/Portuguese origin–in my family’s case, it’s Spanish), but 0% Native American and 0% African. Another person could be Hispanic with 98% Native American and 2% Iberian ancestry.

        I’ve even asked what “Hispanic” means when applying for scholarships, to see if I was allowed to apply, and was told it just means you self-identify as Hispanic. There’s no genetic or ancestral-country-of-origin requirement.

        As far as I can tell, in the US Hispanic just means “somewhere in the last 2-3 generations, you had ancestors who were native Spanish speakers.”

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          Couldn’t those Spanish speakers who didn’t move from the southwest or Florida when the US took over count?

          • Mel

            Yup. They do. They would be counted as descended from Mexican ancestors.

          • Daleth

            Sure.

        • Mariana

          Are Brazilians considered “Hispanic” in the US? I never knew what box to tick at school. I look white and don’t speak Spanish. But they didn’t have a box for “Portuguese-speaking South Americans”. I haven’t lived in the US for over 20 years now, so I don’t know what’s it like anymore

          • Mel

            The full definition involves a list of 20-odd countries in Latin America that all speak Spanish. In this definition, Brazilians, Portuguese, Spaniards, and Filipinos are not Hispanic due to lack of use of Spanish for the first two groups and lack of country of origin in Latin American for the second two groups. Under those rules, you were right not to check the box.

            Practically, though, very few surveys have the time or energy to walk through the official definition of Hispanic – so the general rule of “People who check the box for Hispanic are Hispanic” is often used too so you could also check the box and be right.

            My biggest annoyance is surveys who list Hispanic under a racial category since it’s not a racial category but an ethnic category. For example, an Argentinian with 100% European ancestry, a Mexican with 100% Native American ancestry and a Colombian with 100% African ancestry can all describe themselves as Hispanic.

          • Box of Salt

            Mel,
            why would anyone consider grouping Filipinos with Hispanics? The Philippines is a group of islands in the Pacific. I am confused. If you want to lump into another group, it would be Asians.

          • fiftyfifty1

            Because the Philippines were a Spanish colony for over 300 years. Thus the current culture shows a strong Spanish influence and modern day citizens show a mixture of Spanish and native-Philippino genes and often have Spanish names.

          • Box of Salt

            O-kay. I am still confused. I live in an area with a lot of Filipino immigrants. As far as I can tell, the “Spanish influence” is Catholicism. The cuisine is Asian. And delicious.

            By this definition, are people from Hong Kong English?

          • fiftyfifty1

            The Spanish influence can be seen in Catholicism, personal names, place names, the thousands of Spanish loan words in the local languages, literature, art, cuisine, music and in lots of other ways.

            The cuisine is a mix of local influence + Spanish influence + Latin American influence (because Spanish speaking immigrants to the Philippines came not just from Spain, but from Latin American countries.) So for you to say that “the cuisine is Asian” is no different than if you were to regard Mexico and say “the cuisine is Central American.” Because yes it is, obviously. One can’t help but notice the corn, beans, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes etc in Mexican food. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have Spanish influence.

          • borkborkbork

            The word Hispanic simply refers to people who are Spanish speaking or who are descended from primarily Spanish-speaking populations. It has nothing to do with race, but with culture and language, and the cultures that have some connection to the Spain and its colonies. The Philippines were a colony of Spain and Spanish is still a primary language there.

          • Box of Salt

            I’m in So Cal. The Filipinos get their own ethnic label here.

            They also don’t speak Spanish. They speak . . . wait for it . . . Filipino. It’s offered as a language option at our high school in addition to Spanish.

            As I’ve said, I am confused.

          • I had a Filipina roomie my first year of college; listening to her speak Tagalog to her parents was interesting. It sounded like Spanish mixed with Chinese.

          • Daleth

            They also don’t speak Spanish. They speak . . . wait for it . . . Filipino.

            I’ve always heard that their official language is Tagalog, but your post made me look it up. Apparently Tagalog and Filipino are basically the same thing with a few quirks.
            https://www.smartling.com/blog/tagalog-filipino/

            But Spanish was a co-official language until the late 1980s and a minority of Filipinos still speak it.

            Spanish “was the language of the Philippine Revolution and the country’s first official language, as proclaimed in the Malolos Constitution of the First Philippine Republic in 1899. It was the language of commerce, law, politics and the arts during the colonial period and well into the 20th century. It was the main language of many classical writers and Ilustrados such as Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Antonio Luna and Marcelo del Pilar, to name but a few. It is regulated by the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española, the main Spanish-language regulating body in the Philippines, and a member of the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, the entity which regulates the Spanish language worldwide.”
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_language_in_the_Philippines

          • Mel

            Well, the Philippines longest colonial overlords were the Spanish so there are large overlaps of Spanish culture and some people are still native Spanish speakers. (It’s a stretch – but it came up on several websites on the topic of which groups are Hispanic under the US definition passed in the 70’s.)

            It’s another area where the genetics would be fascinating and more than a bit complicated due to the sheer number of soldiers from far flung areas who have been stationed there.

          • Daleth

            A Filipino/a with a Spanish last name, and/or one who spoke Spanish as a native, would presumably count as Hispanic.

          • Daleth

            What full definition are you referring to–what’s the source for it? I haven’t seen a requirement of Latin American origins in any definition of Hispanic, only in definitions of Latino.

          • Mel

            A law was passed in 1976 to allow various human service departments to separately track Hispanic clients. I think the gov’t make a good attempt at defining the group, but the dual requirement of “spanish-speaking background” and “from a certain set of countries” created its own issues like where to place Brazilians and how to track people who are native speakers of Native American dialects within those countries and are weak in Spanish skills…

            Taken from Pew Research:
            ” Yes. In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed the only law in this country’s history that mandated the collection and analysis of data for a specific ethnic group: “Americans of Spanish origin or descent.” The language of that legislation described this group as “Americans who identify themselves as being of Spanish-speaking background and trace their origin or descent from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America and other Spanish-speaking countries.” Standards for collecting data on Hispanics were developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1977 and revised in 1997. Using these standards, schools, public health facilities and other government entities and agencies keep track of how many Hispanics they serve (which was a primary goal of the 1976 law).”
            http://www.pewhispanic.org/2009/05/28/whos-hispanic/

          • fiftyfifty1

            Technically Brazilians are not considered Hispanic but are considered Latino/a.

          • Daleth

            No. Spanish origin only, not Portuguese. That said, people with Spanish-sounding Portuguese names (Mendes or Gonzales rather than Mendez or Gonzalez, etc.) would probably be treated as Hispanics for most purposes, probably including minority-based scholarships. That doesn’t mean they actually are Hispanic, though.