Racial Arithmetic: Ethnoracial Politics in a Relational Key

Rodríguez-Muñiz, Michael. 2019. “Racial Arithmetic: Ethnoracial Politics in a Relational Key.” Pp. 278-295 in Relational Formations of Race: Theory, Method and Practice, edited by Natalia Molina, Daniel Martinez HoSang, and Ramón Gutiérrez. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Societies invested in the quantification of race are rarely, if ever, free of racial arithmetic, that is, the practice of using statistics to legitimate and justify political decisions along categories of race and ethnicity. Despite this, scholars have tended to focus on the production rather than the use of ethnoracial statistics. This paper argues that the study of racial arithmetic—an understudied feature of contemporary politics—requires a relational approach. To illustrate the purchase of this approach, this paper presents an analysis of Chicago’s most recent bout of aldermanic redistricting. In this case, racial arithmetic rested on the ubiquitous juxtaposition of “Latino” and “Black” demographics, as captured in the 2010 census. By casting Black and Latinx political power as a zero-sum game, this juxtaposition helped longstanding white overrepresentation on the City Council escape public scrutiny.