Boroditsky delivered this talk to SAR’s membership on 18 May 2017. SAR stands for School for Advanced Research. It’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Boroditsky is a professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego.

Giant Robot coughed up this amazing talk on the heels of some news I engaged with to the effect that Citrus Heights (Sacramento County, California) is launching an on-demand public transportation pilot and they developed the software to manage it for only $25K.


The article I read on the subject (at Next City) mentioned “traditional” rides like Lyft and Uber.

“Good for Citrus Grove,” was my first thought.  And then, you know me, “what kind of demographics are we talking about?”

So off I went to Wikipedia to see and that brought me to the thing this post is about.

Here’s the big long sentence followed by a tiny afterthought:

The racial makeup of Citrus Heights in 2010 was 66,856 (80.3%) White, 2,751 (3.3%) African American, 753 (0.9%) Native American, 2,714 (3.3%) Asian (1.2% Filipino, 0.4% Indian, 0.4% Chinese, 0.3% Japanese, 0.2% Vietnamese, 0.4% Other), 363 (0.4%) Pacific Islander, 5,348 (6.4%) from other races, and 4,516 (5.4%) from two or more races.

Hispanic or Latino of any race were 13,734 persons (16.5%).

So I thought, hey, let’s see if we can dial down racism in the United States by making a few edits here.

It’d be a start, right?

So, at 18:00 hours, I tweaked the Citrus Heights entry as follows:

The racial makeup of Citrus Heights in 2010 was 66,856 (80.3%) European American, 2,751 (3.3%) African American, 753 (0.9%) Native American, 2,714 (3.3%) Asian American (1.2% Filipino, 0.4% Indian, 0.4% Chinese, 0.3% Japanese, 0.2% Vietnamese, 0.4% Other), 363 (0.4%) Pacific Islanders, 5,348 (6.4%) from other races, and 4,516 (5.4%) from two or more races. Latin American of any race were 13,734 persons (16.5%).

And then left the following note on the talk page:

Why do we have half a dozen different designations for Indigenous Americans? Why are we still saying “Whites” when we’re talking about European Americans? Why are we saying “Asian”, when we mean Asian American? Isn’t it time to level up a bit?

I’ve left Native American, as opposed to Pacific Islanders and Latin Americans, even though that’s like quibbling over whether a European is from Ireland, Germany or Italy – because making people equally American – regardless of whether they come from Europe, Asia or Africa, is already a pretty big step.

The custom is to refer to Indigenous Americans originally from the southern continent as “Hispanic” because they speak Spanish, or Brazilian Portuguese — even if they speak really good English. How does that make sense?

Surely it’s time to learn to say “Latin American”, instead of a much more uprooted “Latino” (even though both designations are referring to the language spoken by the Pope) . . . although, if we were just to say “Indigenous Americans”, like we say “African Americans” (no one worries even about east, west or north Africa), we’d be looking at a bit more critical mass – in Citrus Heights, anyway.

Predictably, at 21:00 hours, I got the following note:

Wikipedian on Patrol (WoP A): I’ve undone your edit, as these are literally terms the US Census contains. It’s disingenuous to use alternate names. For such a change to be made, there would need to be an RFC to ask Wikipedians what to use. As it stands, Wikipedia uses what the government uses.

To which I replied

Ahhhhhhh. . . the long road home from racism. Sigh.  I appreciate that my edits were “original content” and that Wikipedia can not entertain this level of “activism”. You guys, the Guardians of Wikipedia’s Backbone, are the BEST! Respect.

All well and good.

Virtually immediately WoP A replied, “cool”.

And then someone calling themselves “Magnolia” showed up to add their own two cents.

Don’t get mad at Wikipedia editors for correctly sourcing US government data. If you want fake info there are plenty of places to find it on the web, just keep it off of Wikipedia. And yes, the term “illegal alien” at United States Border Patrol is correct.

“Wait, what?” was my first thought.

Where did this guy get “illegal alien”? The topic was Americans. But I pursued it, oh yes I did, and here’s what I hadn’t realized:

U.S. Census figures are based on actual counts of persons dwelling in U.S. residential structures. They include citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors and illegal immigrants.

So the US Census calls all peoples with European heritage living in the United States “white”, and all peoples with African heritage living in the United States “African American”. Is that huge? Everyone and anyone with any African heritage at all is automatically counted as a US citizen!

Asians, on the other hand, not so much.

The US Census is not going to bother distinguishing between Asians who have US citizenship and Asians that do not, but.

They ARE going to go through the trouble of figuring out what neck of the Asian wood those Asians have heritage, because if it turns out they feel the need to put them in internment camps, they’re going to want to be able to distinguish the one from the other round them up fast, depending.

Get those street addresses yo! Every 10 years, ’cause you never know.

And then, apparently, Hispanic and Latino are both euphemisms for “Illegal Alien”. No need to mention race, just language (Spanish) and religion (“Latin” is code for Catholic).

Ethnic Europeans from the southern continent are presumably counted simply as “white”.

But our Magnolia friend (who btw has received honors for being polite on the wiki profile) is calling the news that indigenous peoples from south America are Indigenous Americans “fake info”.

No wonder Congress is so confused.

If the talk ends up not fascinating you as much as it did me, be sure and fast forward to the end — where Boroditsky comments on the Freedom Fries foolishness (very funny).


The other conversation that Giant Robot thought was interesting enough to comment on was the one about the quality of Ivy League education these days.

I have a tendency to take the Tufekci approach, but clearly there’s more to GR than Mob Mentality and Group Think.

Good to know.

The School for Advanced Research (SAR), until 2007 known as the School of American Research and founded in 1907 as the School for American Archaeology (SAA), is an advanced research center located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. Since 1967, the scope of the school’s activities has embraced a global perspective through programs to encourage advanced scholarship in anthropology and related social science disciplines and the humanities, and to facilitate the work of Native American scholars and artists.

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