There's often newsroom debate about how to refer to members of various subgroups of Americans. Some editors think that "Native Americans" is still in vogue, which it isn't (pace Wikipedia), while others will argue with reporters about whether it's more kosher to call those from Spanish-speaking heritages "Hispanic" or "Latino." Amitai Etzioni says no to both those terms.

Etzioni, about as well-known a sociologist as a sociologist can be, has published a Neiman paper on use of the term "Hispanics." Surveying the media landscape, he notes that more and more reporters refer to Hispanics as though that were a racial category, which it is not.

Hispanics belong to ethnic groups -- note the plural. Etzioni wishes that the media would refer to groups such as Mexican Americans and Cuban Americans, noting that these groups may have greater differences between them than either has with whites.

This is about more than semantics, he argues.

Here is the gist of his paper:

"To characterize a group of people as a distinct race -- and for them and others to start to regard themselves in this way -- is to create a divide where there was once only a space. Race is a place you cannot leave, nor your children, nor theirs. Ethnic lines are muted and apt to blur in future generations.

"For those identified as being nonwhite in North America, they belong to a minority with a keen sense of separateness, if not discrimination and victimization often associated with such a label. In contrast, as members of an ethnic group, typically they feel that they are as American as apple pie, even if they prefer flan. After all, every American is a member of one ethnic group or another, so to draw racial lines where none exists is to divide Americans even more, which is detrimental to societal well-being."

I would note that Etzioni made his points in a more compelling and engaging fashion in an interview on KQED's Forum program, which you can listen to by going here.