The country has metaphorically been called a “melting pot.” Now the U.S. Census Bureau is the pot, and the only thing melting is common sense.
The agency plans to eliminate the category “some other race” from the 2010 census questionnaire, leaving people to choose one or more of five racial categories: white, black, Asian, American Indian or Alaska native and Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Hispanics choose one or more of the previous categories. The Bureau is overlooking one very important fact: Many Hispanics feel they are not accurately identified by the five categories. It is ridiculous that the government is trying to pigeonhole the largest minority group, with a population of almost 40 million, into racial categories that falsify their identity.
In the 2000 census, 48 percent of Hispanics described themselves as white, 42 percent as “some other race,” 6 percent chose two or more categories, and 2 percent as black. If passed, the result would distort the actual population of other racial categories, which is already a neglected problem.
The category “white” is defined on the 2000 census as people having origins in Europe, the Middle East or North Africa. This is an oddity since people in the latter two groups are considered minorities and treated as such.
Those who believe they don’t fit into any of the categories will either choose a racial category that does not accurately describe them or refuse to answer at all. Hispanics are more apt to choose the racial category “white,” which would significantly increase the number of people in that demographic and exaggerate the population difference between whites and minorities. This would impact government program funding for agencies such as Congreso Day Latinos Unidos, a North Philadelphia program that provides educational, social and cultrual resources, including job training and after-school programs to Hispanics. Likewise, if a significant number of people refused to answer, the country’s diversity would be understated.
The major flaw with this rationale is that it would allow the Census Bureau to define society through racial categories which they call a “social-political construct designed for collecting data on the race and ethnicity of broad population groups in this country.” Yet this construct confuses race with ethnicity. Most Hispanics identify themselves by their ethnicity, not their race. This is why write-in answers for the “some other race” question include Mexican, Puerto Rican or Dominican. The change would ignore the evolving views of race, which vary depending on personal opinion.
The Bureau maintains the change is necessary to improve racial data that federal agencies use to track population, birth and mortality rates and other classifications. Improvements need to be made to the current categories in order to improve their data.
Even more disturbing is the fact that officials “assign a race to those who select ‘some other race’ and include them in standard racial groups to accommodate federal agencies that do not use the ambiguous racial category,” as reported in The New York Times.
Hints include the racial categorization of relatives and neighbors, but many American families originate from more than one race and ethnicity. The Bureau is playing a racial guessing game based on factors that may not provide accurate answers.
“Some other race” is the fastest growing racial category, but in a few years it may be a thing of the past. It’s shameful for a country as diverse as America to only list five categories of races to choose from. The regional director of the Philadelphia census is Puerto Rican. I wonder if he would refuse to answer.
Stephanie Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.