Fix the Census’ Archaic Racial Categories

Fix the Census’ Archaic Racial Categories

The New York Times

Kenneth Prewitt, Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs
Columbia University
Also former director of the U.S. Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001 and author of What Is Your Race? The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans (Princeton University Press, 2013)

Starting in 1790, and every 10 years since, the census has sorted the American population into distinct racial groups. Remarkably, a discredited relic of 18th-century science, the “five races of mankind,” lives on in the 21st century. Today, the census calls these five races white; black; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

The nation’s founders put a hierarchical racial classification to political use: its premise of white supremacy justified, among other things, enslaving Africans, violent removal of Native Americans from their land, the colonization of Caribbean and Pacific islands, Jim Crow subjugation and the importation of cheap labor from China and Mexico…

…Fast-growing population groups — mixed-race Americans, those with “hyphenated” identities, immigrants and their children, anyone under 30 — increasingly complain that the choices offered by the census are too limited, even ludicrous. Particularly tortured is the Census Bureau’s designation, since 1970, of “Hispanic” as an ethnicity or origin, thereby compelling Hispanics to also choose a “race.” In 2010, Hispanics were offered the option to select more than one race, but 37 percent opted for “some other race” — a telling indicator that the term itself is the problem.

Indeed, anyone who filled in “some other race” that year was allocated to one or more of the five main groupings. Many absurdities have resulted.

America has about 1.5 million immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa — some 3 percent of the nation’s black population. Like President Obama’s father, who was Kenyan, their experience differs vastly from that of African-Americans whose ancestors were enslaved, yet they are subsumed into the same category — one that, until this very year, continued to include the outdated term “Negro.”

The census considers Arabs white, along with non-Arabs like Turks and Kurds because they have origins in the Middle East or North Africa. Migrants from the former Soviet nations in Central Asia are lumped in as white along with descendants of New England pilgrims…

Read the entire opinion piece here.

Tags: , ,