Being counted is crucial in the U.S…

My academic research is on racial categories in national censuses.  When I first started reading about the push to get a “mixed-race” category on the U.S. census in the 1990s, I was absolutely on the side of the multiracial movement. I thought the census should recognize our identities, no matter how complicated they may be.  Then I kept reading and realized that the multiracial activists were only concerned with recognition and didn’t care that it potentially came at the expense of civil rights agendas.  Being counted is crucial in the U.S.—and elsewhere. It is linked to money, political power, grassroots mobilization and even community cohesion.  Having a separate mixed-race category threatened all that—and the hard-fought victories of the civil rights movement.  The multiracial organizations that testified before Congress in the 1990s were mostly white mothers of multiracial children who did not want their children to have to choose one race over another.  But they failed to recognize what else was at stake—though the census was once an instrument used to manage and control racial populations, it now has a political power that racial minorities can access and use to advance their claims. The entire U.S. civil rights regime rests on the idea of discrete racial categories. One group’s recognition could lead to another’s oppression.  But the mixed-race activists didn’t care—they went on to argue (unsuccessfully) for their cause and even struck alliances with Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, whose ten steps for better race relations in the U.S. included adding a multiracial category to the census and doing away with affirmative action.

Debra Thompson, “The language and the Ethics of Mixed Race,” In Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out, edited by Adebe De Rango-Adem and Andrea Thompson (Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2010), 267.