Race/Ethnicity and the 2000 Census: Recommendations for African American and Other Black Populations in the United States

Race/Ethnicity and the 2000 Census: Recommendations for African American and Other Black Populations in the United States

Amercan Journal of Public Health
Volume 90, Number 11 (November 2000)
pages 1728-1730

David R. Williams, Florence and Laura Norman Professor of Public Health and of African and African American Studies
Harvard University

James S. Jackson, Daniel Katz Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health, and Director of the Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan

This commentary considers the implications of the assessment of racial/ethnic status for monitoring the health of African Americans and other Black populations in the United States. It argues that because racial disparities in health and other social indicators persist undiminished, the continued assessment of race is essential. However, efforts must be made to ensure that racial data are of the highest quality. This will require uniform assessment of racial status that includes identifiers for subgroups of the Black population.

Research also indicates that the health of multiracial persons varies by maternal race. Thus, efforts to monitor multiracial status should assess the race of both parents. More attention should also be given to analysis and interpretation of racial data and to the collection of additional data that capture characteristics linked to race (such as socioeconomic factors and racism) that may adversely affect health.

…As long as being Black remains consequential for every aspect of life, and as long as racial status continues to reflect differences in power and desirable resources in society, it is important to assess race. The view that we should all simply be called “Americans,” and that all other race and ethnic terms should be dropped, denies the power and status differences that exist between and among racial and ethnic groups. Thus, if the welfare of the African American population and racial inequalities in society are to be monitored more broadly, it is important to continue to assess racial status. This information should be used in the effort to eliminate inequalities…

…What are the implications of multiracial status for characterizing health risks? A few studies have examined distributions of health problems by multiracial status. They have all shown that health outcomes vary by the race of the mother. For example, Collins and David studied the relationship between biracial status and low-birthweight children born in Black–White unions in Illinois. In comparison with infants whose parents were White, infants born to Black mothers and White fathers had a higher rate of low birthweight than infants born to White mothers and Black fathers. Even after adjustment for maternal age, education, marital status, parity, prenatal care, census tract income, and gestational age, infants born to Black mothers and White fathers were still 1.4 times more likely to be of low birthweight than infants with 2 White parents. Similarly, using the 1983 national population of single live births, Migone et al. found that among infants born in Black–White unions, low birthweight, mean birthweight, and rates of preterm births were more strongly related to the mother’s than to the father’s race. Biracial infants with White mothers and Black fathers had better outcomes than those with Black mothers and White fathers…

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