Paul R. Lehman, Here we go again, the U.S. Census Bureau and race

April 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Posted in Ethnicity in America, Media and Race, Race in America | 2 Comments
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Here we go again. The U.S. Census Bureau is the gift that keeps on giving in regards to collected ethnic data—the more they give, the less we know. An article from The New York Times entitled “Black and White Married in the Deep South: A Shifting Image,” was sent to me by my long time friend and former high school roommate. The article mentions the laws and social practices prohibiting the marriage of individuals from different so-called races; not all so-called races, just African Americans and European Americans. Interestingly enough, laws were never created to discourage their procreation or intimacy, just their marriage. The problems with this article is similar to the problems associated with all the data collected using so-called race terms—biracial, mixed-race, multi-race. These terms and others including race or a derivative of it are based on false premises. Therefore, the data cannot be accurate or valid.

This article underscores the Census bureau’s use and acceptance of the term race and it’s derivatives as being valid, accurate, and acceptable. The term biracial makes the assumption that two pure and biologically different races exists—the black race and the white race. One wonders how they arrive at the purity of each so-called race since the term bi-racial refers to two so-called races. Actually, the way these two races are perceived in America is based on stereotypes that provide symbolic elements that characterize each race. Generally, the characterizations are made from color and/or culture. The irony comes into play when one is asked what two races are represented in the bi-racial person, human and what else? Since there is only one human race, the other has to be non-human.

Another term used by the Census Bureau is mixed-race. What is a mixed –race person? Could a bi-racial person also be a mixed –race person or does this term have some unique qualifying aspect to it? The assumption in the use of this term is that more than two so-called races participated in the creation of mixed-race people. Since the term is never defined we simply do not know. We can, however, assume that the bureau or its representatives look at the cultural make-up of the parents of mixed-race people to make their determination. For example, if a bi-racial person procreated with a person of Asian and French culture then their offspring would be labeled mixed-race. This example would be laughable if it were not part of our reality. One wonders how a so-called mixed- race person sees him/herself.

A comment from the afore mentioned article shows just how cloudy and  vague is the concept of race : “In the first comprehensive accounting of multiracial Americans since statistics were first collected about them in 2000, reporting from the 2010 census…shows that the nation’s mixed-race population is growing far more quickly than many demographers had estimated….” If someone can tell me the difference between a multi-racial and a mixed-race person as mentioned in the above statement, they will deserve my eternal thanks. Is a multi-race person different from a mixed-race person? The statement seems to suggest that there is. Just how does one discern them? What are the criteria necessary to be identified as multi-race and mixed race?

In the early days of slavery, Africans, American Indians, and Europeans who were slaves frequently created unions and produced children. When this happened, the slave owners paid little attention to these unions because the offspring simple increased his wealth. However, when Africans became the primary focus of the slave system, laws were created to discourage and penalize such unions, but only between so-called black and white slaves. In 1661, Maryland passed a law forbidding blacks and whites to marry regardless of their status free or slave. The concept of race during that time was based on color rather than culture, so law was the controlling factor. How does the Census Bureau make it determination today?

Since the U.S. Census Bureau promotes the concepts of bi-racial, mixed-racial, and multi-racial groups of human beings, it should rightfully be the agency that seeks to correct its errors. To suggest that these groups of human beings exist is to do a disservice to America society, and especially America’s children. The Census Bureau creates confusion and disagreement in educational information and instruction when society is forces to accept these racial terms as accurate, reliable, and correct. If the Census Bureau intends to continue to use these terms, the least expectation of society is for the terms to be defined. As matters now stand, no one knows the differences among a bi-racial person, mixed-racial person, and a multi-racial person. So, what value is the data collected from these so-called racial groups is the data is flawed?

The Census Bureau can easily start to remedy the problems created by these inaccurate and inappropriate terms by simply eliminating the use of the words race and racial. The Bureau can make this move to a more specific body of ethnic specific terms to collect the data it seeks. For example, instead of saying that the mix of black and white marriages have increased in the South since the last census, it could be more specific and say that African Americans and European Americans have increased their marriages in the South etc… The difference between using black and white and African American and European American is that the data will not be confusing about who is included in or excluded out of the data collection. As a matter of fact, the Bureau, by using the specific ethnic cultural identities will increase the accuracy and reliability of the collected data because it would not have to wonder if the so-called blacks are African Americans or of some other culture such as Haitian, Jamaican, or just a dark complexioned person.

When terms are not defined in any program that focuses on collecting data from a variety of sources, the end result will not be reliable because of the many unrestricted variables. The phrase most scientists use is “garbage in, garbage out.” If the Census bureau knows specifically what it wants from the data, it should construct its collection program to produce the desired results. Clearly, the program, process, and so-called racial terms presently in place will not accomplish its objective. The time has come to make a change to help Americans with a better self-identity now and in the future.

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2 Comments »

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  1. The census terminology just gets more problematic every decade. Have you tried writing to the Census Bureau or forwarding this blog entry to the Bureau?

    • Chris, The value of the blog to the Census Bureau would probably increase coming from someone other than the writer. Please feel free to forward it and the previous one to them. Good luck.


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