Paul R. Lehman, Use of race, black, and white make 2010 census results inaccurate

February 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Posted in American Racism, blacks, Ethnicity in America, fairness, Media and Race, minority, Race in America, U. S. Census, whites | 3 Comments
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For a number of years this writer has advocated the discontinued use of the terms race, white, and black because the terms have never been clearly defined or when a definition was offered, it simply added to the confusion. That point is once again underscored in a recent Associated Press article entitled “Many resist labels for race when filling out census form.” The title, which identifies the problem with the census form, indicates the inappropriateness of the labels offered. The end results of the census report provide an inaccurate picture of the real diversity in society.

Hope Yen, writer of the article, noted that “When the 2010 census asked people to classify themselves by race, more than 21.7 million—at least 1 in 14 –went beyond the standard labels and wrote in such terms as “Arab,” “Haitian,” “Mexican,” and “multiracial.” In effect, these people knew their ethnic identity, but they were confused by the term race. The census form does an excellent job in confusing people by mixing terms without defining them, then requiring the people filling out the forms to select a so-called racial identity. Because such terms as race, racial, and ethnicity are used without any clarification as to their meaning, the people are at a loss to select one that fits them.

Yen states that most of the “write-in respondents are multiracial Americans or Hispanics, many of whom don’t believe they fit within the four government-defined categories of race: white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native.” The problem comes from the fact that those terms do not identify a person’s race—which is of course Human, nor are the terms defined—they are merely listed as choices. Yen continued by noting that “Because Hispanic is defined as an ethnicity and not a race, some 18 million Latinos used the “some other race” category to establish a Hispanic racial identity.” In effect, who they are and how they were asked to be identified from the choices provided did not reflect who they are. So, they chose the other only available avenue open to them on the form—“some other race.”

At some point in the future, the U.S. Government will with some encouragement, come to the point of recognizing that the use of the term race, white, and black are no longer serviceable, accurate, or appropriate. They are carry-overs from the days of slavery and ethnic discrimination. When Africans came to and were brought to this country, the ruling class took away their personal identity and gave them the name black, Negro, colored, and other such terms. Those term were never intended to serve as personal identities in a positive sense—only in the system of slavery and discrimination where the Africans had no social value. Society thought it beneficial to include all people of African decent under the same rubrics, so regardless of his or her status, all people of African decent were called blacks, Negros, colored, etc. In addition, society decided to identity all people of European decent white. To enhance the control of each group, the term race was added to the colors. In effect, society created these two groups and called them races. Now society has to contend with the confusion and complexity the continued use of these terms have created.

Many Americans have grown-up believing they belong to a so-called race that does not exist except in America. When an American regardless of his ethnicity visits a foreign country, he is not viewed as black or white, but American. When visitors come to America from other countries, they do not come as blacks or whites, but as individuals with their own cultural/ethnic identity. Once people of mixed ethnicity and cultures are asked to identify themselves, they can do so without any problems. When they are asked to select their race from a set of socially, and governmentally created choices, they have problems making a choice from what is presented them. The problems are created by the government, not the people.

Yen underscores this point: “More than three million write-ins came from white and black Americans who appear to have found the standard race category insufficient. They include Arabs, Iranians and Middle Easterners, who don’t fully view themselves as ‘white’ and have lobbied in the past to be a separate race category.” Another race category would simply add more confusion to the already ineffective system. What creates much of the confusion is a lack of clarity. For example, if some people from Egypt come to America, their individual identity is clear; Egypt is a country in Africa. These people in America would be considered white because Egypt is in the northern part of Africa where the people are said to be white regardless of their skin complexion. In America if these people have African ancestry then they are considered black. Because of the stigma some Africans associate with being identified as African American, they choose to avoid the labels of black and African American. So, what do they call themselves? Hence, the problem.

Why is race so important to the census? Yen stated that “census data are used to enforce antidiscrimination laws, to distribute more than $400 billion in federal aid for roads, school and health care, and to draw political districts based in part on a community’s racial make-up.” Common sense should dictate to the government that simplifying the ethnic categories by eliminating race and color from the selections that a more accurate picture would result in identifying all ethnic groups. One of the problems created from the present system is recorded in Yen’s statement that “Over the past decade, the number of people identifying as ‘some other race’ jumped by 3.7 million, or 24 percent.”

When will the government realize that it creates, maintains, and promotes this problem of individual identity?  A simple change in the language would do wonders in eliminating many of the problems. The first order of business for the government in addressing this problem is to recognize that a problem exists. Of course, that in itself is another problem.


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  1. Indeed…simple, but so difficult…so ingrained in this culture, from the Average White Band to Black Entertainment Television. Hard but very worthy cause.

  2. Paul, you might like to look at the Australian Census information. Here we have a choice – we can identify as having a heritage from a particular country, or identify as Australian. As a MUCH greater percentage of the population is Australia is either born outside Australia or has at least 3 of 4 grandparents born outside Australia, this is important.

    We have (comparatively) very very few “Hispanics” (what the hell does that even mean, by the way) so we’d be in real trouble. Maoris from New Zealand would be horrified to be considered “white”! They are very proud of their heritage and rightly so.

    When I was in the USA visiting a black american girlfriend, I was a temporary member of her gym. I had to tick what I was on the form. On a bloody GYM form FFS!!! I refused. What “colour” I am has absolutely NOTHING to do with my gym membership.

  3. It is doubly difficult to change when there are undoubtedly many in positions to make recommendations for change or facilitate change who have yet to believe we are all one race.

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