Paul R. Lehman, Census Bureau fails to recognize its core problems with new plans

August 19, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, American Racism, blacks, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, Media and Race, minority, Prejudice, public education, U. S. Census, whites | 1 Comment
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Hope Yen, a writer for the Associated Press, published an article, “Census plans to change how it measures race,” in The Oklahoman today (8/9/12). The article stated the purpose: “To keep pace with rapidly changing notions of race, the Census Bureau wants to make broad changes to its surveys that would end use of the term  “Negro,” count Hispanics as a mutually exclusive group and offer new ways to identify Middle Easterners.” Basically, what it will do is add more confusion and complexity to the problems it already has.

The article reported on the confusion the Census survey created for the people taking it in 2010. Having written on this subject in this blog and my latest book, America’s Race Matters: Returning the Gifts of Race and Color, the need to change aspects of the Census form comes as no surprise. The Bureau will try to identify and fix the problems that revolve around the identity of various ethnic groups because an accurate accounting of some groups was not possible based on the selection offered on the Census form. We are told that “The research [Census Bureau’s] is based on an experiment conducted during the 2010 census in which nearly 500,000 households were given forms worded differently. The findings show that many people who filled out the traditional form did not fit within the five categories of race…” The five categories of race listed on the forms were white, black, Asian, Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native. Hispanics evidently caused a problem “because Hispanics is currently defined as an ethnicity and not a race, some 18 million Latinos—or roughly 37 percent—used the ‘some other race’ category on their census forms to establish a Hispanic racial identity.”

So, just how does the Census Bureau plan to address this problem in the future? We are told that “Under one proposed change, a new question would simply ask a person’s race or origin, allowing them to check a single box next to choices including black, white, or Hispanic.” Unfortunately, that would actually create more problems for the Census Bureau because people of mixed ethnicity would not identify with any of the boxes offered. However, the Census Bureau, not to be deterred, offered some other changes:”The other changes would drop use of “Negro,” leaving a choice of “black” or African-American, as well as add write-in categories that would allow Middle Easterners and Arabs to specifically identify themselves.” Well, if people are allowed to identify themselves would those identities in effect create other races or would they be considered simply ethnic groups?

The primary problem facing the Census Bureau has to do with a lack of specificity, namely a lack of definitions. People filling out the survey forms are left on their own to figure out what the Census Bureau means with reference to race and ethnicity. Part of the problem comes from the fact that many people do not see themselves the way the Census Bureau sees them. For example if a person has an Asian mother and a Hispanic father, what box would he or she check? Asian is listed as a race, but Hispanic is listed as an ethnicity. Would this person be considered a half-race person or half-ethnic person? The Census Bureau does not offer a solution to such a problem, but suggest that the person filling out the survey make a choice according to the boxes available which includes “some other race.”

The fact that new immigrants are arriving in this country daily, we need to have a system in place to identify them accurately. The present system leaves much to be desired. What needs to happen without question is for the Census Bureau to drop the use of the term race and go with the term ethnicity, allowing individuals a wide range of selections based on specific cultures and geography. The terms black and white should also be discontinued because they serve no useful purpose. For example, if one goes by color than certain Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, and a host of other people might be considered black; however, because of their cultural and geographical identity, refuse to be identified as black. The same problem exists for people who identify themselves as white. The Census Bureau does not define race, but uses the colors black and white as though they are races. Apparently, that line of action does not work; hence, the problems and confusion.

One thing about the census that cannot be ignored is the fact that the data collected is used in a variety of ways that impact people and society specifically. Politically, information about the cultural make-up of certain areas is important in order to address the problems and concerns in those areas. If the census information is faulty or inaccurate, then the likelihood of some areas receiving attention would be affected. Since the cultural and ethnic make-up of America is changing on a daily basis, it is incumbent on the Census Bureau to make some meaningful changes, but not changes that simply exacerbate the problems. The Census Bureau needs to recognize what the obvious nature of the problem is, and address that first. Unfortunately, the Census Bureau cannot seem to recognize that the problem has to do with their use of and dependency on terms that are no longer applicable to the objective.

Chances are we will be reading another article in the future about the continued confusion being experienced by the Census Bureau because they have received an overabundance of survey forms with the selection marked “some other race,” and they will not know what to do with the information because they have no idea of what that means. For many years now when forms come to me with a space requesting an identity under “race,” the word “human” is supplied.

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  1. It’s unfortunate that the racial construct is still so deeply entrenched in the political process of this great nation. Only truth through education like those you present here give us a chance, a real chance to change. Don’t stop!

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