Census serves up racial buffet in Silicon Valley

Census serves up racial buffet in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Mercury News

Joe Rodriguez

Who are you? What are you?

Sara Phillips, a 20-year-old computer science student from Hawaii at Santa Clara University, just may have the new look of the 21st century. When her 2010 Census form arrived last year, she gazed at the variety of ethnic and racial boxes available to her and selected four: Spanish and Filipino, same as her mother; and Japanese and white from her father’s lineage.

“I always mark as many as I can,” she said.

Choosing from this racial buffet made her one of about 87,300 people living in Santa Clara County who claimed more than one race, according to the latest results released by the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s an increase of about 9,000 from the past decade…

…Advocates, including the Berkeley-based Association of Multi Ethnic Americans, started lobbying for the distinction in the late 1960s, arguing in part that the blending of races eventually would transcend racial divisions. Curiously, some odd bedfellows opposed them.

On one side, cultural conservatives said another racial category would Balkanize America and stifle the dream of a colorblind society. On the other, traditional black, Asian and Native American groups feared the new category would dilute their numbers and political clout.

For better or worse, the mixed-race genie is out of the bottle, said professor Matthew Snipp, a sociologist who heads the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University.

“It’s going to continue to grow, and how fast is anybody’s guess,” he said. At the same time, “It’s still a relatively small part of the population.”

Although he has some Irish blood, Snipp is Native American and marked only that box on his own census form. He said the key issues in the mixed-race question still are alive and meaty.

For example, he said, federal anti-discrimination laws name and protect traditional minority groups, but not multiracial people. The Census Bureau is the only agency that collects such information. When a federal health agency wants to know which racial populations need attention and where, Census Bureau computers assign mixed-race people to one of the traditional racial groups and hands the recoded counts to the agencies.

“The bigger issue is that we still have laws in place to combat discrimination that still exists,” he said…

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