Despite Options on Census, Many to Check ‘Black’ Only

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-10-13 22:07Z by Steven

Despite Options on Census, Many to Check ‘Black’ Only

The New York Times
2000-02-12

Diana Jean Schemo

This year’s new, racially inclusive census might have seemed tailor made for Michael Gelobter.

The son of a white Jewish father and an African-Bermudan mother, Mr. Gelobter lives in Harlem with his wife, Sharron Williams, a black woman whose Caribbean background melds African and Indian influences. Creating their own cultural road map as they go, the couple embrace the range of their heritages and those of friends, marking Passover, for example, with an African-American Latino seder.

But when the census invites Mr. Gelobter, for the first time, to name all the races that describe him, he will do what he has always done, and claim just one: black. Checking more than one race, he contends, would undermine the influence of blacks by reducing their number as a distinct group and so most likely diluting public policies addressing their concerns.

The census forms that will be mailed to most Americans in April—the count began last month in Alaska, where the winter chill tends to keep people at home and easier to tally —offers a nod to the nation’s increasing diversity. No longer will the Census Bureau instruct respondents to ”select one” race to describe themselves. Instead, it will tell them to mark one or more of 14 boxes representing 6 races (and subcategories) that apply—white, black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian Indian, other Asian and Pacific Islander—or to check ”some other race.”

But like Mr. Gelobter, many people, indeed most, who could claim more than one race are not expected to do so, demographers and census officials say.

Part of the reason, according to demographers, is habit: Americans are simply unaccustomed to the option. More profoundly, however, the change is fueling a weighty debate about the meaning of race, in which interpretations of history, politics and experience frequently overshadow the simpler matter of parentage.

Thirty years after Loving v. Virginia struck down the last laws barring interracial marriage, the new change in the census and the ensuing controversy have become a barometer of the complexity of American attitudes toward race, and their contradictions. With the 6 racial categories offering 63 possible combinations of racial identity, which government demographers will tabulate as distinct groups, the census could provide a remarkably meticulous racial profile of American society.

On one side of the debate stand those who see the revision as a tactic to divide blacks at a time when affirmative action and other remedies to discrimination are under attack. Opposing them are multiracial Americans who resent having to identify with just one part of their heritage.

Apart from his perception that the change could diminish blacks’ influence, Mr. Gelobter, a 38-year-old professor of environmental policy at Rutgers University, said that claiming a multiracial identity would link him to a bitter, freighted history of privilege for blacks who could cite some white lineage.

“Should Frederick Douglass have checked white and black?” Mr. Gelobter said. ”Should W. E. B. Du Bois have checked white and black? He practically looked white.”…

…Kerry Ann Rockquemore, a sociologist at Pepperdine University, polled 250 college students who had one black parent and one white, and found that those reared in middle-class or affluent white neighborhoods tended to identify as biracial, while those who had grown up in black communities generally considered themselves black.

How will nonblacks of mixed race answer the census? There is little more than anecdotal evidence. But some experts note that checking options like Asian and white, or American Indian and Pacific Islander, does not carry the same historical baggage that mixed-race blacks confront in deciding whether to say they are part white.

Scott Wasmuth, who is white and has a Filipino wife, said that when he filled out the census in 1990, he ignored the one-race-only rule that then prevailed and checked both white and Asian to describe his daughters. This year he will do the same. ”People are beginning to say, ‘I’m a mixture, and I don’t have to choose one or the other,’ ” he said.

Bertrand Wade, a 34-year-old industrial electronics technician from Brooklyn, wishes he could avoid descriptions altogether. His father is half-black and half-white, and his mother is East Indian and white.

When applications ask his race and none of the boxes fit, Mr. Wade said, ”the first thing I feel is excluded; then sometimes I feel that I should not be in a position where I have to state my race.” He said that on the census, he would check all the boxes that describe his heritage.

Charles Byrd, who runs a Web site called Inter Racial Voice, said, ”What we need to do as a country is get rid of these stupid boxes altogether.”

On the 1990 census, about 10 million Americans seemed to agree. They did not identify themselves as members of any race, said Margo J. Anderson, author of ”The American Census: A Social History” (Yale University Press, 1988). Another quarter-million, ignoring the instructions, identified themselves as belonging to more than one race.

Ms. Anderson said that ever since the first head count, in 1790, the census had played an important if subtle role in reflecting preoccupations and shaping social thought. It is only in the last century, though, that the government has devised questions to identify the country’s ethnic makeup. In the 1910 census, for instance, the government asked people their mother tongue, looking for Yiddish as the answer in order to tally the number of Jewish immigrants.

”The changes in questions always come about because of the social issues of the day,” Ms. Anderson said.

Susan Graham, head of Project RACE, a civic group that unsuccessfully pushed for a separate ”multiracial” box for the census, said she wanted a single category that would accurately define her children.

”Think of when you open a newspaper and see pie charts,” she said. ”We wanted a slice of the pie that says ‘multiracial.’ ”…

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A Fresh Face On Race

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-10-13 19:00Z by Steven

A Fresh Face On Race

The Hartford Courant
Hartford, Connecticut
2001-03-13

Mike Swift, Courant Staff Writer

The U.S. Census Bureau’s New Approach And The Latest Population Figures Could Mark ‘The Beginning Of The End Of Racial Classification In America.’

The federal government Monday pegged the number of Americans who are of multiple races at 6.8 million—about twice the size of Connecticut’s population—as for the first time ever the U.S. Census identified people who belong to more than one racial category.

Although their share of the U.S. population was a relatively small 2.4 percent, the population of people who claimed a multiple racial identity could have significance beyond their numbers in a society that diversified rapidly during the 1990s.

“It’s really a major step,” said Kerry Rockquemore, a University of Connecticut professor who is writing a book called, “Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America.”

“In the past, we’ve thought of race as being these mutually exclusive, biologically real categories that people fit into,” said Rockquemore, who is biracial herself. “And when you insert that option of `check all that apply,’ that blows that out of the water.”

“Today,” said Charles Byrd, editor and publisher of The Interracial Voice, an Internet magazine for multiracial people, “was the beginning of the end of racial classification in America.”…

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Multiracial Americans Ready To Claim Their Own Identity

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-05-16 22:07Z by Steven

Multiracial Americans Ready To Claim Their Own Identity

The New York Times
1996-07-20

Michel Marriott

For Alison Perry, being multiracial has meant moving through life as if she had a giant question mark drawn on her forehead. Strangers frequently approach and begin a vexing guessing game: “Are you Israeli?” “Are you a Latina?” “Where are you from?”

Yet for this slender, almond-colored woman with delicate features drawn from both her black-American father and her Italian-American mother, race is not what defines her.

“I definitely say that I’m interracial,” Ms. Perry said. “I do not identify myself as a black woman. I definitely don’t identify myself as a white woman, either.”

The very existence of multiracial people like Ms. Perry challenges this nation’s traditionally rigid notions of race…

…”People of mixed race in this country haven’t belonged anywhere,” said Charles Byrd, editor and publisher of Interracial Voice, an Internet news journal based in Queens that has backed the march. “The march will, in effect, allow people to come out and be themselves—not just be black, not just be white, but just be a human being.”…

…Forced Choices And No Choices

Increasingly, multiracial people are arguing—and many scientists agree—that race is a social construct, not a biological absolute. Many historians and social scientists, said Steven Gregory, a professor of anthropology and Africana studies at New York University, believe that the notion of race was largely invented as a way to assign social status and privilege.

Unlike sex, which is determined by the X or Y chromosome, there is no genetic marker for race. Indeed, a 1972 study by a Harvard University geneticist, Richard Lewontin, found that most genetic differences were within racial groups, not between them. He could trace only 6 percent of such differences to race.

Yet in the closing years of the 20th century, race remains a stubbornly resistant feature of this nation’s culture. Other societies, like those of some islands of the Caribbean and some South American countries, have a more fluid sense of racial identity. In Jamaica, for example, when people speak of color, they are referring to skin tone, not inalterable racial categories, said Cecile Ann Lawrence, a lawyer who was a government administrator in Jamaica.

But in the United States, race even divides multiracial people themselves. While some proudly claim their multiracial identity, others believe it is a sham, an effort to identify with the dominant, and privileged, white culture at the expense of a stigmatized minority.

“There is a tremendous amount of denial,” said Scott Minerbrook, whose father is black and whose mother white, but who considers himself black. Mr. Minerbrook, who is on the staff of Time magazine and lives in Islip, N.Y., says that many people “fall into the trap that they don’t want to be identified with failure; they think blackness equals failure.” But there is no escape, he argues; that is how the rest of the world labels multiracial children.

Some multiracial Americans believe, as Anthony Robert Hale, a graduate student in American literature at the University of California at Berkeley, said, that “in most cases, ‘mixed race’ means no race.”…

…Some Are Forging A Different Path

Regardless of society’s labels, many multiracial people are determined to set their own courses. Ms. Perry, who was an anthropology major at Wesleyan University, has learned to regard the American obsession with race with a degree of detachment, even tolerance. But she herself still defies categorization.

At Wesleyan, she was drawn to other interracial students, a well-organized and relatively large group on campus. She said she never felt part of the black community there.

Nonetheless, she joined a West African dance troupe at Wesleyan and traveled with it to Ghana. In Africa, she recalled with a chuckle, she was considered white. She also began dating one of the dance troupe’s drummers, who is white and Jewish….

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Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism [Review: Spickard]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-05-10 03:04Z by Steven

Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism [Review: Spickard]

American Studies
Volume 50, No. 1/2: Spring/Summer 2009
pages 125-127

Paul Spickard, Professor of History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism. Jared Sexton. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2008.

One of the major developments in ethnic studies over the past two decades has been the idea (and sometimes the advocacy) of multiraciality. From a theoretical perspective, this has stemmed from a post-structuralist attempt to deconstruct the categories created by the European Enlightenment and its colonial enterprise around the world. From a personal perspective, it has been driven by the life experiences in the last half-century of a growing number of people who have and acknowledge mixed parentage. The leading figures in this scholarly movement are probably Maria Root and G. Reginald Daniel, but the writers are many and include figures as eminent as Gary Nash and Randall Kennedy.

A small but dedicated group of writers has resisted this trend: chiefly Rainier Spencer, Jon Michael Spencer, and Lewis Gordon. They have raised no controversy, perhaps because their books are not well written, and perhaps because their arguments do not make a great deal of sense. It is not that there is nothing wrong with the literature and the people movement surrounding multiraciality. Some writers and social activists do tend to wax rhapsodic about the glories of intermarriage and multiracial identity as social panacea. A couple of not-very-thoughtful activists (Charles Byrd and Susan Graham) have been co-opted by the Gingrichian right (to be fair, one must point out that most multiracialists are on the left). And, most importantly, there is a tension between some Black intellectuals and the multiracial idea over the lingering fear that, for some people, adopting a multiracial identity is a dodge to avoid being Black. If so, that might tend to sap the strength of a monoracially-defined movement for Black community empowerment.

With Amalgamation Schemes, Jared Sexton is trying to stir up some controversy. He presents a facile, sophisticated, and theoretically informed intelligence, and he picks a fight from the start. His title suggests that the study of multiraciality is some kind of plot, or at the very least an illegitimate enterprise. His tone is angry and accusatory on every page. It is difficult to get to the grounds of his argument, because the cloud of invective is so thick, and because his writing is abstract, referential, and at key points vague…

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Not an “Other”

Posted in Census/Demographics, Interviews, Live Events, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2011-03-07 02:41Z by Steven

Not an “Other”

Online Newshour
1997-07-16

Paul Solman, Host

Increasingly, many Americans find they don’t easily fit into any racial group. But will adding a new “multiracial” category on the census take away the effectiveness of the count? After a background piece by Betty Ann Bowser, Paul Solman leads a debate.

PAUL SOLMAN: Well, what should the Census Bureau do? To answer that question, we’re joined by Harvard Sociologist Orlando Patterson, who has just completed a book on race: “Ordeal of Integration;” Charles Byrd publishes “Multiracial Voice,” an Internet journal on mixed race issues; Carlos Fernandez founded the Association of Multiethnic Americans and teaches law at Golden Gate University. And we’re trying to get his signal. We’ve had some trouble with it. And demographer, Linda Jacobsen, works for Claritas, a consumer database firm and also advises the Census Bureau. And welcome to you all.

Mr. Byrd, should there be a multiracial box on the census form, as we’ve just seen some talk about?

CHARLES BYRD, Internet Journal Publisher: (New York) Yes. Well, actually the name of my publication is the Interracial Voice, not multiracial. But, yes, we’ve been advocating for a separate multiracial category for a number of years now. We’re not terribly happy with the OMB decision. We don’t think it’s a great compromise. It’s a step forward towards this nation recognizing multiracialialty, but it’s not a huge one. The same check all that applies format could fit very easily underneath a multiracial header. What we have–what OMB has essentially recommended–…

…PAUL SOLMAN: Okay. Well, Ms. Jacobsen, I mean, how do you look at this? Do you like the check-off provision that is now the proposal before us? How do you respond to this idea of the multiracial box?

LINDA JACOBSEN, Demographer: Well, I think the difficulty with the multiracial box is that it provides less rich information and less detail about the composition of that group that Charles is describing as being multiracial. And it also has some disadvantages in the sense that it provides less of a link to historical data on race and ethnicity, as well as providing a disadvantage, for example, to health researchers, who know that certain health conditions or health problems are linked to particular races, such as sickle cell anemia, for example.

PAUL SOLMAN: Play that out for a second. Exactly how would it work with sickle cell anemia if you did or didn’t have a multiracial box? I mean, what would happen?

LINDA JACOBSEN: Well, for example, if an individual who say was black–had one parent who was black and one parent who was white–and then checked the multiracial box, they would be indistinguishable from say another individual who was multiracial, checked the multiracial box, and was say of Asian and white parentage. So a health researcher would not be able to count or to categorize those with any black heritage who might be at risk for sickle cell anemia…

…PAUL SOLMAN: Okay. So, Professor Patterson, you’ve heard both of these proposals, if you will, where you come down on this multiracial box, checking off more than one?

ORLANDO PATTERSON, Harvard University: I don’t think we need a racial box at all. And I noticed that Mr. Byrd said that race is a social construct, something we invent, an identification, partly imposed on us, partly what we select and choose. I agree with that. The only problem is that there’s another term, another category which is exactly like that, is the ethnic ancestry category…

…LINDA JACOBSEN: –that whether or not we like it, whether or not we think that should be the case, historically certain population and specifically racial groups have suffered discrimination on the basis of their race and ethnicity. And if we can–if we discontinue collecting that information, we don’t eliminate discrimination, we really eliminate our ability to measure it and to monitor compliance with civil rights laws such as Mr. Byrd suggested…

Read the entire transcript here.

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