I'm Not a Pigeon, and I'm Not Going In That Hole

At the Corner, Mark Krikorian proposes a method for filling out Census Question 9:

[Question 9]

To wit:

[Question 9 Answer]

If you find the government's long tradition of slicing up the citizenry by genetics odious, this has great appeal. But will you get in trouble? I'm not a lawyer. Don't sue me. But here's a relevant answer from the 2010 Census Constituent FAQs:

The Census Bureau collects race data in accordance with guidelines provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and these data are based on self-identification. The racial categories included in the census form generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country, and are not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically or genetically. In addition, it is recognized that the categories of the race item include racial and national origin or socio-cultural groups. People may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture, such as "American Indian and White." People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino or Spanish may be of any race. In addition, it is recognized that the categories of the race item include both racial and national origin or socio-cultural groups. You may choose more than one race category.
Emphasis added. The "self-identification" bit tells me: you are what you think you are. They're not going to hold you down, extract a DNA sample, and run it through autosomal analysis. Works for me.

The go-to document on pigeonholing Americans by criteria Your Federal Government deems important was emitted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) back in 1997; you might find it funny, sad, or both. Let me cannibalize a post I wrote on it back in ought-5.

The OMB dictated:

  • The Five Official Races: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. (This year's Census slices some of these up a little further, but you must have these five to be OMB-compliant.)

  • The Two Official Ethnicities: "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic or Latino." (The Census sliced this up a bit too.)

  • How to tell: "Self-identification is the preferred means of obtaining information about an individual's race and ethnicity, except in instances where observer identification is more practical (e.g., completing a death certificate)"

  • What order to ask: "When the two question format is used, the Hispanic origin question should precede the race question." (And, indeed, the ethnicity question is number 8 on the Census form.)

It goes on and on in excruciating sensitivity and detail, but most of all, in pointless arbitrariness. ("A Cape Verdean ethnic category should not be added to the minimum data collection standards." Darn!)

You can see the 2000 Census results on race/ethnicity here. Fun (and to me surprising) fact: only about 48% of Hispanics self-identified as "white"; only 2% said "black". But really surprising (and, I would imagine, kind of embarrassing to the Census Bureau) was this: about 42% said "Other". In other words, a huge chunk of Hispanics looked at the Five Official Races, and said: "Nope, none of those."

Overall, 6.6% of the respondents back in 2000 checked off "Other" for race; for 5.5%, that was their only choice. I don't see any record of what they wrote in the little boxes underneath, but I'd like to think a healthy fraction wrote "American".

Last Modified 2012-10-04 8:04 AM EDT