I can't stop myself from commenting on an Inside Higher Ed
article from last week titled "Rethinking Racial
An Education Department plan to change the way colleges collect and
report data on their students' racial and ethnic backgrounds is
attracting growing criticism.
The issue is with this new algorithm:
Colleges would ask students first if they are Latino or Hispanic, with
just a yes/no answer. Then the second question would provide a choice of
races: American Indian, Asian, African American, Native Hawaiian or
Pacific Islander, or white.
Believe it or not, this method makes sense in the world of Your Federal
Government. Because, by regulation
, "Hispanic" (or "Latino") is
, and that's the only ethnicity they bother to
, on the other hand, is considered to be independent
from one's ethnicity, and the five named above are the standard
"important" ones demanded by regulation. We've blogged about
in greater detail.
Ah, so you're thinking (being the sensible person that you are):
it's a darn good idea someone's demanding a rethink on this!
The whole exercise is divisive, simplistic, and brings
back memories of the Jim Crow era, where your genetic makeup
was (to put it mildly) the source of the granting and taking away
of legal rights and protections. The sooner we can get beyond this
sort of nonsense, the better.
And of course, you'd be right. And yet, at the same time, you would be
so very very
wrong. Because the criticism dealt with in
IHE article isn't the kind
sensible people make: it's the kind of criticism levelled by higher
bureaucrats. The controversy between them and government bureaucrats
will remind you of the dispute between
Biefuscu and Lilliput over which end of the soft-boiled egg to crack.
You'll be asking: can't, somehow, both sides lose?
For example, C. Anthony Broh, director of research policy for the
Consortium on Financing Higher Education, opines that
Philosophically, this format says, 'we care more if you indicate that
you are Hispanic than if you indicate you are black or American Indian,
etc.' … Separating the identities of Hispanics from other groups is
a visual statement that groups are not treated equally in higher
One can't help but suspect that Broh could detect invidious "visual
statements" in any
set of racial/ethnic classification questions;
that kind of thing is easy to find when you want to.
Broh also alleges that "research" has
found that "a two-question format is particularly confusing to the
younger Hispanic population."
Sure, that's not demeaning to incoming Hispanic college students;
two questions is one too many for them!
Also extensively quoted is Marsha Hirano-Nakanishi, assistant vice
chancellor for academic research and resources for the California
State University System, which is almost certainly not a made-up job
She wants to first ask students what their race and ethnicity is, giving
them the option of checking multiple boxes. Then she wants to ask
students if they have a preference of being identified in a particular
way. So a student with a strong ethnic or racial identity can answer the
first question completely but also show up statistically in the way that
reflects that person's actual life.
But Marsha continues:
"We want to respect the individual," she said. "If you bother to ask
them what they are, and then ignore them, it seems less respectful."
Right. The problem here is:
this racial/ethnic pigeonholing is all about ignoring
individuality in favor of glomming everyone together into statistical
groups. Marsha, if you want to "respect the individual", how
about—oh, I don't know—treating them as individuals, and not
as interchangable members of their ethnic or racial identity
It's crazy, but it just might work.