Archive for March, 2010
As we focus on racism in international context here this week, a few news items from outside the U.S.caught my eye. A quick trip around the globe:
- Australia – The Herald Sun reports that a group linked to white supremacists is calling for a Melbourne rally “against immigrants and Islam.” Police say they will not tolerate any breach of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, and the organisers of the rally planned for next month need to quickly close down their Facebook page. And, speaking of Facebook, Australian-based researcher Dr. Andre Oboler has authored a report on “Antisemitism Online.” Once again, most other democracies are well ahead of the U.S. in combatting such hatred.
- Scotland (UK) – According to the BBC News, two men were injured in a violent, racist attack in Aberdeen. The attackers were all believed to be in their mid-teens.
- Hong Kong – A British man living in Hong Kong, Martin Jacques, author of best-seller “When China Rules the World”, accused the city’s hospital staff of racism after his Indian-Malaysian wife, Harinder Veriah, died. Mr. Jacques said that the hospital staff failed to give timely treatment to his wife because of her race. The hospital agreed to a settlement.
- Japan – Racism and discrimination are commonplace in Japan, according to Jorge Bustamante, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. Bustamante urged greater efforts to protect the rights of immigrants in Japan. Problem areas included immigrant detention centers, work programs that exploit foreign industrial trainees, and a lack of educational services for many migrant children.
- Germany – A recently released report from the GDR finds that members of the German extreme right committed about 20,000 crimes in 2009, reported the Secretary of the Interior Thomas De Maizire. This is the highest figure since 2001, when they began keeping records of such crimes. According to deputy of the Die Linke (the left) party, the figures demonstrate that the government’s campaigns to combat the extreme right have failed.
- India-Britain(UK) – An Equality Bill in the UK would make caste discrimination illegal, equating it with racism. Until now victims of caste discrimination in Britain have had no recourse to law. India also has legislation outlawing caste discrimination but is fiercely opposed to any comparison with racism. The bill is being welcomed by campaigners for India’s “dalits” or “untouchables”, a caste which suffers extreme violence and persecution, but has been rejected by their government. There are more than 250 million dalits in India, many of whom are denied water, access to schools, and in some cases the right to pass through villages by upper caste Hindus who believe their presence, or even their shadow, pollutes them. Some dalits in India still work as “night soil carriers” – transporting human waste from latrines. One prominent dalit campaigner had his arms and legs amputated because he refused to withdraw a police complaint against higher caste men who had raped his daughter. Officials in London have become increasingly concerned about discrimination and persecution against lower caste Indians in Britain following a report last year which claimed thousands had been ill-treated because of their caste. A report by the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance surveyed 300 British Asians and cited cases of children being bullied at school, bus inspectors refusing to work with lower caste drivers, and employees being sacked after their bosses discovered their caste status. Until now victims of caste discrimination in Britain have had no recourse in the law. India also has legislation outlawing caste discrimination but is fiercely opposed to any comparison with racism.
- Cuba - A replica of the historic Cuban slave ship Amistad, which was taken over by the Africans aboard in 1839, is visiting Cuba, where academics and community leaders have begun to publicly debate the problem of racial discrimination that has not been stomped out in Cuban society.
The point of this series is not to diminish the importance of racism in the U.S., but rather to expand our view to see how it is connected to manifestations in other places beyond our usual focus.
One has to have a strong sense of the ironic nature of human action to understand much that goes on in regard to racial-ethnic and other human rights matters. The China Daily has published a March 2009 report of China’s Information Office of the State Council, titled “The Human Rights Record Of The United States In 2009.” Clearly, this is part of “getting even” with the U.S. government for its recurring critiques of human rights problems and violations in China. And Communist China, of course, has massive human rights, racial and ethnic rights, political rights, and other related problems.
Nonetheless, it makes interesting reading for U.S. citizens, who are as the report suggests rather ethnocentric and blind to our own severe human rights problems. Let me quote some brief sections from a very long and doucmented (to US sources) report:
The State Department of the United States released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009 on March 11, 2010, posing as “the world judge of human rights” again. As in previous years, the reports are full of accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China, but turn a blind eye to, or dodge and even cover up rampant human rights abuses on its own territory.
First they note violent crime in the United States:
Widespread violent crimes in the United States posed threats to the lives, properties and personal security of its people. In 2008, US residents experienced 4.9 million violent crimes, 16.3 million property crimes and 137,000 personal thefts, and the violent crime rate was 19.3 victimizations per 1,000 persons aged 12 or over, according to a report published by the US Department of Justice in September 2009. . . .
Soon it moves to issues of “Civil and Political Rights”:
In the United States, civil and political rights of citizens are severely restricted and violated by the government. The country’s police frequently impose violence on the people. Chicago Defender reported on July 8, 2009 that a total of 315 police officers in New York were subject to internal supervision due to unrestrained use of violence during law enforcement. The figure was only 210 in 2007. Over the past two years, the number of New York police officers under review for garnering too many complaints was up 50 percent …
Most of its points throughout the report are documented with links to U.S. sources. Next, the report then zeroes in on our distinctive prison industrial-complex:
According to a report released by the US Justice Department on Dec. 8, 2009, more than 7.3 million people were under the authority of the US corrections system at the end of 2008. … The basic rights of prisoners in the United States are not well-protected. Raping cases of inmates by prison staff members are widely reported…
After discussing freedom of press issues, it then discusses “Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”:
Poverty, unemployment and the homeless are serious problems in the United States, where workers’ economic, social and cultural rights cannot be guaranteed. Unemployment rate in the US in 2009 was the highest in 26 years. … The poverty rate in 2008 was 13.2 percent, the highest since 1998. … The population in hunger was the highest in 14 years. …
After discussing many other economic problems it has a long section on racial discrimination:
Racial discrimination is still a chronic problem of the United States. Black people and other minorities are the most impoverished groups in the United States. According to a report issued by the US Bureau of Census, the real median income for American households in 2008 was 50,303 US dollars. That of the non-Hispanic white households was 55,530 US dollars, Hispanic households 37,913 US dollars, black households only 34,218 US dollars. … According to the US Bureau of Census, the poverty proportion of the non-Hispanic white was 8.6 percent in 2008, those of African-Americans and Hispanic were 24.7 percent and 23.2 percent respectively, almost three times of that of the white….
Employment and occupational discrimination against minority groups is very serious. Minority groups bear the brunt of the US unemployment. According to news reports, the US unemployment rate in October 2009 was 10.2 percent. The jobless rate of the US African-Americans jumped to 15.7 percent, that of the Hispanic rose to 13.1 percent and that of the white was 9.5 percent …
In 2008, a record number of workers filed federal job discrimination complaints, with allegations of race discrimination making up the greatest portion at more than one-third of the 95,000 total claims … According to a news report, by the end of May 2009, the black and Hispanic groups each accounted for roughly 27 percent of New York City’s population, but only 3 percent of the 11,529 firefighters were black, and about 6 percent were Hispanic since the city’s fire department unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color from the opportunity to serve …
The US minority groups face discriminations in education. According to a report issued by the US Bureau of Census, 33 percent of the non-Hispanic white has college degrees, proportion of the black was only 20 percent and Hispanic was 13 percent…. According to another study conducted among 5,000 children in Birmingham, Ala., Houston and Los Angeles, prejudice was reported by 20 percent of blacks and 15 percent of Hispanics. The study showed that racial discrimination was an important cause to mental health problems for children of varied races. Hispanic children who reported racism were more than three times as likely as other children to have symptoms of depression, blacks were more than twice as likely….
Racial discrimination in law enforcement and judicial system is very distinct. According to the US Department of Justice, by the end of 2008, 3,161 men and 149 women per 100,000 persons in the US black population were under imprisonment …. The number of life imprisonment without parole given to African-American young people was ten times of that given to white young people in 25 states. The figure in California was 18 times. In major US cities, there are more than one million people who were stopped and questioned by police in streets, nearly 90 percent of them were minority males. Among those questioned, 50 percent were African-Americans and 30 percent were Hispanics. Only 10 percent were white people….
Ethnic hatred crimes are frequent. According to statistics released by the US Federal Investigation Bureau on November 23, 2009, a total of 7,783 hate crimes occurred in 2008 in the United States, 51.3 percent of which were originated by racial discrimination and 19.5 percent were for religious bias and 11.5 percent were for national origins…. Among those hate crimes, more than 70 percent were against black people. In 2008, anti-black offenses accounted for 26 persons per 1,000 people, and anti-white crimes accounted for 18 persons per 1,000 people…..
It then has long sections on children and women’s rights and on U.S. global militarism, and concludes with this:
The United States ignores international human rights conventions, and takes a passive attitude toward international human rights obligations. It signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 32 years ago and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 29 years ago, but has ratified neither of them yet. It has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities either. On Sept. 13, 2007, the 61st UN General Assembly voted to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been the UN’s most authoritative and comprehensive document to protect the rights of indigenous peoples. The United States also refused to recognize the declaration.
The above-mentioned facts show that the United States not only has a bad domestic human rights record, but also is a major source of many human rights disasters around the world. … This fully exposes its double standards on the human rights issue, and has inevitably drawn resolute opposition and strong denouncement from world people. At a time when the world is suffering a serious human rights disaster caused by the US subprime crisis-induced global financial crisis, the US government still ignores its own serious human rights problems but revels in accusing other countries. It is really a pity. We hereby advise the US government to draw lessons from the history, put itself in a correct position, strive to improve its own human rights conditions and rectify its acts in the human rights field.
This reminds me of Robert Burns’s, famous poem, “To A Louse. On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church”: “O Would Some Power the Gift to Give Us, To See Ourselves as Others See Us! “
The recently passed health care reform act includes a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning salons to help pay for expanded insurance coverage for millions of Americans. Radio host Doc Thompson, subbing in for Fox News host Glenn Beck on his radio show today, used the tax to make the absurd accusation that the health bill is somehow “racist”:
“For years I’ve suggested that racism was in decline and yeah, there are some, you know, incidents that still happen with regards to racism, but most of the claims I’ve said for years, well, they’re not really real. But I realize now that I was wrong. For I now too feel the pain of racism. Racism has been dropped at my front door and the front door of all lighter-skinned Americans. The health care bill the president just singed into law includes a 10 percent tax on all indoor tanning sessions starting July 1st, and I say, who uses tanning? Is it dark-skinned people? I don’t think so. I would guess that most tanning sessions are from light-skinned Americans. Why would the President of the United Stats of America — a man who says he understands racism, a man who has been confronted with racism — why would he sign such a racist law? Why would he agree to do that? Well now I feel the pain of racism.”
This sounds like a parody, but this fellow Thompson is quite serious about Obama doing racist stuff to whites. He of course ignores an important reason for such a modest provision in the legislation–to reduce some skin cancers.
If he were not serious, we could all laugh ourselves silly about such an commentary on a major radio show. Can the far-reaching imaginations of playwrights of the absurd even begin to match such societal reality today?
There is an engaging story about a 17-year old monarch of the Tooro Kingdom in Uganda who has been King since he was a toddler. The story is particularly interesting because the reporter waded into issues of ethnicity and nationalism that have dogged African nation-states since independence. A CNN reporter writes that:
“Many Africans, like the people in King Oyo’s realm, identify themselves as a member of a tribe or ethnic group first and as citizen of a nation second.” Tension between ethnic groups within the same country often has flared into violence around the continent. In Uganda, the central government outlawed kingdoms in 1967, but the president reinstated four of them in the ’90s on the condition that their leaders focus more on culture and less on national politics.”
This reporter was relying on conversations with a history professor at Makerere University in Uganda to inform the account; according to the professor:
“The monarchies are based on ethnicities, sparking concerns of a setback in national integration efforts… Ugandans identify themselves first with their tribes and kingdoms, then as citizens…This works in most African cultures because people have lost faith in the government, and tribes and kingdoms provide a nucleus around which an identity can be forged.”
I have written on the intersection between ethnicity and nationalism here before and I have relied on representative (probabilistic) surveys that gauge the national mood regarding identity in Africa. What we know from current data is that the issues of ethnicity and nationalism are more nuanced than reported in the CNN article. This paper is not a rebuttal of that article that appeared a few days ago; I want to render a contemporaneous account of what we now know about ethnicity and nationalism in Africa.
Our scholarship has long established that tribal associations or tribal unions based strictly on ethnicity posed a threat to emergent post-colonial nationalism; ethnic patronage did not have a place in the new nationalism and the newly independent countries fostered the progressive ideal of a community of diverse ethnic groups. But, our scholarship has also documented the social realities of ethnic patronage that have strained the progressive ideal; an authoritative study, among several others, is Crawford Young’s (1994) paper titled: Evolving Modes of Consciousness and Ideology: Nationalism and Ethnicity. Whether the ethnic tensions were stoked by former colonial powers or not, our taken-for-granted reality has been that ethnic allegiance continues to undermine communal development – take for instance what is happening in Jos, Nigeria, where the cycle of murders and revenge murders is unrelenting. Some analysts have argued that these tensions are also religious and socioeconomic in root, and that there’s an intersection between economic inequality and ethnic conflict.
As social scientists, it is difficult (sometimes near impossible) to conduct true experiments (with pre- and post- moments) to ascertain causality – for instance, we cannot conduct a true experiment to identify how ethnic identity singularly causes these violent tensions. At best, what we have are correlational models to identify the likelihood of outcomes based on certain conditions. So we must not discount the fact that economic inequalities may have something to do with these conflicts as well. But even with these methodological limitations, we can say with some confidence that the one important correlate we have in all of these violent conflicts is that of ethnicity or tribal group; in Jos, it happens that the groups killing each other also largely practice two different faiths.
Recent events in Nigeria reinforce the taken-for-granted reality of the role of ethnocentrism in communal conflict. Among all the countries I examined using data from Afrobarometer surveys from round 1 (1999-2001) and round 2 (2004) more Nigerian respondents identified ethnically than respondents in other African countries (in round 2, about the same proportion of Batswana identified as such). (In Kenya and Zimbabwe most respondents did not identify first with their tribal or ethnic group). In round 4 (2008) of the Afrobarometer surveys, the majority of respondents (≥70%) in all surveyed countries including Nigeria (but except Malawi) relied on their nationality as an identity descriptor or identified equally with their nation and their ethnic group.
A review of the pattern of response in these surveys uncovers substantive issues related to data collection that have to be taken into account in interpreting the results: (1) In-person surveys are susceptible to social desirability bias. I wondered whether the tendency to choose national identity in rounds 1 and 2 in all the surveyed countries (except Nigeria) was due to respondents providing answers that they felt was the most favorable based on the public mood – after all, the nationalistic identity descriptor is the progressive ideal. If so, we should expect respondents in Nigeria to be susceptible to the social desirability bias as well. (2) The question: “I feel equally national and ethnic” was a new item in round 4, and so it is impossible to examine change from previous rounds. I wondered whether the introduction of this item has diluted the ethnic identity and ethnic attachment social reality. Without this item, I wondered whether more respondents would have chosen ethnicity as their primary identity. (3) Data on ethnic identity from round 4 may indeed indicate, auspiciously, a maturation of civil society in these countries. Over time, we may expect more citizens to embrace the nationalistic vision when compared to earlier periods as the nation-state becomes more stable. This is the hope – even as we witness conflicts, many of which arguably involve some elements of ethnocentrism in every region of the continent. We should expect subsequent rounds of these surveys to show more respondents reporting a national identity due to the maturation effect.
Nonetheless, the intersection of ethnicity and nationalism yields peculiar ground truths: consider that in Ghana, the newly elected national chairman of the opposition party paid homage to the King of the ethnic group to which he belongs. The national chairman used the occasion to urge the youth of his ethnic group to take up leadership roles. I wondered; why would the national chairman of a national political party address only the youth of his ethnic group? Shouldn’t he be addressing the youth of the country regardless of their tribal identity? By the way, this particular national chairman doesn’t even speak his native ethnic language! Also, consider President Zuma of South Africa who has just married his third wife as allowed by his Zulu traditions, even as he admitted recently fathering a child out of wedlock! What a contrast between President Mandela and the current South African president! But whether his traditions allow for multiple wives or not, what image does a democratically elected president project when he fathers a child out of wedlock even with a surfeit of spouses? Is this possible only in Africa?
To return to the case of Nigeria and the cycle of killings of Jos; we must take into account the sinuous power struggle unfolding in the country. The frail and un-well President has not been seen in public for 4 months or more; the acting President has dissolved the cabinet to purge it of loyalists to the President. And the security forces in the State of Jos seem powerless to stem the cycle of hate and killings. One African autocratic leader has the temerity to call for dividing Nigeria into a Moslem North and a Christian South. With a history of ethno-religious tensions and a civil war that claimed over one million lives, and ongoing violent unrests in the Niger Delta region of the country, the recent killings in Jos are just a manifestation of the uniqueness of the Nigerian situation.
~ Yoku Shaw-Taylor, PhD is a Research Scientist in Washington, DC.
This radio interview (24:03) with Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters, discusses the recent ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria, the politics around the conflict, and provides some context for why people in the U.S. should care (from WNYC, 3/26/10):
This week we’re broadening our focus beyond the U.S. to discuss racism within an international context in honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which just passed. Joe recently wrote about the Sharpeville massacre, a key anniversary in the international anti-racist struggle and the event which prompted the creation of an International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which began in 1965, five years after the Sharpeville massacre. The introduction of an International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1965 signalled a global commitment to end racial discrimination that has yet to be fulfilled.
In this week’s series, we’ll explore some of the ongoing problems and possible solutions to racism in an international context.
There is a push among some southern whites in the U.S. for a separate category on the census. The Southern Legal Resource Center is calling on self-proclaimed “Confederates” to declare their heritage when they are counted in the 2010 Census. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the organization is urging white Southerners to declare their “heritage and culture” by classifying themselves as “Confederate Southern Americans” on the line on the form, question No. 9, that asks for race. Check “other” and write “Confed Southern Am” on the line beside it.
In a move that appropriates the language of multiculturalism, the director this organization says:
“In this age of honoring diversity, Southern/Confederate people are the last group in America that can be maligned, ridiculed and defamed with impunity. Using the Census to unite the Southern/Confederate community can be a significant first step to our obtaining rights and recognition that all American ethnic groups are entitled to.”
Scholar Tara McPherson, USC, has written about neo-confederate groups such as this in a chapter called “I’ll take my stand in Dixie-Net: White guys, the South, and cyberspace,” in Kolko, B. E., L. Nakamura, and G. B. Rodman’s edited volume, Race in Cyberspace, New York:Routledge (2000), and in her book, Reconstructing Dixie, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, (2003). McPherson’s take on these groups is complex, nuanced and theoretically informed by cultural studies.
A key point from her work are important to note here about this move to racialize the census in a new way by “Confed Southern Am’s.” Although it would be easy to place these neo-Confederates in a group with other white supremacist groups, McPherson cautions that this is too simplistic and facile. In contrast to other white southern groups may affiliate themselves with a “Lost Cause” ideology that characterize blacks as racial Others who are either loyal ex-slaves who benefited from plantation life or a dangerous ‘cancer,’ the neo-confederates focus almost exclusively on whiteness, albeit a whiteness that is naturalized and taken-for-granted (McPherson, 2003, p.110).
Thus, rather than engaging in overt expressions of racism, the neo-Confederates that McPherson studies adopt the language of multiculturalism in an attempt to place regional, Southern, whiteness as equivalent to African American or any of the other identities now represented in Questions 8 and 9 on the 2010 census. Why do this? It’s a rhetorical and political strategy that seeks to undermine moves toward racial equality by de-emphasizing the power and social resources associated with ‘whiteness.’ Once again, the census proves to be useful a lens through which we can view the current landscape of racial politics in the U.S.
The local public radio station in my town, WNYC, has been doing a fine job of reporting on the census. The Brian Lehrer Show’s “Census Project” is a terrific resource, especially the piece on visual displays of census data and the five myths about the census.
In keeping with our series on “Race and the U.S. Census,” I thought I’d share this episode on the complexities of race and ethnicity featuring Angelo Falcón, chair of the Census Advisory Committee on the Hispanic Population, and Jeff Yang, the “Asian Pop” columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and a consumer strategist for Iconoculture, discuss questions 8 and 9 on the U.S.:
The comments (currently 78) are interesting to read as well. This person, “Sara from New York,” writes:
“I was very confused by the race question. I am Mexican American but I’m not sure what to check on the Race category? I am not white. I am of native Mexican/ Mayan decent- Does that count as Native American?? Should I write in Native Mexican??”
And, this very thoughtful comment from “Alejandro Gutierrez from Brooklyn”:
I challenge Angelo Falcón to include on the Census’ Committee on Hispanic Affairs anthropologists who are knowledgeable about indigenous issues from Latin America as it appears that his Boricua-centric social science approach to race-identity metrics seriously reflects a lack of understanding of this population. Here I highlight two issues which underscore this:
1) The Spanish translation of the bilingual Census questionnaire is so poorly translated on the race question that it will create large non-responses by indigenous populations from Guatemala, Mexico and Ecuador. The question is posed as tribal, when that concept is foreign south of the border where the terms “Indigenous populations”, “Indigenous peoples” or “Original Peoples” are more commonly used. In addition, the word “Indian” in English is literally and inappropriately translated as “india”.
2) By and large, indigenous peoples from Latin American self-identify as “indigenous”, not as Hispanics, Latinos, Ladinos, etc. Furthermore, his referencing “assimilation” as a predominant process of incorporation into US society reflects an outmoded understanding of more complex cultural processes at work. Assimilation assumes a linear process of abandonment of original cultural values, outlooks, beliefs, language, identities in favor of the dominant culture in the destination country. Clearly, the issue of indigenous identity can better be understood in the context of acculturation, a more nuanced process of cultural give-and-take than Mr. Falcon acknowledges.
The discussion between Angelo Falcón and Jeff Yang, and the dozens of comments from a diverse range of New Yorkers illustrate, trying to measure race and ethnicity in the U.S. is a very complicated task.
People who study the multiracial population are constantly confronted with the problem of small numbers to work with. A recent article I co-authored on the multiracial health (Bratter, Jenifer and Bridget K. Gorman. Forthcoming. “Does Multiracial Matter? A Study of Racial Disparities in Self Rated Health. Demography) required combining seven years of data from a health survey (over 1.7 million cases) to get 20,000 mixed-race folks for analysis. The 2000 Census, with its “check all that apply” race question, remains the database with the largest number of cases and the 2010 Census will be the first to count race the same way as the preceding installment. While this may sound like a mundane detail, this will allow us to gauge growth, decline, or stability of this population and whether this will affect the population bases of single-race communities. If the sheer anticipation doesn’t shake you to your core, perhaps you have forgotten the history of introducing this option into the Census.
Back in the 1990’s, deciding how to count the multiracial population was a hot political controversy, pitting two sides of a debate on race and identity against each other. According to Williams (Williams, Kimberley M. 2006. Mark one or More: Civil Rights in Multiracial America. Boston: Harvard University Press), multiracial organizations argued that the previous approach forced mixed-race children to choose one race and one side of themselves. Civil rights groups argued that this would weaken the population bases and the political power of monoracial groups, unnecessarily complicate the tracking of enforcement of civil rights legislation (which uses Census counts), and, unofficially provide an option for individuals who wished to abandon their race. Introducing “check all that apply”, not a single multiracial box, seemed like the perfect resolution. Multiracial people could be enumerated and be linked back to their component groups for tracking dynamics of monoracial communities.
Despite these hopes and fears, things remained pretty much the same. Although about 6.7 million persons (no small demographic potatoes) choose two or more races, it made the biggest difference for groups that had faced issues of mixed-heritage and identity for centuries – American Indians and Native Hawaiians. Meanwhile, there was little movement in the population base of the largest groups: Whites, Blacks, and to a lesser extent Asians. Also, approximately half of this group was under 18, which may mean that parents of multiracial children were declaring this as a race (Jones, Nicholas and Amy S. Smith. 2001. “Two or more Races Population : 2000.” [pdf] United States Census Bureau). As Reynolds Farley, declared in 2004, this was a “social movement that succeeded, but failed” to dramatically change our way of thinking about race (Farley, Reynolds. 2004. “Identifying with Multiple Races: A Social Movement that Succeeded but Failed?” Pp 123-128 in The Changing Terrain of Race and Ethnicity edited by Maria Krysan and Amanda Lewis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation). Maybe it’s just about timing, as many tell me. Including multiracial in any form is a recent development, the public has simply not gotten used to checking that box (or boxes). But alas, Farley’s estimates of inter-censual growth using the American Community Survey show a decline in the percentage of people selecting more than one race, from 2.4 to 1.9 percent (Farley, Reynolds. 2006. “The Multiple Race Population: Is it increasing or decreasing?” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Montreal, Canada).
This raises a bigger question – why haven’t things changed more? Aren’t we living in as multiracial society as we ever have? On one hand, multiculturalism seems to be everywhere, from mixed-race celebrities and high profile interracial couples, to growing racial/ethnic diversity. And ofcourse, there’s the rise of the nation’s first openly mixed-race U.S. President. But even Obama’s multiracial flag isn’t flown that high. He is universally touted as our first “Black” president, a racial identity he solidly embraces. And he’s not alone. Several studies using 2000 data show that selecting single races for biracial children is not uncommon. Since the U.S. Census ceased using enumerators, choosing a racial category goes far beyond simple ancestral accounting, which would place most everyone in the multiracial camp if they had the option. It reflects a sense of who we are and most importantly how we are treated.
Quantifying “treatment” is never an easy task, but any cursory look at social trends tells us that lives are lived very differently by race. The level of school segregation by race is nearly as high as it was in the 1960’s (Sikkink, David, and Michael O. Emerson. 2008. “School Choice and Racial Residential Segregation: The Role of Parent’s Education.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31:267-293), neighborhoods continue to be segregated by race (Wilkes, Irma and John Iceland, 2004.”Hypersegregatation in the 21st Century” Demography 41 (1): 23- 36), and while interracial marriage is increasing, its far lower than one would expect if race were not a factor (Qian, Zhenchao and Daniel Lichter. 2007. “Social Boundaries and Marital Assimilation: Interpreting Trends in Racial and Ethnic Intermarriage.” American Sociological Review 72:68-94). White per capita income continues to exceed Black per capita income by more than 12,000 dollars and Blacks can expect to die on average 5 years sooner than their White counterparts (Heron MP, Hoyert DL, Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Kochanek KD, Tejada-Vera B. Deaths: Final data for 2006. National vital statistics reports; vol 57 no 14.[pdf] Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2009). Despite declines in reporting overtly racist attitudes, minorities continue to report confronting racial prejudice and growing number of studies report that having these experiences is significantly detrimental to their health (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008. “Table 688. Per Capita Money Income in Current and Constant (2007) Dollars by Race and Hispanic Origin” in Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007, Current Population Reports, P60-235. Author tabulation of difference between the per capita income (in 2007 dollars) for Blacks (alone or in combination), which was $18,107, and non-Hispanic Whites (alone), which was $31,051).
How can one sustain an identity “in-between” races when so much of our lives are patterned by racial divisions? From this vantage point, the paltry percentages and small sample sizes are yet one more testimony that we believe we are a multicultural society and but really aren’t. However, what gets overshadowed is that race does not cease to matter just because one selects more than one. Living “in-between” races does not qualify one for a pass on discrimination. Population projections forecasting a coming white minority do not include as “white” those who select white alongside other races. And why should they, when the official policy of the Office of Management and Budget is to include those of partial minority and majority races among the minority group for civil rights purposes (Williams, David R., Harold Neighbors, and Jackson 2003. “Race/Ethnic Discrimination and Health: Findings from Community Studies.” American Journal of Public Health 93: 200-208). Other indicators follow suit. According to our recent findings on multiracial health, those selecting more than one race do not have substantially better health that their component populations, and, in the case of White-American Indians, they report their health as significantly worse than their White counterparts (Goldstein, Joshua and Ann J. Morning. 2002. “Back in the Box:The Dilemma of Using Multiple-Race Data for Single-Race Laws.” Pp. 119-136 in The New Census Race Question: How the Census Counts Multiracial Individuals, edited by J. Perlmann and M. C. Waters. New York: Russell Sage). While some read these trends as examples of the unique challenges faced by the mixed-race population, this is simply a shade of the same old story: race still matters – no matter how many you choose.
So here’s my plea, if you believe you are mixed-race at all, mark those races. You’re not abandoning your tribe, nor are you escaping race. You are just recording all your complexity, and making some researchers very happy.
~ Jenifer L. Bratter is Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Rice University and Program Director for Race Scholars at Rice Institute of Urban Research (IUR).
Every census from 1790 to the present has recognized the racial or color category of “white.” But there has been interesting variation over time in how census enumeration methods have placed people in this category. There also are interesting variations in how the data for whites are reported. The following are some selected points of interest I think are worth noting. (For more detail on these points, I list two sources I drew on at the end; they may be helpful for getting started.) While the census has alway recognized the race or color category of “white”, here are a few variations over time that I am aware of and that may be interesting to some:
1. Early censuses 1790-1820 had no instructions or set categories for how to enumerate “color” and there were no formal “schedules” or “forms” on which enumerators were required to list color. Enumerators used their own judgment about listing color in their records with no guidelines from the census. When the data were coded and tabulated, persons were treated as white by default if no other specific color was provided.
2. 1830 brought the first form in which there was a specific place for enumerators to list color. Still no guidelines from the census on how to enumerate people on color.
3. 1890 was the first census in which “white” was not the default coding if race was not mentioned in enumerator records (1790-1820) or was left blank on the form (1830-1880). In this census, white had to be specified on the form.
4. 1790-1950 the census enumerators made the judgment on color. Starting in 1960, the respondent made the judgment.
One interesting trend here is how Hispanics have ultimate been classified on race after 1950. The census instructions are clear that most persons of Hispanic background should be coded white under census coding guidelines. Through 1950, census enumerators followed those instructions. In the transition to self report, Hispanic respondents sometimes disregarded the census instructions and classified themselves as something other than white. The rate of doing so jumped sharply in 1970 and by 1980 exceeded 50%. It has stayed that high since.
This caused an appreciable drop in the white population in the Southwestern states from what it would have been had census practices of 1950 been continued.
5. Around the decades of high immigration — 1880-1930 – distinctions among whites were of great concern. Consequently, tabulations for whites were regularly broken out by native and foreign born due to the concerns about differences among native whites and new immigrants of the era. That practice was discontinued after 1940.
So, the word “white” has remained a constant. But how people are assigned to the category and how those data are reported has varied quite a bit over time.
Mark Fossett, Texas A&M University
For further information and other sources relating to these issues, see the following works.
Reynolds Farley. 1970. The Growth of the Black Population. Markham.
Joel Perlmann and Mary C. Waters (eds.). 2002. “The New Race Question: How the Census Counts Multiracial Indivuals. Russell Sage Foundation.