October 30, 1997 in Nation/World

Census To Allow Mixed-Race Reports Detailed Classification Picked Over ‘Multiracial’ Classification

Faye Fiore Los Angeles Times
 

The Clinton administration announced Wednesday it will allow mixed-race Americans for the first time to check off more than one racial category for themselves on the 2000 Census.

After four years of heated debate, the new policy is intended to permit a growing number of Americans to acknowledge their varied heritage.

The government’s new vision of racial identification ultimately will apply to every kind of federal data collection, from the census to annual household surveys conducted by the government, school registration forms and home mortgage applications. It will first be tried in a census dress rehearsal next spring, which is to take place in Sacramento, Calif.; 11 counties in South Carolina; and an Indian reservation in Wisconsin.

A competing proposal to create a general “multiracial” classification was rejected by the administration in favor of the multiple checkoff system that will enable mixed-race Americans to report their heritage in greater detail.

“We are not closing the door on the expression of multiracial heritage, we are allowing people to express their multiracial heritage in whatever way they view themselves,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin Raines said in unveiling the new policy.

The administration effectively adopted most of the recommendations made unanimously last July by a 30-agency task force assembled to address multiracial Americans, many of whom have objected to the government’s attempt to wedge them into a rigid category by insisting they identify themselves as members of a single race. A flood of public comment poured into the White House after the recommendations were made.

“The public participation is particularly important because it reminds us constantly that there are people behind the numbers and for many, this is a deeply personal issue,” said Sally Katzen, an OMB administrator.

All federal agencies will be expected to conform to the new standards as soon as possible, but not later than Jan. 1, 2003, officials said.

Under the new standards, people will be asked to “mark one or more” of the following racial categories: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and white.

A separate question pertaining to ethnicity will be expanded from just the word Hispanic to “Hispanic or Latino,” based on research showing that Latino is a more popular word in the Western United States.

Other elements of the new policy include:

Black will now read “Black or African American.”

What was once the category “Asian or Pacific Islander will now be divided. The government reasoned that under the old system, Native Hawaiians were being lost in the category dominated by Asians and will constitute a more representative number in the new grouping.

An ethnic category for Arab or Middle Eastern will not be added, although the government has decided to give the idea further study.

The term Alaska Native will replace Eskimo and Aleut.

There will no longer be a category for “other.”

The old policy of single-race checkoff came under fire after the 1990 census when critics attacked it as out of synch with an America racially blended by immigration and mixed marriages. The Clinton administration launched a review of the race and ethnicity categories in 1993, which produced the revised policy.

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Under the new standards, people will be asked to “mark one or more” of the following racial categories: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and white.


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