Census Bureau Considers How to Measure a More Diverse America By TANZINA VEGA JULY 1, 2014When Alexa Aviles received her census form in 2010, she was frustrated by the choices. Like all Hispanics, Ms. Aviles, a Puerto Rican who lives in Brooklyn, was first asked to identify her ethnicity and then to answer a question about her race. Ms. Aviles, 41, who works for a nonprofit, thought, “I’m all of these!” In annoyance, she checked Hispanic, and then identified herself as white, black and “some other race.”Mustafa Asmar, a Palestinian-American waiter in Paterson, N.J., does not like his options either. Arab-Americans are broadly classified as white in the census. “When you fill out white or other, it doesn’t really represent the Middle Eastern population,” said Mr. Asmar, 25. “I don’t feel like I’m white. I don’t know what else to put.”Like I’ve been saying, in contemporary America it pays more, economically and psychologically, to identify as nonwhite. And we get more of what we pay for.
As the United States becomes more diverse, the Census Bureau is grappling with how to accurately classify race and ethnicity in its next decennial count in 2020. It is an issue that plays out in divergent ways for different groups. Many Hispanics, like Ms. Aviles, are frustrated that they are prompted to select from racial categories that they believe do not represent their identity.Many Arabs have the opposite concern: They are not asked a separate ethnicity question and are typically categorized as white, a label that many feel does not apply.It hampers you in getting quotas and disparate impact lawsuit benefits. Since the government doesn’t officially count how many Arabs there are, Arab activists can’t protest that they are underrepresented at Facebook or wherever, since nobody knows what “represented” means for Arabs because nobody knows the denominator.
Of the 47.6 million people who classified themselves as being of Hispanic or Latino origin on the 2010 census, 30.5 percent also considered themselves “some other race.” Many emphasized their Hispanic heritage by writing in “Mexican,” “Hispanic,” “Latin American” or “Puerto Rican” to specify what they meant. An additional 13 percent declined to provide a race at all.Like the U.S. government, the New York Times isn’t sensitive enough to Latino culture to use terms like “mestizo” or “mulatto.” They can’t even use the words in this article, much less in one about George Zimmerman. But Latin Americans use those terms: for example, here’s an article about mestizo Bolivians protesting that they should be be allowed to check “mestizo” on the Bolivian census. (Leftist President Evo Morales is a member of a specific Amerindian tribe elected on a tribal rights platform, and he wants everybody in Bolivia to officially identify with a specific Amerindian group rather than with the mestizo majority: classic divide and rule politics on Evo’s part.)
As a result, the bureau is considering modifying the Hispanic question for the 2020 census. Respondents could continue to select as many race categories as they wanted, but Hispanics would no longer be prompted to check a racial category.That pleases many Hispanics,
Especially Conquistador-Americans worried that the government will someday deny them preferences due to their having identified as white.
but, in a sign of how complicated the issue is, it has raised concerns among some black Latinos who say that not prompting a response on race “helps enforce the myth of a monolithic Latinidad,” said Guesnerth Perea, the communications coordinator of the Afro Latino Forum, a nonprofit cultural group. “The concern is about erasure. Who gets recognized and who doesn’t get recognized.” Of the Hispanics who did name a race in 2010, 47.4 percent reported “white” while 2.1 reported percent “black.”No, it’s about some Latinos worried that they won’t be allowed to double dip in both the Hispanic and black racial preference pools anymore.
Arab-Americans are generally categorized as white in the census, something activist groups and academics have been lobbying to change. A letter to the Census Bureau last July, submitted by the Arab American Institute and co-signed by a number of organizations and academics, asked for an ethnic category box to be added to the census form to cover people from the Middle East and North Africa. The letter said an estimated two-thirds of people from the region do not consider themselves white.Census officials said they were considering testing an ethnic category box for Arab-Americans in advance of the 2020 census.Instead of playing divide and rule politics, the white majority is playing unite and submit.It has always been absurd that only Hispanics get an ethnicity, so now Arab activists are trying to cash in on that absurdity by getting a second official ethnicity for themselves. (Can we get the neocons upset over the Arab ethnic preference push? They still swing some weight.)Either everybody should have an ethnicity or nobody should have an ethnicity.