Sometimes Comical; Sometimes Tragic


On the last working day before the Holidays the OMB of the White House announced a notice of decision regarding the statistical treatment of race and ethnicity topics in all government statistical programs and analyses. In a revised Statistical Policy Directive 15 it stated: These revisions to SPD 15 are intended to result in more accurate and useful race and ethnicity data across the Federal government. (emphasis mine)

That last sentence is a little tough to swallow. Rather than straightforward and easily comprehensible categorization, the agency is imposing assemblages of warped race and ethnicity labels which have little useful purpose or applicable meaning. People’s views on their own ethnic identity are complex, particularly with historical mixed groups like Hispanics, many of whom are of mixed race and most of whom traditionally consider themselves white.

One particularly sad note here is that the US Government is classifying residents by categories that the residents would not themselves select or even recognize. Costa Ricans think they are Costa Rican, Brazilians think they are Brazilian, and soon after coming to America they are Americans. OMB has decreed that people from Spain are no longer White Europeans— which they clearly were up till now —even though they speak (and originated) the language used by many decidedly mestizo (mixed) people from places like Mexico, Guatemala, or Brazil.

So, the Iberian peninsula apparently now consists of a small Portuguese population, classified as White Europeans and maybe also the Catalans and Basques of Northern Spain. Years ago, my wife, from Spain, was asked by her employers if it would be ok if they counted her as Hispanic to up their percentage with a report to US DHUD. She actually was born in Barcelona so she could well claim to be Catalan!

Which brings us to South America, pretty much all labeled Hispanic, except for those pesky Portuguese-speaking Brazilians – merely half of South America’s population. So, are Brazilians now White Europeans like Portuguese based on their language? And there’s English speaking Guyana , with a distinctly mixed rate population of Asian Indians and descendants of Africans, or Dutch speaking Surinamese or r French speaking residents of Guiana. Are we going to call them Hispanics or perhaps Latinos by dint of their geography? This is absolutely meaningless and insulting, and then expect them to adopt/accept such labeling.

The list of categories below shows the expected structure required in future surveys.

Middle Eastern or North African MENA as a new minimum category. As a result, the new set of minimum races and/or ethnicity categories are:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Middle Eastern or North African, MENA
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
  • White

The MENA idea was proposed early on by the Census Bureau for the 2020 Census but withdrawn given strong pushback. It has been pushed by residents descended from those countries to gain greater access and recognition of some sort of constructed ethnic grouping in public policy debates and funding. A side benefit in some eyes is it would reduce the size of the White population and divide America nicely into 6 or 7 competing ethnicities. The overall category goes like this:

Middle Eastern or North African: Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi, Israeli, Another group (for example, Moroccan, Yemeni, Kurdish as well as others.

Hmmm! These are all countries that pretty much hate each other and are often trying to destroy each other. Some are Sunni, others Shia or some splinter group/ Neither Algeria, Tunisia nor Libya is mentioned. What do Moroccans have to do with Kurds or Iraqis? Iranians and Kurds are not even primary Arabic speakers. The Kurdish are recognized as an entity suggesting that the Turks, never mentioned anywhere here, belong to the White Europeans? Would a Saudi Arabian label themselves or accept a label of being a MENA? Why?

Negro person has been dropped from the race category of Black or African American. Yet many of the organizations created and serving those group are still labeled as Black person. US agencies, United Negro College Fund, traditionally Negro Colleges, etc. My age is showing; when I was younger the mandated survey term was Negro; Black was considered pejorative, and I was told to delete it from my survey designs. I also remember in my youth when people were Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans or Swedish-Americans – those labels are long gone. They are just Americans.

Two very small groups Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders and American Indians and Alaskan Native are sustained, but their populations are so small that often sample surveys are forced to meld them with the general US population.

In contrast, Asians, who inhabit roughly a third of the world’s land area and a majority of the world’s population are odd to put together in one category. The OMB listing strangely manages to ignore polyglot Indonesia, about 280 million, and the Philippines, 116 million, both immense populations. Asians are approximately only five percent of the current US population but the diversity of their countries of origin and distinct cultural and demographic makes labelling them together of little sense.

What does all of this accomplish? At best it creates a handy 6 categories clumping together of world groups that tell us little about the nation’s true demographic structure. Based on incomes and education, Asians far exceed the US White population, and the MENA could be second putting Whites third. So, should we compare the various population groups to Asians the highest income race/ethnicity grouping? I found this useless in my work, so I compared groups to the total population not to the White or Asian portion.

At worst it divides up America into strangely assembled groups that will compete for public benefits and power not as citizens or individuals but as members of some bureaucratically assembled clumps of people. A bonus for the country’s booming racing industry. Sometimes comic: sometimes tragic this seems a step back both from the reality on the ground, and the notion that we come from a real place and aspire to become Americans all.

Alan Pisarski studies transportation as the collision of demography with geography – with a little technology and social values added.

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Race and Ethnicity

A few years ago probably before the 2020 census, Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation wrote an article about this. I agreed with him at the time. My pitch was to remove these categories from the census altogether. But to keep the question, Are you a citizen?

These are important issues. By the 2030 census many illegal immigrants may have concentrated in a few states, probably blue and increase the number of Democrats in the House of Representatives.

And if race and ethnicity were excluded social scientists and social engineers would rightly be deprived of ways in which they love to publish "information" with which to keep us in our tribes with hyphenated labels like African-Americans. We should be so lucky as to just be Americans.