Multiple Racial Identifiers in the 2000 Census, and Then What?


Hochschild JL. Multiple Racial Identifiers in the 2000 Census, and Then What?. In: The New Race Question: How the Census Counts Multiracial Individuals. edited by Joel Perlmann and Mary Waters. New York: Russell Sage Foundation ; 2002. pp. 340-353.

Full Text


Multiple Racial Identifiers in 2000 Census, and Then What?


Jennifer L. Hochschild

Department of Government

Harvard University 



December 17, 2001




In The New Race Question, edited by Joel Perlmann and Mary Waters (Russell Sage Foundation, 2002).


NOTE:  Not quite final version.





My personal feeling is that this is the beginning of the end of the overwhelming role of race in our public life.”

--Martha Farnsworth Riche, director of Census Bureau, 1994-1998


When its history [of the 2000 Census] is written, the issues surrounding sampling and other aspects of measurement theory will be a footnote…to the real story of this count: multiracial identity. With "Question 8: What is this person's race? Mark one or more," we turned a corner about how we think about race in this country.

            -- Kenneth Prewitt, director of Census Bureau, 1998-2001[1]



Although the census directors speak with authority and seeming certainty, I begin this commentary with two confessions of uncertainty, proceed through a series of questions, and conclude with a thought experiment.  That indicates a level of hesitancy unusual in a published paper, but it seems appropriate to the subject.  Led ironically by the Census Bureau, which used to be seen as a stodgy data-collector, the United States is embarking on a dramatic experiment that will change how we “count races” and “recognize multiracials.”  This experiment will have repercussions ranging from individual self-identification through corporate advertising budgets to allocations of billions of taxpayers’ dollars and millions of people into voting districts.  We do not know how it will turn out, and we do not have a clear goal or set of goals at which we are aiming. It is an extraordinary, fascinating, and difficult moment in an extremely sensitive political arena.  Certainty about any of it, empirically and normatively, seems misplaced



The two confessions are implicit in what I have already said. First, I do not know where or how far the new structure permitting multiracial identification will go – and neither does anyone else.  Based on an array of evidence including smaller surveys in 1996 and 1998, demographers expected 2 or 3 percent of previously-identified African Americans to choose more than one race; almost 5 percent did so.[2]  “ ‘We really didn’t expect that number,’ Claudette Bennett, the chief of the racial statistics branch at the Census Bureau, said…. ‘We just don’t really have a good handle on it right now.’ “ Schmitt 2001c. That seems exactly the right initial response to a phenomenon that is newly conceptualized, newly measured, and changing rapidly at the same time that it is being conceptualized and measured – perhaps partly because it is being conceptualized and measured.[3]  If we could not predict what people would choose even a few years after the initial surveys, how much less can we predict the trajectory of choices into the future, especially since choices themselves will be deeply affected by the interpretation and consequences of previous choices, not yet made?  As OMB puts it, “this percentage [of the population giving multiple responses] may increase as those who identify with more than one racial heritage become aware of the opportunity to report more than one race.”[4]  And the political and policy implications of these unpredictable choices are themselves unpredictable, mainly because they too will rest on interpretations not yet developed and choices not yet framed.

            If my first confession is really recognition of the fluidity of multiracial identification, my second confession is recognition of the normative complexity underlying racial and ethnic identity.  I do not know what the most desirable outcome of this process would be.  Should we strive to use multiracial identification as the entering wedge of a move toward a 21st century version of Israel Zangwill’s “melting pot,” or Hector Crevecoeur’s “American, this new man?”  Or would doing so water down commitment to civil rights enforcement and to redistricting to ensure equitable representation of people of color in governance?   Should we interpret the increasing number of people who claim to be part American Indian or Alaska Native as the final death rattle of whites’ previous views of Indians as savages to be exterminated?  Or will it dilute the culture, traditions, and meaning of being Native American until Indian identity is analogous to drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s Day?  

In short, should we celebrate multiracial self-identification as the best indicator of the social constructedness of race or deplore it as a thin disguise over a continuing structure of racial domination?  I am not in a position to answer these questions, nor do I believe, more contentiously, that anyone else has grounds for moral certainty either.  Here also, too much depends on choices not yet made, interpretations not yet conceived, policies not yet implemented, leaders and social movements not yet materialized.  I will, nevertheless, conclude with a few suggestions about how I believe we should make sense of this curious new phenomenon.



The uncertainties revealed by these confessions suggest that we need to consider, even if we cannot resolve, a set of more specific questions raised by the Census Bureau’s initiative and Americans’ responses to it.  If one could answer these questions satisfactorily, one would move closer to a clear normative goal and a set of political and policy prescriptions for pursuing it.

First, how should we interpret multiraciality itself?  In one view, it indicates the artificiality and can hasten the abolition of the old racial identities that have caused so much misery and unwarranted hierarchy.  Some proponents endorse multiracialism because “classification… [is] the nemesis of mankind, a reflection of intellectual empty-headedness.”  We must reject “any… doctrine that would subordinate the will and aspirations of the individual to that of an artificial grouping” and we must work to prevent future generations from being  “indoctrinated in collectivist, identity politics dogma.”[5]

In another view, multiracialism is itself a new identity to be added to the traditional ones. The goal of the Association of MultiEthnic Americans’ “to promote a positive awareness of interracial and multiethnic identity, for ourselves and for society as a whole. … Every person who is multiethnic/multiracial has the same right as any other person to assert a personal identity that embraces the fullness and integrity of their actual ancestry …. A positive awareness of interracial and multicultural identity is one of the essential keys to unlocking America's, and also the world's, profound difficulty with the issues of race and interethnic relations.”[6]

Finally, particular forms of multiracial identity may actually expand membership in traditional racial and ethnic categories. The clearest case here is Native Americans; if everyone who claims and can prove some Indian ancestry gets incorporated into the population of Native Americans, then that group will be several times larger than it was a few decades ago when people with mixed ancestry opted out or were pushed out.  “The number of American Indians and Alaska natives [sic] who defined themselves by only that category grew by 26 percent in the past decade to 2.5 million.  But when the number of people who said they were part Indian were added, the total ballooned to 4.1 million, a 110 percent increase since 1990.”[7]  In this case, that is, a multiracial identifier may strengthen an established single-racial identifier.[8]

            A second question grows out of the statistical nightmare that the new Census categories have produced.  Every demographer has warned of the difficulties in comparing the 2000 census with earlier censuses, and every collector of data in schools, universities, police departments, hospitals, survey research firms, advertising agencies, and so on has expressed the same concern. The issue is, of course, not just statistical since the allocation of individuals will deeply affect decisions about whether voting districts dilute minority electoral power, whether corporations discriminate in hiring and promotions, and whether programmatic funding for particular locations should be increased or decreased.

The Office of Management and the Budget (OMB) partly responded to these concerns in its “Guidance on Aggregation and Allocation of Data on Race for Use in Civil Rights Enforcement and Monitoring” in March 2000 (known as Bulletin No. 00-02.)  Its rules include

  • Responses that combine one minority race and white are allocated to the minority race.
  • Responses that include two or more minority races are allocated as follows:
    • If the enforcement action is in response to a complaint, allocate to the race that the complainant alleges the discrimination was based on…. (quoted in Office of Management and Budget 2001: 61-62).

How should we view these allocation rules?  To proponents of multiracialism, they reify the stigma implied by the phrase “one drop of blood” and retreat from the conceptual leap represented by the possibility of multiple identifications:  “All of a sudden to finally be given the opportunity to choose more than one race, and then seemingly have that taken away seems a little suspect.  Besides, it would be wrong to say that I would only be discriminated against because I am Korean or Asian American.  I used to bus tables, and people used to think I was Mexican.  The reality is that I might be discriminated against because someone thinks I am Native American or Latino or Asian American.  And sometimes people are discriminating against others just because they are multiracial – not because they are perceived to be one thing or another” (Matt Kelley, quoted in Moore 2001: 3 of internet version)

Conversely, some see Bulletin 00-02 to be implicitly acknowledging the flaws of multiracialism (or the political strength of its opponents) since the allocation rules reduce the possibility that multiracial identifiers will dilute the political strength of the black population in civil rights contests.  And there are other possibilities; the new allocation rules could even strengthen the claims of small racial groups, such as American Indians or Native Hawaiians, by adding to their numbers those with some white ancestry. 

            More subtle questions also arise.  People who are both American Indian and white have, on average, a higher socioeconomic status than people who are only American Indian.  Therefore as the reported population of American Indians rises as a result of the rule in Bulletin 00-02, the average SES of American Indians will rise statistically, although of course not actually.  Might this apparent change be used politically to claim, for example, that American Indians are doing better and therefore need less federal support? 

            These are all political as well as substantive and normative questions, so a further set of questions about process immediately appears.  That is, who should decide on any or all of this?  Members of advocacy groups, whether for a particular race or for multiracialism, have the strongest commitment, most knowledge, and deepest feelings about these issues.  They therefore have strong grounds for claiming a right to participate in, if not to make, decisions on rules of allocation and on interpretations of new data.   But their very status as advocacy groups also undermines their legitimacy since they cannot be expected to act in the broad public interest (whatever that is) and they cannot make trustworthy claims about representing their entire group.

            Experts within the relevant agencies or brought in as consultants have equal and opposite virtues and defects compared with advocates.  Experts are in a better position than advocates to weigh arguments – whether statistical, political, moral, or organizational – against each other; they might have a longer and deeper historical perspective; their predictions about the future might be more plausible or at least less biased. But they lack the legitimacy of being an insider in this most intensely personal set of issues; they may falsely believe that they can find technical or statistical resolutions to what are inherently political choices; and their own biases and interests may play a larger role than they intend or perceive.

            Given that these issues are inherently political, perhaps the actors with the greatest democratic accountability, that is legislators, should decide how to allocate and use the new census data.   One’s response to that possibility depends on how one views democratic decision-making on controversial and delicate issues.  As some see it, law-making is too likely to be distorted by politicians’ electoral incentives, special interest groups bearing campaign contributions, noisy minorities (in the arithmetic sense), public ignorance or apathy.  Conversely, after all of the sound and fury, perhaps elected legislators are best suited to respond to an array of legitimate interests through sensible compromises that push the resolution of problems as far as – but no further than – it can appropriately go at a given moment.  After all, as Winston Churchill reputedly observed, democracy is the worst form of government except for all of the others.

            Another arena for deciding how to use the information in the 2000 census might be the courts.  Here too there are virtues and defects.  Judges are insulated from short-term electoral incentives and interest group pressure, and they are trained to consider the deep constitutional implications of decisions involving race and ethnicity.  But they are to some degree captives of the cases brought to them, precedents, and lawyers’ efforts to shape the meaning of a claim of discrimination or harm.  Most Americans trust the courts more than other political institutions,[9] but we hear a constant refrain about being an overly litigious society.  Transforming recognition of multiracials into a full employment policy for attorneys, though inevitable to some degree, might not be in society’s best interests.

            Let us assume, as I believe is reasonable, that advocacy groups will play an important role in any likely arena of decision-making.  It is not clear what members of advocacy groups for nonwhite or multiracial identities ought to seek.  The starting rule of thumb is that larger numbers produce more clout in the public arena; that was presumably a central motivation in the allocation rule of Bulletin 00-02.  But what if a group has a fixed set of resources to distribute among its members – say, residence on an Indian reservation or revenues from oil production for Alaskan Natives?  In that case, members of a group might not want to increase their numbers, especially with people who are partly nonmembers and who are likely to have a higher economic status. Advocates for Native Americans or Native Alaskans might well find themselves at odds with advocates for blacks or Hispanics in setting an allocation rule for people with multiple identifications.

            Another complexity lies in the relationship between race and ethnicity -- that is, between the question asking if the respondent is Hispanic or Latino and the question asking about the respondent’s racial identification.  The logic of the questions requires both an ethnic and a racial response, and the Census Bureau points out that the 63 possible racial responses are doubled when one adds the ethnic choice to the racial choices.  Membership in some of those possible 126 groups will be vanishingly small (such as Hispanic Black Native Hawaiians or Hispanic Black Asian Whites).[10]  But difficult questions arise when one considers the relatively large number of Hispanics who do not identify with any Census-defined race.

OMB estimated that up to 30 percent of Hispanics would not choose a race in the subsequent question, and it portrayed “confusion regarding the distinction of Hispanic or Latino origin from race” in pre-test interviews.  Respondents made such comments as, “race I guess means the color somebody is. Or their cultural heritage,” or “if Hispanic had been offered as a race then I would have chosen that,” or “the race question is difficult because it doesn’t have enough categories, it’s too restrictive…. It doesn’t specify anything about Central or South American descent.”[11]  OMB’s predictions were borne out; almost all of the 15.4 million people who chose “some other race” rather than any of the five races defined on the Census form were Hispanic.[12] 

Should we concur that what OMB saw is best identified as “confusion?”  Perhaps its interview respondents were expressing an intuitive understanding of the social construction of race, or simply a perception that the whole concept of clear racial lines is incoherent, especially for people from Latin America.  In that case, Latinos might provide another entering wedge into a 21st century version of the melting pot.  A third possibility is that many Latinos are insisting that, whatever they are, they are not white, or black, or American Indian – despite a history in which all of those groups contributed to shaping the current population of Latin America. In that case, rather than an incipient melting pot we have an indication of identity-based separatism in which a substantial portion of Hispanics seek clear lines of “racial” demarcation away from the standard racially identified groups.  That would bode ill for coalitions among people of color as well as for assimilationist hopes.

 The tension between many Latinos’ desire to elide the lines between race and ethnicity and data collectors’ need for complete and symmetrical information makes interpretation of the 2000 census results empirically difficult and politically fraught.  The Department of Education, where the imperative to categorize Hispanics is most pressing because of the rapidly increasing number of Hispanic school-aged children,[13] has so far thrown up its hands.  As OMB puts it, “Once the Department of Education reviews the results of Census 2000, the Department will reach a final decision on what data will be collected on the racial identification of Hispanic/Latino individuals.”  Just how these results will produce an allocational decision rule, the Department leaves up to the reader’s imagination.[14]

Both major political parties will have to grapple with the questions raised by the multiple identifier option, but its impact on the two parties will be different.  Since the Republican party controls one house of Congress (and is almost tied for the other) and the presidency while precedent-setting decisions must be made, it can expect to be the brunt of intense and conflicting advocacy.  Decisions will be controversial, difficult, uninformed by experience, and necessary – a circumstance which politicians and their appointees abhor.  But in the end, wrestling with the questions I am posing will probably present a more serious problem for the Democratic party.  The politics of racial identification are more like the politics of the death penalty than the politics of abortion – that is, a relatively small number of people care passionately about the issue and they disagree profoundly, but most Americans have little knowledge of or interest in the problem. Those who do care are disproportionately non-Anglo, and disproportionately Democratic.  They are inclined to oppose the Republican party for a variety of reasons, so how the Republican administration chooses on this issue will not make much difference in their overall level of support. A disproportionate share of Republicans, conversely, are Anglos, the vast majority of whom will be indifferent to this issue.  In short, Republican leaders must choose but have a lot of political freedom about what to choose; Democratic leaders may not choose, but will remain under a lot of pressure from important constituencies to take a position, and the constituencies will disagree on what position the party should take.  On the whole, in this domain it will be more comfortable to be a Republican than a Democrat over the next few years.


A Thought Experiment

One way to develop a coherent response to my questions and uncertainties is to develop a thought experiment and see how one reacts to it.  It begins with an observation by Kenneth Prewitt, director of the Census Bureau while the 2000 census was developed and administered: “Once you have opened up the census in this revolutionary fashion there’s really no natural limit, no natural boundaries between the races.”[15]  What would be lost, and gained, if the racial and ethnic census categories fell of their own weight and were abandoned? 

            This prospect is implausible but not impossible. Other complex and deeply embedded policies have been abandoned through federal legislation – most of the federal tax code in 1986, most airline and trucking regulation in 1978 and 1983 respectively, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1996.  Political scientists increasingly argue that policy change does not always follow an incremental or path-dependent route; in situations that are roughly predictable (or at least explainable with hindsight), policy makers overthrow established laws and routines and substitute new ones, or nothing, for them.[16] 

Why might such an overthrow occur in this case?  First, despite all of the disputes, every analyst and advocate agrees on one thing; the categories and procedures of the 2000 census are unsatisfactory.  On the one hand, there are too many possibilities.  No civil rights enforcement agency, school superintendent, or advertising executive can work with 126 mutually exclusive groups, or even half or a third of that many if some are combined.  On the other hand, there are too few categories.  Some people still cannot find an appropriate location in the census: “ ‘I define myself as a Muslim,’ ” says one interview subject who speaks for many more than herself. “ ‘To me that’s what dominates my life’.“[17]  Jews are as much an ethnicity as a religion; Muslims may refuse to make racial or ethnic distinctions among fellow Muslims; Americans from the subcontinent of India may not identify as Asians; people from Spain or Brazil may not be comfortable calling themselves Hispanic or Latino.  The lobby to add a Middle Eastern or Arab ethnic category did not succeed for the 2000 census, but it might in the future; long before September 11, OMB recommended “further research… to determine the best way to improve data on this population group.”[18]  An internet site headed by the claim that “Census 2000 is Biased Against Multi-Ethnic and White Citizens” lists seventeen examples of “the rich ethnic heritage of white émigrés to this great country” that are “excluded” from the census, and complains that “I am not ‘white’! I am German-Irish-American, but there is no space on the Census 2000 form for me.”[19]   A typology with both too many and too few categories is not stable.

            Second, Americans increasingly recognize, or insist, that race and even ethnicity is a social construction.  Demography meets deconstruction, and the census’s encouragement of increasingly complex self-identification helps the deconstructive instinct along.  “When you combine what their mother’s side brings and what I bring, tell me what they get?  It’s all a personal perception,” or “I had to think twice about it and call a few friends to see what they put down.”[20]  Young blacks were four times as likely as older blacks to choose more than one racial category on the census form.[21]  Adolescents are twice as likely to identify as mixed race when they are interviewed at school as when they are interviewed at home.[22]  Interracial and interethnic unions are increasing very rapidly, and interracial couples are more likely to have children now than their counterparts did a few decades ago.[23]  A relatively small increase in the number of interracial and interethnic marriages and children leads to a very large increase in the number of Americans who have at least one member of their extended family not of the same race or ethnicity.[24]  That arithmetic fact is likely to have the important political implication of further undermining a belief that racial boundaries are “real” and fixed, whether biologically or socially.

            A third reason to think that the census’s current racial and ethnic classification scheme may fall of its own weight is political.  No strong constituency is determined to maintain this particular system, and a variety of groups find one or another aspect of it deeply problematic.  Many Republicans would arguably prefer to abandon all racial and ethnic classifications, whether out of a principled belief in colorblindness or a strategic judgment that civil rights-based and related pressures would be much less effective absent data.  Many Democrats seek to maintain these classifications, whether out of a principled belief in the politics of identity or the same strategic judgment. But as I discussed earlier, Democrats disagree on what data to collect and how to measure and use them; arguably disagreements over the 2000 census will exacerbate the already severe tensions among advocacy groups in the roughly defined “civil rights coalition.”  Advocates for multiracialism, whether they see it as a new identity or as the dissolution of all old racial identities, are not satisfied with the current system.  A policy that has no powerful friends and many powerful enemies is not stable.

            Finally, the American public may be increasingly impatient with “hard” racial classifications while not rejecting, or even embracing, “soft” ones.  For example, public opinion surveys show that a majority of Americans reject those forms of affirmative action that seem to imply reverse discrimination or racial preference, but embrace those forms that seem to imply special efforts, outreach, extra training, and so on.[25].  Corporations now embrace “diversity,” at least verbally, while resisting “quotas.”[26]  Similarly, “the Cherokee grandmother ploy” now provides social standing that would have been unthinkable a century or even a few decades ago.  Two-thirds of Americans now think that it would be “good for the country” if more people “think of themselves as multiracial rather than as belonging to a single race;” that is a substantial majority and a considerable change from only a few years ago.[27]  Systematic studies show that most public policies in the long run follow the contours of changes in public opinion.[28]  It is thus conceivable that the census will respond to the growing public preference by moving toward recognition of multiple racial or ethnic ancestries but away from sharply differentiated racial or ethnic categorizations.

            If this thought experiment is sufficiently persuasive to take us to the next step, then we need to ask the final, crucial question: what would be gained and lost by moving, for example, to a question asking about ancestry, allowing for multiple responses, but not asking for a racial and ethnic self-identification?  In policy terms, the most important response would have to address civil rights concerns. Whatever else it does with the census, the government must be able to monitor and successfully challenge employment discrimination, voting dilution, school segregation, and so on.   Thus any move to eliminate the race categories would be inappropriate unless there were some clear alternative way to accomplish that task.  Perhaps reporting one or more ancestors from Africa (or Latin America?) could suffice to put the respondent into a protected group for civil rights enforcement purposes.[29]

In normative terms, the most important issue would be whether it is desirable to have such a strong governmental signal that race and ethnicity should be downplayed in the public realm. Race may be a social construction, but no one can deny that “race matters.”  As Lawrence Bobo of Harvard University says, ask Vincent Chin or James Byrd whether race is only a social construction.[30]  Thus any move to eliminate the race categories would also be inappropriate unless there were some clear alternative way for the government to signal that it would continue to take race into account in making budgetary, statutory, and regulatory decisions.  It is hard to see what that might be.

            There would, then, be real and in my view unacceptable costs to eliminating some form of racial categorization in the U.S. census.  The government has policy responsibilities and sends political messages that cannot be ignored.  Nevertheless, it is not possible to put the genie back in the bottle; the multiracial identifier, with all that it implies about complexity and fuzzy boundaries will not be abolished. Nor in my view should it be; if we are to somehow incorporate racial identity into Americans’ long-standing commitment to individualism and self-definition, the first step is to enable people to choose their own racial identity.[31]  It may be a deep irony that the Census Bureau, of all places, is introducing the United States to a whole new way of thinking about race in the 21st century.  But so it is; there is no point in resisting Americans’ desire to check more than one box.  Our task is to understand that desire and to use it “to promote the general Welfare.”  That is, after all, what the same Constitution that created the census also created the federal government to do.






Baumgartner, Frank and  Bryan Jones (1993). Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.

Bobo, Lawrence (2000). "Race and Beliefs about Affirmative Action." Racialized Politics: The Debate about Racism in America. David Sears, Jim Sidanius and Lawrence Bobo. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press: 137-64.

Carmines, Edward and  James Stimson (1989). Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Gallup Organization, Cable News Network and U.S.A. Today (2001). Gallup/CNN/USA Today Poll.

Goldstein, Joshua (1999). “Kinship Networks That Cross Racial Lines: The Exception or the Rule?” Demography 36(3): 399-407.

Harris, David and  Jeremiah Sim (2000) An Empirical Look at the Social Construction of Race: The Case of Mixed-Race Adolescents Ann Arbor MI, University of Michigan, Population Studies Center, Research Report 00-452

Hart, Margaret (1997) Managing Diversity for a Sustained Competitiveness New York, Conference Board, 1195-97-CH

Hollinger, David (2000). Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. New York: Basic Books.

Kasindorf, Martin and  Haya Nasser (2001) "Impact of Census' Race Data Debated." USA Today, August 13: xxx

Moore, Solomon (2001) "Census' Multiracial Option Overturns Traditional Views." Los Angeles Times, March 5: XX

Newsweek (1995) Newsweek Poll

Office of Management and Budget (1997) Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity Washington D.C., Executive Office of the President, OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs,

Office of Management and Budget (2001) Provisional Guidance on the Implementation of the 1997 Standards for Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity Washington D.C., Executive Office of the President, OMB Office of Information and Regulative Affairs,

Page, Benjamin and  Robert Shapiro (1992). The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in American Policy Preferences. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.

Prewitt, Kenneth (2001) "Census 2000 and the Fuzzy Boundary Separating Politics and Science." Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, summer:

Public Perspective (1997). “The NORC Series on Confidence in Leaders of National Institutions.” Public Perspective 8(February/March): 2-5.

Schmitt, Eric (2001a) "Broader Palette Allows for Subtler Census Portrait." New York Times, March 12: A12

Schmitt, Eric (2001b) "For 7 Million People in Census, One Race Category Isn't Enough." New York Times, March 13: A1, A14

Schmitt, Eric (2001c) "Multiracial Identification Might Affect Programs." New York Times, March 14: A16

Schmitt, Eric (2001d) "New Census Shows Hispanics Are Even with Blacks in U.S." New York Times, March 8: A1, A15

Sharp, Elaine (1999). The Sometime Connection : Public Opinion and Social Policy. Albany NY: State Univ of New York Press.

Steeh, Charlotte and  Maria Krysan (1996). “The Polls -- Trends: Affirmative Action and the Public, 1970-1995.” Public Opinion Quarterly 60(1): 128-58.

Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University School of Public Health (2001). Survey of Biracial Couples.




[1] Kasindorf and Nasser 2001; Prewitt 2001. My thanks to the American Council for Learned Societies for sabbatical funding that enabled me to develop this project.

 [2] The release of initial data from the 2000 Census showed also that 6 percent of Hispanics, 14 percent of Asians, and 2.5 percent of Anglos chose more than one race.  That totaled to about 2 percent of the American population or 6.8 million people (Schmitt 2001b: A1).

 [3] This may be the social science analogue to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the theory in quantum mechanics holding that one cannot simultaneously measure a particle’s location and its momentum.

 [4] Office of Management and Budget 20017



 [7] Schmitt 2001b:  A14

 [8] In operational terms, users of the census data can “report the total selecting each particular race, whether alone or in combination with other races.  These totals would represent upper bounds on the size of the population who identified with each of the racial categories” (Office of Management and Budget 2001: 8, quoting from its 1997 Federal Register Notice mandating the multiple identifers).

 [9] Public Perspective 1997

 [10]  However, 823 people checked all six race categories (Kasindorf and Nasser 2001).

[11] Office of Management and Budget 2001: 16-17, 70

 [12] Schmitt 2001b.  From this article, I calculate that 42 percent of Hispanics chose “some other race.”  CHECK

 [13] “Thirty-five percent of Latinos are younger than 18, compared with 24 percent of non-Latinos” (Schmitt 2001b: A14).

 [14] Office of Management and Budget 2001: 70).  It may be that the Department of Education is simply being more forthright than the other agencies that monitor and enforce civil rights.   OMB’s Provisional Guidance simply notes the presence of Hispanics in its discussion of voting rights, employment discrimination, Title VI enforcement, vital records keeping, and crime reporting.

 [15] quoted in Moore 2001: 1 of internet version

 [16] Carmines and Stimson 1989; Baumgartner and Jones 1993

 [17] quoted in Schmitt 2001a

 [18] Office of Management and Budget 1997: 11-12


 [20] Schmitt 2001a

 [21] More precisely, 8.1% of blacks 17 and younger identified with more than one race, compared with 2.3 % of blacks 50 and older.  The interracial choice increased proportionally in intervening age groups (Schmitt 2001d: A15).  These results presumably reflect both an actual increase in interracial parentage among young people and an increasing willingness to acknowledge white or other non-black ancestry.

 [22] Harris and Sim 2000


 [24] “Despite an intermarriage rate of about 1%, about 20% of Americans count someone from a different racial group among their kin.”  Interracial kinship increases with education for all but whites (Goldstein 1999abstract, p. 405).  Goldstein does not consider Hispanic ethnicity; if it were added to the model, the intermarriage rate would be higher, and the kinship connection with someone of a different race or ethnicity would be dramatically higher.

 [25] Steeh and Krysan 1996; Bobo 2000

 [26] Two examples: the president and CEO of DuPont Corporation is featured in a Conference Board publication saying that “we have proof [that] diversity improves our business performance…. Diversity in our company is itself a business imperative vital to our ongoing renewal and our competitiveness into the 21st century” (Hart 19975). In the late 1990s, IBM widely distributed an advertisement with a rainbow coalition of happy workers consulting around a table beneath the headline “Diversity works.” Above the picture, the text proclaimed,  “It has long made sense to us at IBM to welcome and value individual differences…. In our diverse marketplace, that’s always good business” (e.g in Atlantic Magazine, June 1998, p. 43).

 [27]  Gallup Organization et al. 2001; Newsweek 1995; see also Washington Post et al. 2001

 [28] Page and Shapiro 1992;  Sharp 1999  MONROE 2001 APSA PAPER

 [29] In part this is an empirical and testable question: would too many whites whose forebears come from Africa be inappropriately included, and/or too many blacks who think of themselves as descendents of Jamaicans or Haitians be inappropriately excluded?  That leads into, of course, a discussion of how many is “too many,” and what it means to be white or black in any case in this circumstance.  A similar set of questions could be raised about Hispanics, but their situation is in any case more complicated with regard to civil rights laws and voting rights enforcement.

 [30]  Vincent Chin was a Chinese-American beaten to death in 1982 by two autoworkers in Detroit; they blamed him for the crisis in the auto industry induced by Americans’ move to Japanese-built cars.  James Byrd was an African American dragged to his death behind a truck in Jasper, Texas, in 1998 by three white supremicists.

 [31] Perhaps the most imaginative suggestion comes from David Hollinger, who proposes two questions on the census. The first would provide the data needed to combat discrimination and would ask something like “do you have the physical characteristics that render you at risk of discrimination, and if so, do those characteristics make you black, red, yellow, or brown?”  The second would register cultural identity, and would ask something like, “do you consider yourself to be a member of any of the following ethno-racially defined cultural groups?” Hollinger 2000: 179-182.  Hollinger’s questions obviously need to be reformulated, but his instinct to separate the legal and political or emotional components of “race” may be the right route for resolving the dilemmas discussed in this commentary.