Hearing on Multiracial Identification

Statement of Carlos A. Fernández, Esq.
President, Association of MultiEthnic Americans, Inc.
Assisted by Edwin C. Darden, Vice President, Eastern Region (D.C.)
and Ramona E. Douglass, Vice President, Central Region (Chicago)

Before the Subcommittee on Census, Statistics and Postal Personnel
of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight

Hearing on Multiracial Identification
30 June 1993


     The Association of MultiEthnic Americans offers this testimony regarding the federal government's classification of people whose racial or ethnic identification encompasses more than one of the designated classifications currently in use.

Introduction

     The Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA) is the only nationwide confederation of local multiethnic/interracial groups representing thousands of people from all walks of life and includes individuals and families of various racial and ethnic origins and mixtures.  We represent one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States. (According to the Population Reference Bureau, children born to parents of different races went from 1% to 3.4% of total births from 1968 to 1989; from 1970 to 1991, the number of mixed race couples excluding Hispanics increased from 310,000 to 994,000. See Appendix 10.)

     AMEA was founded on November 12, 1988 by representatives of local interracial groups, many of which emerged around the country during the late 1970s and early 1980s. In many cases, these groups formed as parents, multiracial adults and others began to challenge the official classification of multiracial, multiethnic people, particularly in connection with the public schools.

     This issue of racial classification served to highlight the more general concerns of multiracial/multiethnic people in the United States and elsewhere.  Of special concern to us then and now is that peculiar form of bigotry aimed at interracialism and interculturalism which is present in all ethnic communities.  Many of us who fit into more than one of the official categories realize that our very identity is a challenge to this deeply ingrained prejudice of a divided world.

     Consequently, AMEA's primary goal is to promote a positive awareness of interracial and multiethnic identity, for ourselves and for society as a whole.

     We believe that every person, especially every child, who is multiethnic/interracial has the same right as any other person to assert a identity that embraces the fullness and integrity of their actual ancestry, and that every multiethnic/interracial family, whether biological or adoptive, has the same right to grow and develop as any other, and that our children have the right to love and respect each of their parents equally.

     We also believe that a positive awareness of interracial and multicultural identity is an essential step toward resolving America's, and also the world's, profound difficulty with the issues of race and interethnic relations.  We are convinced that our community is uniquely situated to confront these issues because of the special experiences and understanding we acquire in the intimacy of our families and our personalities.

     AMEA seeks to accomplish it's goals by winning recognition from government—local, state and federal—as well as from the media, and engaging every opportunity to express our views and provide information on issues which concern our community.  We have sought out and received the support of academics and professionals who recognize the social significance and magnitude of our concerns.  We are establishing a national resource center and legal fund.

The Racial/Ethnic Classification Issue

     The issue of racial/ethnic classifications on government-regulated forms is the most immediate tangible concern of most members of our community.  Each and every time we confront one of these forms, we are faced yet again with the awkward, irrational, and for many of us, the offensive task of selecting a "race" or "ethnicity" which does not truthfully identify us and has the further result of failing to count our community.  This is why we are here today.  To let you know our concerns about government racial classifications, and to offer our proposal for meeting these concerns in a workable manner.

Our Proposal – Acknowledging Multiracial/Multiethnic People on Forms

     In general, AMEA wants to see a government-wide reform to accommodate and acknowledge the particular identity of people whose racial or ethnic identification encompasses more than one of the designated classifications currently in use.

     For instance, whenever a question calls for "racial" classification, the category "multiracial" should be included.  Whenever a question calls for "ethnic" classification, the category "multiethnic" should be included.  Whenever racial and ethnic information is sought in a combined format, the category "multiracial/multiethnic" should be included.

     Additionally, the categories "multiracial", "multiethnic" and "multiracial/multiethnic" should each be followed by a listing of the racial and/or ethnic groups appearing on the main list.  This secondary listing should be used to signify the racial/ethnic identifications or origins of the parents of the individual being tallied.

Current Government Race/Ethnic Classifications – 
OMB Statistical Policy Directive 15

     The most important and far-reaching rule affecting governmental classifications is set forth in Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Statistical Policy Directive 15. (Appendix 1).  The stated purpose of this directive is to facilitate the exchange of racial and ethnic statistics among governmental agencies by standardizing the reporting of this information.

     OMB Directive 15 affects all governmental agencies including the census, the public schools, Social Security, etc.  Additionally, the Directive sets the example for the private sector.  If reform is to be made affecting the counting of multiracial people anywhere in government, OMB Directive 15 must be changed.

     OMB Directive 15 sets forth five racial/ethnic categories and requires reporting in one category only for each individual counted ("check-one-only").  "Other" is not one of the reporting categories.

     OMB Directive 15 forces government agencies at all levels to design their racial/ethnic query forms in such a way that the information provided can be reported in terms of one of the Directive 15 categories only.  Thus, people whose parentage encompasses more than one of the designated categories cannot be counted, except monoracially.  This causes tremendous problems, not only for the individuals involved, but also for the government agencies who must develop forms and rules which offend both multiracial/ethnic people as well as any rational standard of accuracy.

     AMEA proposes that OMB Statistical Directive 15 be changed in order to allow the accurate counting of multiracial/ethnic people.  This change may be accomplished quite simply by (1) the addition of a "multiracial" and/or "multiethnic" category and (2) providing a subsection for those choosing to identify as multiracial/ethnic to signify their racial/ethnic parentage in terms of the other listed categories. (Appendix 2)

     This proposal (1) counts people accurately according to their actual identity; (2) provides statistical continuity by accounting for the racial/ethnic component(s) which may be relevant for various government studies and programs; and (3) avoids unnecessary and unwarranted government influence and interference in the very sensitive and private matter of personal identity.

The Census

     The 1990 Census, as in past censuses, maintains its own format for asking about racial/ethnic information.  However, even the Census Bureau must ensure that its statistics are reportable in the terms dictated by OMB Directive 15.  This meant that in 1990 monoracial/ethnic responses were required in the race and Hispanic questions (#4 & #7), although multiple answers were permitted in the ethnic ancestry question (#13) on the long form. (Appendix 3).

     Census officials inform us that responses to "other race" were assigned to monoracial categories for OMB reporting purposes when the various racial components were stated. (Appendix 4).  One version of the rule applied in these instances of which we are aware is that the first race stated was the one to which the response was assigned.  Responses such as "multiracial" or "mixed" required either a visit by a census taker to obtain a monoracial response, or else they were not counted.

     Additionally, responses such as "multiracial" when written in cannot be discovered from any publicly-available reports of the Census Bureau although presumably, the individual responses are there.

     Thus, one of the principal agencies of government charged with supplying important demographic information for government and business is hamstrung when it comes to counting the community we represent.  This is primarily a consequence of the reporting requirements of OMB Statistical Directive 15.

The Public Schools

     Perhaps nowhere is the impact of OMB Directive 15 more keenly felt by members of the multiracial/ethnic community than in the public education system. (Appendix 5).  Indeed, the initial impetus in the formation of many local interracial groups across the country has been the classification of multiracial/ethnic children in public schools.

     Beginning with the success of the AMEA-affiliated group "Interracial Intercultural Pride" (I-Pride) in California which succeeded in getting the Berkeley Public Schools to adopt an "Interracial" category in 1981 (limited to internal uses by OMB Dir 15) (Appendix 6), and continuing with the efforts of others, notably of Project RACE in Georgia, the Cincinnati Multiracial Alliance in Ohio, Michelle Erickson and her supporters in Illinois (Appendix 7), Patricia Whitehead in San Diego, students at Harvard University and of others including AMEA, the multiracial/ethnic community has been spurred on by the particularly offensive application of OMB Directive 15 in the realm of public education.

     Why?

     First, when government compels the multiracial, multiethnic family to signify a factually false identity for their child, it invades their fundamental right of privacy.  Every multiracial/ethnic family is entitled to safeguard its integrity against unwarranted intrusions by the government.  No child should be forced to favor one parent over the other by any governmental agency.

     Second, it violates a fundamental right of privacy of the multiracial/ethnic individual to require that they deny their factual identity and heritage, including the right to their own distinctive identity as a multiracial/ethnic person.  Such a requirement offends personal dignity and interferes in a negative way with the development of self-esteem of multiracial/ethnic students.

     Third, it is especially offensive as well as a violation of privacy to require that school officials "visually inspect" for purposes of racially classifying a student who does not identify monoracially.  This procedure has more in common with the sorting of animals than it does with the ordinary respect supposed to be accorded human beings.  We cannot conceive of any reasonable basis for this procedure.

     Fourth, it is appalling that an educational institution should require the giving of factually false information on school census forms.  The teaching of facts and truth is the essence of education.  A multiracial, multiethnic child or her parents cannot give a monoracial response and be truthful at the same time.  It is wrong for government to make such a requirement of its citizens, parents and children alike.

     There is also an argument to be made from the standpoint of religious belief.  For example, the central tenet of the Baha'i Faith is the oneness of humanity.  As a consequence, members are encouraged to marry across racial and cultural lines.  For the offspring of such marriages, any requirement by school officials to identify by monoracial category places them in double jeopardy, challenging both their personal integrity and religious belief. (ref. Peter Adriance, National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States, Washington DC) (Appendix 8).

Public Health

     The practice of not recognizing racial/ethnic mixture even reaches into the area of public health.  Unbelievably, the National Center for Health Statistics denies the identity of multiracial, multiethnic people.  In fact, this denial reached such absurd proportions that in 1989, the race of children of single mothers changed from race of the father to race of the mother!  At no time was the race of the child recorded accurately as multiracial when this was actually the case.  This sort of statistical method might serve someone's social views of race, but in public health where such statistics are required for life and death decisions such as allocation of research and health program funds or the rendering of medical assistance, there is no excuse.

     Certainly, patterns of gene expression are different in racially and ethnically diverse individuals than they are in people whose genes are more closely similar.  Thus, ignoring the fact of multiracial people in the gathering of these statistics can lead to false conclusions about the health needs of various population groups.  Recent findings lend support to this conclusion.  (See for instance the recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing significant differences in the metabolizing of drugs such as Inderal among different population groups; also, the ongoing efforts to improve the availability of compatible organ transplant donors).

     Moreover, we have anecdotal evidence of multiracial/ethnic people whose identity is confused by health care professionals, particularly in potentially life-threatening emergency situations.

     Multiracial people can be characterized in various ways by different individuals, but rarely are we characterized as multiracial!  This has as much to do with cultural training as with traditional, unscientific notions of race and race mixture inappropriately applied in the keeping and reporting of medical records and statistics.

Assessing the Needs of the Multiracial/Ethnic Community

     Disallowing the specific identity of multiracial/multiethnic people also deprives our community of basic data required to objectively assess or even discover those of its needs which might require legislative or even judicial action.  Indeed, this is one of the rationales for keeping racial/ethnic statistics on the various other minority populations.

    There is, for example, a form of discrimination arising from the special bigotry against racially mixed people which deserves attention and can only be gauged statistically if this population is counted specially and not just as "other" or as monoracial.

     Certainly, there is no shortage of anecdotes and specific cases wherein bigotry against interracial people and families has occurred throughout US history, continuing even today. One need look no further than the cases involving the anti-miscegenation laws for evidence of this fact.  The record of the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia which AMEA commemorated last year [see NY Times June 12, 1992] was filled with the most nonsensical pseudo-scientific pap about the supposedly debilitated progeny of interracial unions, and hysterical fears that society might become "mongrelized" and thereby eventually collapse.

     We are painfully aware that such prejudices persist in this country, even among members of minority groups.  Whether these prejudices exist in patterns of discrimination can only be determined if accurate statistics are available.  Because of current government classification rules, these patterns cannot at present be known with any reasonable certainty or accuracy.

Public Policy Considerations

     In keeping with its origin in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, OMB Statistical Directive 15 is supposed to aid the administration of government programs dealing with various racial and ethnic populations in the United States.  In and of itself, Directive 15 in theory cannot dictate public policy, only facilitate its implementation.

     Unfortunately, in its current form, Directive 15 unnecessarily incorporates a policy denying the fact of interracial/ethnic mixture, as well as failing to provide statistics that are accurate, a fundamental requirement if government is to function effectively, by mischaracterizing multiracial/ethnic people.  It enshrines highly questionable and controversial notions of racial and ethnic group affiliation, in particular, the idea that individuals cannot transcend racial/ethnic lines even when they do!

     It may be true that Directive 15 does not provide for the counting of multiracial/ethnic people only incidently and inadvertently.  This may be because the Legislative Branch, the Congress, has not acted to establish a public policy which explicitly acknowledges the existence of multiracial/ethnic people.  Until it does so, OMB may not feel compelled to count us.

     Now is the time for the Congress to make its concerns known to the Executive Branch in this area.  Indeed, this hearing today is a positive development in that regard.

     Congress has already enacted laws to encourage and improve the civil rights of all citizens, especially those who have historically suffered discrimination based on their race or ethnicity.  One of the most important public policies upon which these enactments were made was, and remains, the desire to strengthen the unity of this country by eliminating barriers between individuals and communities based on race.  Some of this was accomplished under the gun of Supreme Court decisions, some because it was believed to be sound public policy.

     In keeping with this broad policy of national unity, it might be argued that racial and ethnic classifications should be done away with entirely.  But such a view is utopian and also distorts the reality of continuing communal divisions based on race and ethnicity.

     The better argument is that we must step up our efforts to improve the chances of all our citizens against the forces of prejudice, bigotry and separatism, thereby rendering racial and ethnic classifications increasingly irrelevant.

     In the meantime, we should take advantage of the socially unifying force that is superbly represented by the multiracial, multiethnic community.  As stated previously, our community is uniquely situated to confront racial and interethnic issues because of the special experiences and understanding we acquire in the intimacy of our families and our personalities.  Ideally, our community has the potential to become the stable core around which the ethnic pluralism of the United States can be united.

     In order to take advantage of the multiracial community's potential, this society must first recognize and acknowledge our existence.  In concrete terms, this means accommodating our identity on official forms if not in common parlance.  Once the concept of people whose identities transcend traditional racial and ethnic boundaries is accepted, the idea of social unity becomes easier to visualize.  Without this concept, we enshrine racial and ethnic divisions.

     Many sociologists agree that the degree of intermarriage and multiracial families in a society is a good gauge of the degree of racial/ethnic harmony of that society (For citations, see Murguia, Chicano Intermarriage, 1982).  What that degree might be at any given moment and over time cannot be known accurately unless it is measured.

International Implications

     Accommodating the multiracial/ethnic community in America by recognizing its specific identity also has important global implications.

     For instance, a recent study by the World Affairs Council of Northern California found that racism and ethnic division hurts the U.S. economically (San Francisco Chronicle, October 5, 1992).  Conversely, it is reasonable to assume that racial and ethnic harmony, which is best represented by the multiracial community, can be an enormous advantage to this country.  However, we cannot make full use of this advantage if we refuse to recognize the existence of the multiracial community, and we cannot recognize its existence if we deny its identity.

     There is also the question of interracial, interethnic harmony across the world.  This question bears on the health of the world economy as much as it does on the simple matter of peace.

     Certainly, the experiences attendant to the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia demonstrate the critical need for new thinking and new models for establishing and maintaining world peace and order.  One important component of any new thinking must necessarily involve families and individuals whose very identities transcend racial and ethnic divisions and who therefore cannot abide the prejudices and bigotry that feed the fires of intercommunal wars.  Of all the countries in the world, it should be the one whose motto is "E Pluribus Unum", the one nation that has the advantage of having drawn upon all the nations of the world for its people, the only nation that has the power, momentarily, to influence the other countries of the world in the ways of multiethnic living, that sets the example for others.  Certainly this is at least an ideal to which we should aspire.

     One important aspect of international relations of which we should be particularly concerned in this regard is the silence of the international community including the United States on the rights of multiethnic peoples caught in the conflicts between ethnic communities asserting their recognized rights of self determination and sovereignty.  This may seem a distant concern for consideration by this Subcommittee, but in fact, it is the same failure to recognize and acknowledge multiracial, multiethnic people there as here. We cannot hope to influence others to protect the rights of anyone if we cannot first demonstrate our own ability to do so within our own borders.  We cannot do this if we cannot even recognize the existence of multiracial/ethnic people who are the links between our own diverse racial and ethnic communities.

Questions Submitted by the Subcommittee and Responses

1. What are the primary purposes of the racial and ethnic categories?

     A race question has appeared in every census beginning with the first one in 1790.  The original utility of this question was to help ascertain the number of "free white persons" as distinguished mainly from black slaves and Native Americans.  These two non-white groups were the only ones of any numerical consequence at the time.

     Questions relating to ethnicity or "national origin" have appeared on most censuses, particularly in connection with the large-scale immigrations beginning in the late 19th century.  Presumably the purpose here was to account for the newcomers in order to then legislate a restriction on their continued immigration.

     The other most notable use of racial classifications occurred at the state level in the regulation of marriages and the tabulation of birth and death records, mainly for discriminatory purposes.

     In recent years, racial and ethnic questions have been continued.  However, their primary  purpose has fundamentally changed.  With the advent of the civil rights movement and the US Supreme Court decisions that accompanied it, these questions have acquired a new importance.  The information thus provided has become essential in the implementation of court decisions involving civil rights as well as in the allocation of government resources to meet the needs of various identifiable population groups who have suffered from discrimination.  Recent court rulings have affirmed this purpose citing especially 13 USCS §141 (Texas v. Mosbacher 1992 SD Tex, 783 F.Supp 308).

     The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) specifies its own purposes for the collection of racial and ethnic information. Statistical Policy Directive 15 which reaches to and affects all governmental entities including the census and the public schools, specifies that: "The minimum standard collection categories shall be utilized for reporting…Civil rights compliance reporting…General program administrative and grant reporting…(and) Statistical reporting" where required by statute or regulation.

2. How well are the current categories working (in terms of data accuracy and public acceptance)?

     AMEA cannot answer this question except with respect to the interracial/multiethnic community we represent.

     On behalf of this community, we state emphatically that the current categories on the census, school enrollment and other governmental forms are wholly inadequate and grossly inaccurate in that there is no category or procedure by which multiracial/multiethnic people can identify themselves comfortably and accurately.  The requirement on most forms to identify with only one specified category is a solicitation for inaccurate information when a factual response by a multiracial or multiethnic individual would require identification with more than one of the specified categories.  This means (1) that multiracial people are not being accounted for and (2) other population groups are being mischaracterized.

     Many people in the multiracial/multiethnic community are not accepting of the census categories currently employed and are often highly offended.  They are particularly disturbed by the requirements of the OMB Directive 15 as it affects the forms used in the public schools and encountered by their children where even the option "other" is not available.  And it must be said, the "other" category, when it is available, is also unacceptable to us, for both practical and philosophical reasons.

3. If the current categories are inadequate, how best can we increase their usefulness without compromising data comparability and public acceptance?

     AMEA has outlined elsewhere in this written statement how questions calling for racial or ethnic information might be changed to accommodate the need for accuracy and acceptance by our community.  We believe these proposals provide a method by which the need for statistical continuity can be met.

4. Would use of an ethnic identifier, or another set of categories, be more useful than a racial one?

     Limited strictly to the question of "usefulness", racial and ethnic identifiers are probably equally effective.  However, everything hinges on the meaning of the two terms "race" and "ethnicity". People typically use the terms interchangeably depending on what they are interested in (see Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, 481 US 604 (1987)).  There are individuals among the community we represent who choose to identify monoracially when what they really mean to indicate is the community to which they most closely interact (particularly if they grew up in a segregated environment) or for whose interests they wish to express support.  In a real sense, they are identifying ethnically, although racially, strictly speaking, they would be considered multiracial.  If the census and other governmental agencies wish to have any hope of getting a handle on all this, they must present the questions and categories in such a way that these phenomena can be properly discerned.

     For instance, many if not most ethnically-identified African Americans are "multiracial"; so, incidentally, are most "Hispanics".  Thus, simply adding a multiracial category would introduce unnecessary confusion.  A deracialized approach would serve better because it takes into account the actual divides between communities which are not based on the 3-race theory, but rather on real cultural communities with historic origins in legal segregation and/or the presence of international borders; the multiracialism with which we are concerned is more properly a question of ethnicity, and therefore, the type of identity we are really concerned with is multiethnic in nature.  And certainly, for most multiracial persons, the issues associated with this heritage have as much to do with the integration of different cultures as with the issue of skin color, even in the case of children of European American and African American parentage.

     Of course, any deracializing of classifications on government forms must contend with the reality of popular perceptions.  Thus it might make sense to employ a transitional scheme where "race" is used interchangeably with "ethnic".  This is more easily understood by most people.  "Ethnic" is a good term because properly, it incorporates both "race" and "culture" i.e. an ethnic group is primarily endogamous (racial) and shares a common culture based on social interactions occurring mainly within the community.

5. Should the federal government adopt a "bi-" or "multiracial" category, and what are the legal implications of such a category?

     The census and all governmental entities should adopt a "multiracial" category when the question posed is "racial", "multiethnic" when the question is ethnicity, and both when racial and ethnic information is sought in a combined format.  The prefix "multi-" is preferred to "bi-" since there are many instances of persons whose ancestry includes more than two racial or ethnic groups.

     There is no particular legal implication that we can see arising from the adoption of a "multiracial/ethnic" category, though we do see legal problems arising from the current requirements of OMB Directive 15, some to which we have already alluded.

     Of course, there is the question of how the adoption of such a category might impact various minority benefit programs since presumably, many persons now counted monoracially would then be counted as multiracial.

     Furthermore, we understand the concern of government demographers and statisticians for continuity in their records.

     Our proposal takes both of these questions into account by requiring that the races/ethnicities of parents be signified for each individual identifying as multiracial or multiethnic.  In this way, it is possible to continue including multiracial people in various minority benefit programs if Congress deems such to be appropriate.  Since many multiracial people have traditionally been discriminated against as if they were monoracial, their continued inclusion in at least some of these programs would seem justified.  The need for continuity is preserved insofar as the sudden statistical "disappearance" of monoracial individuals from particular racial categories can be accounted for in the multiracial category in the manner proposed.

Conclusion

     The Association of MultiEthnic Americans believes that now is the time for the Congress to take and recommend whatever actions are necessary to accommodate and acknowledge the particular identity of multiracial, multiethnic people.  In particular, OMB Statistical Policy Directive 15 must be changed as we have proposed.

     It is unacceptable to AMEA and the community it represents that what purports to be a mere administrative device should be the reason we are denied our identity.  Directive 15 as it currently reads must be changed because (1) it fails its own test of accuracy and (2) it too conveniently corresponds to traditional notions of bigotry directed against so-called race mixing as well as the multiracial, multiethnic people thereby produced.

     The multiracial, multiethnic community deserves, no less than any other community, the respect and dignity of recognition for who we really are.  The changes we advocate are necessary as a matter of right as well as good public policy.  They can be effected immediately with minimal or no adverse impact on anyone or any group, and with enormous benefit to all.

     We thank the Subcommittee for hearing our views.  We stand ready to be of further assistance as you may request.

APPENDICES

1. Office of Management & Budget Statistical Policy Directive 15

2. AMEA Proposed Revised OMB Minimum Reporting Standards With Multiracial, Multiethnic Categories

3. 1990 Census Form, Race & Ethnic Origin Questions

4. Wash. Post April 29, 1991, "Categorizing the Nation's Millions of Other Race"

5. Letter from US Dept. of Education to AMEA dated Oct.4, 1989 re: OMB Dir.15

6. Berkeley Publ. Schools Enrollment Form & Statistics, 1968-1992

7. Chicago Sun Times, Feb.8, 1993, "No Option in Schools"; Chicago Sun Times, Apr.26, 1993, "Multiracial Category Sought on School Forms"; Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1993, "Multiracial people want a single name that fits".

8. Letter from ACLU to US Dept. of Education dated Mar.8, 1990 re: Baha'i student

9. Time Magazine, Sept.4, 1989, "No Place For Mankind"

10. Personal Testimony of Ramona E. Douglass, AMEA Vice President, Central Region

11. Marital Status & Living Arrangements, US Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports Series P20-468

12. Bibliography

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES AND INFORMATION ARE AVAILABLE FROM AMEA UPON REQUEST.

 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.