Hearing on Multiracial Identification

Statement of Representative Stephen Horn
U.S. House of Representatives

Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight

Hearing on Multiracial Identification
22 May 1997

 


This is the second in a series of hearings on the topic of how the Federal Government classifies the people of this country according to race and ethnicity. We can all agree that this issue is both complex and important. It is a public policy issue, yet it is also a personal identity issue.

Currently the Government classifies people according to five categories of race and ethnicity. The race categories are Black, White, Asian or Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native. The ethnic category is Hispanic. The questions is whether these categories are adequate to measure our society today and into the coming decades.

The race and ethnic classifications under the Office of Management and Budget's Directive 15 are vital to the implementation of numerous Federal laws and regulations. Data on race and ethnicity are required by Federal statutes covering issues such as voting rights, lending practices, provision of health services, and employment practices, among others. The data are also utilized by State and local governments for legislative redistricting and compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended.

For several years now, there has been an organized movement of individuals who argue that the current categories are not complete because people with multiracial backgrounds cannot fit into one of these five categories as required by Federal forms. Their argument has recently received a dramatic and inspiring illustration: Master's champion Tiger Woods.

Where, people are asking, does Tiger Woods fit on the map of race in America? Some argue that existing categories need to be redrawn to give multiracial individuals one of their own. Others say there is no coherent racial identity that could be called "multiracial." The only effect, say opponents, would be to diminish the importance of race in analyzing the fairness with which government benefits and services are delivered.

Is it possible to reach a compromise that satisfies both public policy and individual desire? Perhaps we will get an answer today. In order to do so, we will need to be very clear about the issues involved. We are joined by some of the preeminent experts on this issue.

As Chairman of this subcommittee, I would like to touch briefly on one fundamental issue. The five categories of race and ethnicity in question were established on Federal forms for the purpose of remedying the wrongs of past and present discrimination. Data gathered according to these categories are required by a variety of Federal statutes, most of which were inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Our discussion today must begin with the question of why we gather data on race and ethnicity. There is no hope for agreeing on the issue of what data we should gather unless we can agree on the purposes for which the data will be used. I hope our witnesses today will address this fundamental question: Is the chief purpose of measuring race and ethnicity to help specific racial and ethnicity groups receive equitable treatment in our society?

If witnesses should answer "no" to this question, it is incumbent upon them to explain their alternative view of the primary purpose for utilization of these data. If witnesses answer "yes" to this question, then they must explain how their proposals for the current categories fit that purpose.

Our first panel will consist of Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii. He is a long-time advocate for Native Hawaiians and we are very pleased to welcome him here today.

The second panel will feature Harold McDougall, the Washington Bureau Director of the NAACP, and Eric Rodriquez, who is Policy Analyst at the National Council of La Raza. These two organizations bring highly respected voices to this discussion. Also on the second panel are Susan Graham, President of Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally), and her son, Ryan, who is multiracial. They appeared before Congress in 1993 to testify on behalf of a multiracial category and since that time have been active multiracial advocates at the State and local as well as the Federal level.

The third panel consists of Ramona Douglass, who serves as President of the Association for MultiEthnic Americans; Helen Samhan, the Executive Vice President of the Arab-American Institute; Jacinta Ma, who is Staff Attorney at the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium; and JoAnn Chase, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. Also on panel three is Nathan Douglas, who is a member of the Interracial Family Circle and a parent of a multiracial child.

Our fourth panel features three scholars with strong backgrounds on issues of demographics, race, and ethnicity. Mary Waters is Professor of Sociology at Harvard University; Dr. Harold Hodgkinson is Director of the Center for Demographic Policy at the Institute for Educational Leadership; and Dr. Balint Vazsonyi is Director of the Center for the American Founding at the Potomac Foundation.

We welcome all our witnesses today and look forward to their testimony.

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