Hearing on Multiracial Identification

Statement of Carlos A. Fernandez, Esq.
Coordinator for Law and Civil Rights, Association of MultiEthnic Americans, Inc.

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

Hearing on Multiracial Identification
25 July 1997


     The Association of MultiEthnic Americans and Carlos A. Fernandez hereby offer this testimony in support of the recommendations issued this month by the Interagency Committee for the Review of the Racial and Ethnic Standards 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 a nationwide confederation of 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.

     On June 30, 1993, I had the opportunity to testify on behalf of AMEA before the House Subcommittee on Census, Statistics and Postal Personnel to present for the first time, an overview of our concerns with respect to the acknowledgment of multiracial/ethnic people by our government. I hereby incorporate that testimony herein by reference.

     I submitted written testimony to this subcommittee in May of this year, reviewing the legal and constitutional issues which pertain to the government's racial and ethnic classifications as they affect multiracial/ethnic individuals. I hereby also incorporate that testimony herein by reference.

OMB Statistical Directive 15

     Following the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the newly-created Equal Employment Opportunity Commission required employers to report on the numbers of "Negroes", "Orientals", "American Indians", and "Spanish Americans" and produced Standard Form 100 (EEO-1) for this purpose. Other agencies followed suit.

     By the 1970's, racial statistics gathered from agencies of government at all levels were becoming unwieldy and standardization was deemed necessary. Mindful of this, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) produced Statistical Policy Directive 15 in 1977. Directive 15 remains to this day the supreme authority for racial classifications in the United States, affecting all governmental agencies including the census, the public schools, Social Security, etc. The Directive also dictates classification policy to the private sector, through the EEOC, the Small Business Administration, as well as by way of example.

     OMB Directive 15 sets forth five racial/ethnic categories: "White", "Black", "Asian/Pacific Islander", "Native American/Alaskan Native", and "Hispanic". Additionally, the Directive requires reporting in one category only for each individual counted ("check-one- only"). "Other" is not one of the reporting categories.

     Directive 15's stated purpose is to require 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. No reason is stated as to why an individual must report in only one category.

Recommendations of the Interagency Committee

     The OMB's Interagency Committee for the Review of the Racial and Ethnic Standards announced July 9, 1997 it's recommendations regarding OMB Statistical Directive 15. In particular, the Interagency Committee recommended that Directive 15 be amended to permit multiple check-offs on government forms which ask for racial and ethnic information from individuals.

     Additionally, the Interagency Committee specifically ruled out the addition of a new classification for multiracial individuals.

      The Interagency Committee did not issue any proposed draft for the amended Directive 15.

     The Committee recommended that the proposed changes be used in the 2000 decennial census, and that all agencies conform to the changes no later than January 1, 2003. There was no mention as to whether any agency might be permitted to implement the proposed changes before the year 2000.

Assessment of the Recommendations

     The Association of MultiEthnic Americans and allied organizations and individuals regard the Interagency Committee's recommendations as a necessary and revolutionary change. If implemented appropriately, we believe the proposed changes to OMB Directive 15 will meet our most fundamental concern, namely, acknowledgment by our government that multiracial/ethnic people do in fact exist and have a right to be counted. Additionally, the proposed changes will resolve the legal and constitutional problems with the current Directive 15 which I presented to this subcommittee in May.

     While we had proposed that the Directive be changed to also include a new classification for multiracial/ethnic individuals, a proposal we standby, we nonetheless regard the Interagency Committee's recommendations as the best compromise possible at this time, and will wholeheartedly support them.

     There are, however, three major concerns we have about the final wording of the amended OMB Directive 15, all of which are, in our view, critical.

1) Tabulation: Directive 15 must ensure that the total number of individuals returning multiple responses to racial and ethnic questions can be discerned. The tabulation procedure to be adopted must be one that allows us to distinguish both the numbers and composition of people returning multiple responses. Our understanding is that the OMB wishes to ensure this as well and has solicited assistance in devising a practical means to accomplish this. Without such a tabulation, the numbers of multiracial/ethnic people will be lost among the other classifications. Among other things, this would impede assessing the health needs of our population, and would serve no fathomable purpose.

2) Hispanic-non-Hispanic: Directive 15 must include clear language that will allow for multiple check-offs for individuals who are both Hispanic and non-Hispanic. It would be grossly inconsistent, and again, would serve no fathomable purpose, to single out one particular segment of the population by denying them the same right to indicate in a factual manner their identity. The Interagency Committee's recommendations were unclear on this point, making reference only to "racial" identification, and saying nothing about whether the amended Directive 15 will retain its dual, interchangeable formats, one of which "racializes" the Hispanic classification, the other of which treats Hispanics as an "ethnic" group.

3) Multiracial/ethnic Category: Directive 15 must not include any prohibition on the use of a multiracial/ethnic classification by any government agency. The Interagency Committee recommended against the addition of a multiracial/ethnic classification, but said nothing about explicitly prohibiting the use of such an identifier by any agency subject to Directive 15. The Committee explained it's position by saying that "having a separate category would, in effect, create another population group, and no doubt add to racial tension and further fragmentation of our population."

     We do not agree with this opinion of the Interagency Committee and still believe that a multiracial/ethnic classification should be included, albeit only together with the multiple check-offs they have recommended. However, we believe that the probable intent of this opinion was solely to explain why they were not recommending a new classification, and not to recommend a prohibition on its use.

     Several states and other public bodies have already legislated the use of a multiracial classification. We believe these laws should stand, and that prospectively, other public bodies be permitted to enact such laws, as long as they are amended or enacted to include multiple check-offs.

     We disagree that a multiracial/ethnic classification would "create" a new population group. The population group to which they refer already exists and is growing rapidly. We also take issue with the opinion that a multiracial/ethnic classifier would "add to racial tension" and "fragment our population". The essence of the multiracial/ethnic population is one of racial/ethnic unity. As we have stated before, our community is specially 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. Of all populations, ours has the unique potential to become the stable core around which the ethnic pluralism of the United States can be united.

Conclusion

     The Association of MultiEthnic Americans supports the recommendations of the Interagency Committee for the Review of the Racial and Ethnic Standards and pledges to assist the OMB and any other government agency or body in implementing them in a practical, accurate, fair and just manner.

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



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