Losing the Human Race
byRex Michael Dillon
The United States has become one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth. This is a hallmark of progressive society. Daily we hear reports from near and far of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Many nations are being torn apart in civil wars because one group fails to recognize worth in each member of society regardless of ethnicity. Our nation faces a new opportunity to consider its citizens as members of the human race rather than classifying them into sub-categories.
Relying on our government has not been so successful. Each of the three branches of our government have made horrific mistakes resulting in injustices. Consider the following: The executive branch was responsible for the so called “Gentleman’s Agreement of 1908” aimed at tapering off Japanese immigration. A little more than fifty years ago (February 19, 1942), President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, forcing American citizens of Japanese ancestry to report to internment camps. Congress has also dealt unfairly with “minority” groups; one example among many is the Chinese Exclusion Act. Even the Supreme Court does not have a spotless record (as demonstrated by a 7-2 vote in the Dred Scot v. Sanford decision of 1857). Much of the racism in the United States’ past has been institutionalized by law. The most recent is more subtle but still has a negative effect on our society.
In September of 1997, the Statistical Policy Division, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, of the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) finalized revisions to the standard they created in 1977 for race and ethnicity. This standard is known as “Directive 15: Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting.” Although most of us are aware that we are a product of our ancestry and genes, not everyone is aware of the OMB’s power to assign us classification.
In 1994, the OMB held hearings to consider changes to Directive 15. The decision by the OMB to only superficially alter Directive 15 is a terrible blow against developing a racially and ethnically integrated society. Unfortunately, there was no significant change to the twenty year old Directive 15. This is interesting considering the twenty-six different racial terms used since 1900.
Dr. Mary Margaret Overbey of the American Anthropological Association observed the following when considering the constant change in methodology for categorization:
“It should be pointed out that the race and ethnicity categories used by the Census over time have been based on an inconsistent mixture of principles and criteria, including national origin, language, minority status and physical characteristics. …In the early 20th century in the US, Italians, the Irish, and Jews were all thought to be racial (not ethnic) groups whose members were inherently and irredeemably distinct from the majority white population. Today, of course, the situation has changed considerably. Italians, Irish, and Jews are now seen as ethnic groups that are included in the majority white population…..By treating race and ethnicity as an enduring and unchanging part of an individual’s identity, OMB and the Census ignore a fundamental tension and ambiguity in racial and ethnic thinking.”*
Directive 15 forces every American to fit into one of four “races” (i.e., American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, Black, and White) or choose one of two ethnic backgrounds (of Hispanic origin and not of Hispanic origin). The Directive’s categories only allow collection of more detailed information as long as it can be aggregated to the specified categories.
In 1994, there were three public hearings for discussion of Race and Ethnic Standards. I attended the one held in San Francisco. I had asked my wife to meet me downtown and join me at this meeting. Before my wife and daughter arrived, a female reporter began to harass me assuming that I was there for some sinister, white power purpose. She did not understand why a member of the public would show up to a public hearing. It seemed everyone else at the hearing was a journalist, congressional aide or Ethnocentric / “sovereignty” advocate. The journalist sitting next to me continued to prod at me thinking she would expose a nerve. She asked what I wanted changed. I began to tell her that a census should simply count people and not try to define us by race. She cut me off without listening. She said, “That’s easy for you to say… white, male, privileged.”
My wife (who is not white) scooted through the row and sat down next to me. As she handed me our baby, the reporter’s facial expression suddenly changed. The reporter’s bitter tone and attacking questions evaporated as did her furrowed brow. She then leaned over and whispered to me that the “real” reason I should be there was to make sure my daughter got every benefit coming to her.
I am obviously deeply concerned about this issue as I have two children that do not fit into any one race/ethnicity box. If our society continues in this policy of race and ethnicity classification, I wonder how their future will be affected. If I could will a benefit to my children, as suggested by the overbearing journalist, it would be to inherit a society that does not spend so much energy trying to categorize them by race, gender, ethnicity, religion or otherwise. Such categorization only leads to a deepening of enmity, ethnocentricity and a perpetuation of racism.
We in the West have been shocked to see the horrors of “ethnic cleansing” that have occurred in this decade. Many of us are baffled by the cause of such hatred. Just a few years earlier we saw a Sarajevo that was cosmopolitan and integrated. The same was true in the countryside, with ethnic groups living together in harmony. In the span of a few short years, this city and its country became a hell on earth. The question we should be asking ourselves is “how do we keep that from happening here in America? in my state? in my town? in my neighborhood?” Stopping government sponsored labeling of human beings is one way to deter an ethnic meltdown in the United States. You can help. Stop government sponsored labeling by writing an e-mail or telephoning congressional representatives.
*Mary Margaret Overbey, Ph.D. American Anthropological Association’s September 8, 1997 press release. ‘AAA Recommends “Race” be Scrapped, Suggests New Government Categories’. http://www.ameranthassn.org/gvt/ombdraft.htm
Copyright © 1998 The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.