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Hearing on Multiracial Identification PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ramona E. Douglass   
Thursday, 22 May 1997

Statement of Ramona E. Douglass
President of the Association of MultiEthnic Americans
Member of the Federal 2000 Census Advisory Committee

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



Introduction

 

My name is Ramona E. Douglass and I am proud to call myself a multiracial American. I consider it an honor and a privilege to stand before this subcommittee and be able to tell its members what being multiracial/multiethnic means to me and the more than 2.5 millions others like me in the U.S. today. We are no longer willing to remain proverbial square pegs shoved into the consistently round holes of America's racial classification system. In June, 1993, my personal testimony was submitted before a similar congressional subcommittee that was charged with exploring the possibility of acknowledging, counting and respecting multiracial/multiethnic people. The multiracial community was statistically invisible then and it is still statistically invisible now. (See: Review of Federal Measurement of Race and Ethnicity Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Census, Statistics and Postal Personnel of the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service House of Representatives: 103rd Congress, First Session, June 30, 1993, pp. 152-153, Serial No. 103-7)

 

It is time for a paradigm shift. It is time for a healing of old tired wounds from a past that cannot continue to rule our future, or the futures of all our children, be they black, white, Asian, American Indian, Hispanic or multiracial.

 

The children of America deserve a future that finally lives up to the promise of serving each and every member of society with dignity honor and respect. Race itself is simply a conversation people either align with or they don't. It is real only in our speaking of it---not in science---and through our communications with one another we have the ability to transform the listening mentality and spirit of a nation.

 

The "One Drop Rule" and Dismantling the "Colored Buffer" Myth

 

The "one drop rule" is an irrational notion born out of economic greed exploitation and repression over 200 years old. It is time to let it die once and for all in our hearts and in our minds. To continue to speak it as if it is real or has any merit only serves to limit the possibilities that human diversity has for today and for all our tomorrows. We are bigger than our past, stronger than our fears, and wise enough as a nation to be open to a future that embraces all of who we are without discriminating against or subjugating anyone.

 

Beyond Black And White

 

The multiracial community is one that extends beyond the boundaries of black and white. We are also American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander as well as Hispanic multiracial/multiethnic people. To attempt to pigeon hole or limit us again to a black/white context minimizes our complexity and ignores ethnic/racial discrimination that encompasses more than the history of slavery in America. Until 1967, anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states prohibited any person "of color" to marry white or otherwise co- habitate with another outside their own ethnic/racial group. Now in 1997, Asian Americans in particular represent a diverse community reported to have the highest out-marriage rate in the U.S., ( according to demographic research from UCLA sociologist Harry Kitano and others.) Based on data from LA County, intermarriage rates are on the rise for Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Vietnamese Americans and in many instances exceed 40%. (See Maria P.P. Root, Ph.D., University of Washington, Dept. of American Ethnic Studies, personal testimony, May 15, 1997). Multiracial student organizations around the country include mixed-race Asian support networks such as Hapa Issues Forum which originated at UC Berkeley in 1992. ("Hapa" is Hawaiian for mixed. It is also a way to describe a person of partial Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry.)

 

Multiracial By Choice: An American Journey

 

The American Multiracial Movement is about choice not force in racial and ethnic identification. To embrace all of one's heritage doesn't mean denial of one part over another. It has nothing to do with "flight from blackness." This is not a Brazilian or South African Movement. We are no one's new or old "colored buffer group ."Stereotypes imposed on multiracial people by insensitive or ill-informed critics are no less abhorrent than stereotypes imposed on any other racial/ethnic group.

 

The U.S., Brazil and South Africa have all experienced racism---but the existence of officially recognized multiracial individuals in the two latter countries does not mean that the acknowledgment of multiracial Americans today will create a new divisive, or privilege-based class of people---(similar to either of the foreign models.) We are not about avoiding stigma or gaining racial privilege. If anything, our community is more intent on dismantling the "dominant ‘either/or' mode of racial thinking inherited from our own colonial past." (See personal testimony of G. Reginald Daniel, Ph.D., Dept. of Sociology, UC Santa Barbara, May 1997.) Multiracial identity in America "seeks to affirm a more inclusive racial identity that not only embraces the concept of "both/neither" but that also challenges the whole notion of racial privilege." (Daniel, May 1997)

 

Medical Issues

 

The blood running through the veins of black children cannot be distinguished from the blood running through the veins of other children no matter what color they are or what culture they eventually embrace. All blood is red. Rather than continue to obsess over "who's black and who's not," we will better serve all communities medically if we concentrate on what impact, if any, ethnicity has on genetic frequency and disease. Tay Sach, Sickle Cell and Cystic Fibrosis are diseases said to be linked to genetic frequency, not race as we rigidly define it today. (Anthony P. Polednak: Racial & Ethnic Differences In Disease, Oxford University Press, 1989: 3-4; 78-81; 90; and 295.)

 

Flagging multiracial/multiethnic individuals would at least prompt healthcare professionals to look beyond surface appearances and ask more detailed questions on ethnic origin and medical history.

 

Infant Mortality, Birth Weight, Gestation Duration and "Race"

 

Every OB/GYN professional in the country knows that black babies have a higher mortality rate and lower birth weight averages than white babies. But who is tracking the birth weights and mortality rates of multiracial/multiethnic children? Only a handful of studies have been done on multiracial infants. (See: 1. "Race & Birth Weight in Biracial Infants," vol. 83, no. 8 in the American Journal of Public Health, August 1993 and 2. "Gestational Duration and Birth Weight in White, Black and Mixed-Race Babies," Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 1991.) Without the ability to count or monitor multiracial infants, research on our community won't be forthcoming and our children will remain at risk. This inequity and oversight cannot continue.

 

Medications, Reaction Rates and Ethnic Differences

 

Extensive research has been done by the pharmaceutical industry linking race and ethnic origin to differences in response rates and/or side-effects associated with anti-depressants, analgesics, alcohol and other controlled substances. In 1993 the National Pharmaceutical Council determined that Hispanic and Chinese respondents require lower doses of anti-depressants, but the side effects were greater in Hispanics. (Study entitled: "Ethnic and Racial Differences in Response to Medicines") Regarding alcohol intolerance, Asians were said to be more sensitive to its adverse effects and American Indians were said to have faster metabolic rates.

 

Looking at these and other related conclusions regarding medication, reaction rates and ethnic variations, it logically follows that multiracial/multiethnic response rates would have distinctions of their own.

 

Absence of Adverse Legal Consequences in Adopting a Multiracial Category

 

Civil Rights Laws

 

There are no legal documents, studies or otherwise known statistical data currently available through the U.S. Justice Department, the Office of Management and Budget or the U.S. Bureau of the Census that support the belief that "the adoption of a multiracial category on governmental forms---for the purpose of collecting racial data---will in some way upset the legal regime already in place for enforcement of anti- discrimination laws in the U.S." (See attachment B)

 

Multiracial people are discriminated against not only because of the usual bias associated with single-race minority status, but also because their family "colors" don't match. It is because of their blended--not their monoracial heritage-- that they are targeted by racial purists on both sides of the color line. Knowing who, what, where, and how many we are--- then tracking that data--- would be an important first step in the generally accepted three-pronged approach to civil rights: identify, monitor and enforce. (Edwin Darden, Law and Public Relations Office, Georgetown University, May 1997)

 

The multiracial community has the right to be counted as does any other segment of the American population seeking the achievement of an equitable society implied in the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

 

Civil Rights Act of 1964

 

The purpose behind this statute is to prevent discrimination in the public sector, a goal that includes biracial and multiracial individuals. The public accommodations section [42, U.S.C. 2000 (a)]; Title VII (employment discrimination); and a provision that denies federal funding to discriminatory programs---all cite race, color, religion or national origin as unacceptable motivations for discrimination. Multiracial people can be and are discriminated against on the basis of race (multiracial status) color (lightness or darkness of skin) or national origin. Enforcement covers people of multiracial descent now under one of those three approaches and would do likewise if the government formalized it under OMB Directive 15.

 

Thus, this is not creating a new category that will gain new benefits under the civil rights laws. Rather this is a reaffirmation of the applicability of existing laws to a population that has here-to-fore been subjected to discrimination but for whom documentation has been more difficult. (See attachment B)

 

Voting Rights Act of 1965

 

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has also been cited by multiracial category opponents to be at risk if a means of accurately accounting for multiracial/multiethnic Americans is adopted by the U.S. Census or the Office of Management and Budget's Directive 15 is revised.

 

Nothing in the adoption of a multiracial category stands to alter any standard practices attributed to the Voting Rights Act. The Act addresses race or color---two concepts that would currently encompass biracial/multi-ethnic individuals and would continue to in the future.

 

The Right Thing To Do

 

The lives of our interracial families and multiracial children are in your hands. We as a community are asking you to give us the same consideration and respect you would demand for your own families' health and well-being. Please count us, track us, begin the process of including us in the American framework that has monitored the evolution and growth of other racial/ethnic populations throughout our history. We are the changing face of America and a reflection of its highest ideals when it comes to human interaction, acceptance and love. Asking us to endure another decade or another census unacknowledged, discounted or ignored isn't an option any of us can afford to live with any longer. If one member of our society is without freedom then none of us are truly free.

 

Thank you all for your listening, being, and doing what is honorable, what is right, and what is inevitable.

 

Ramona E. Douglass

ASSOCIATION OF MULTIETHNIC AMERICANS

 

Attachments:

A. Testimony of Carlos A. Fernandez: Coordinator for Law & Civil Rights the Association of MultiEthnic Americans Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology of the U.S. House of Representatives, Washington D.C. May, 1997

B. Testimony of Edwin Darden: Georgetown University Law School Law and Public Relations Office Washington D.C. AMEA's 2000 Census Advisory Committee Alternate May, 1997

C. Testimony of G. Reginald Daniel, Ph.D. Department of Sociology University of California, Santa Barbara

 


Attachment A.

Testimony of
CARLOS A. FERNANDEZ 
Coordinator for Law & Civil Rights
the ASSOCIATION OF MULTIETHNIC AMERICANS
Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
of the U.S. House of Representatives

Washington D.C.
May, 1997

 

     My name is Carlos A. Fernandez. I am Coordinator for Law and Civil Rights for the Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA), an adjunct professor of law at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California where I teach a course entitled "Multiracial, Multiethnic People: The Law & Society", co-author of Racially Mixed People In America (1992) and The Multiracial Experience (1996), and the founding president of AMEA. I previously testified before the Subcommittee on Census, Statistics and Postal Personnel of the U.S. House of Representatives in June of 1993.

 

     I offer this testimony and opinion summarizing the legal and constitutional issues as I see them with respect to the federal government's classification of people whose racial or ethnic identification encompasses more than one of the designated classifications currently in use.

 

OMB 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. 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.

 

The Census

 

     The Census has always maintained its own format for asking about racial or ethnic information. However, even the Census Bureau is subject to the mandate of OMB Directive 15. This meant in 1990 that monoracial/ethnic responses were required in the race and Hispanic questions. Census policy requires that responses to "other race" be assigned to monoracial categories for OMB reporting purposes when these are written in. When multiple categories are stated, the Census Bureau reports the first race or ethnicity declared. Responses such as "multiracial" or "mixed" require either a visit by a census taker to obtain a monoracial response, or else they are not counted.

 

The Public Schools

 

     Administrators of public schools across the United States are required to provide a racial/ethnic census of their students to the federal government. In doing so, the public schools are required to adhere to the requirements of OMB Directive 15. Children and parents in multiracial families are thereby confronted with a dilemma: how to report the "race" or "ethnicity" of their child when they are required to "check-one-only"? If they report their child as "multiracial", or if they give a multiple response, school officials are authorized to employ a "Visual Inspection Test" in order to classify the child in a single category according to the judgment of the administrator.

 

The Law

 

     OMB Directive 15 as it exists today violates the equal protection requirements of the U.S. Constitution in that it applies different standards for the reporting of an individual's race or ethnicity depending on whether the person fits a single category or more than one of the categories based on their parentage. That is, a "monoracial" person may report their race or ethnicity accurately as a response in a single category, whereas the multiracial person must give an inaccurate response. This requirement to give a false, single-category response is made with no apparent rationale.

 

     Race and ethnicity are suspect classifications as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in interpreting equal protection standards under the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. As such, government may only make use of such a classification if it can show that it is necessary to achieve a "compelling state interest", that is, to show that the same interest cannot be achieved by means that do not work the same discrimination.

 

     The "check-one-only" requirement of OMB Directive 15 serves no compelling state interest, and neither does it satisfy the lesser judicial scrutiny of being "rational" in any discernible way.

 

     The only basis I can find for the maintenance of the "check-one-only" requirement is an old American tradition known as "hypodescent", colloquially known as "the one-drop-rule". This rule, in various forms and degrees, consigned multiracial individuals of part African or Native American ancestry to the classification of their nonwhite ancestry despite their mixed backgrounds. The purpose was to subject these multiracial individuals to the same discriminatory laws aimed at their nonwhite parent or ancestor.

 

     While the government today ostensibly maintains racial and ethnic data for civil rights enforcement purposes, this does not relieve government of its obligation to employ the least onerous classification method. The maintenance of the hypodescent tradition, and the spreading of it's application to other racial/ethnic groups, in the requirement of OMB Directive 15 to report only a single race or ethnicity for each individual is quite clearly NOT the least onerous method of categorizing by race or ethnicity when applied to multiracial/ethnic people.

 

     Additionally, the "check-one-only" requirement of OMB Directive 15 as applied is tantamount to, if not actually, the government soliciting perjury of multiracial/ethnic individuals, that is, requiring them to make factually false statements on official forms. This violates due process standards as well as relevant statutes.

 

     Additionally, the "check-one-only" requirement of OMB Directive 15 as applied in the "Visual Inspection Test" in the public schools is a gross violation of a multiracial student's personal privacy as well subjecting him/her to a "test" to which students who are not multiracial are not equally subject in violation again of equal protection standards.

 

     In June of 1993, I presented to the Census SubCommittee AMEA's proposal to reform OMB 15 in such a way that it's legitimate purposes would be served while at the same time accommodating the accurate, multiple identification of multiracial/ethnic individuals.

 

     Essentially, this change could 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.

 

     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.

 

     It also, in my view, in no way jeopardizes the legitimate interests of any other particular racial or ethnic group in being counted since the information gathered by the method we propose, wherein the various applicable racial or ethnic components are identified, may be used as government sees fit. That is, persons of multiple racial or ethnic ancestry may continue to be included in various programs that are intended to benefit or assist members of racial or ethnic groups who have suffered discrimination if such inclusion is deemed appropriate in any given circumstance.

 

Conclusion

 

     I believe 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 by dispensing with the "check-one-only" rule.

 

     I thank the Subcommittee for considering my views. I stand ready to be of further assistance in elaborating on the points made briefly herein, or in otherwise answering any questions you may have.

 

Carlos A. Fernandez

 


Attachment C.

STATEMENT OF G. REGINALD DANIEL 
SUBMITTED TO
THE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT,
INFORMATION, AND TECHNOLOGY
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM AND OVERSIGHT 
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

WRITTEN TESTIMONY

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

 

     I am a Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My research, publications and teaching focus on comparative issues of race and identity in global perspective, particularly as this relates to multiracial individuals in Brazil, South Africa and the United States. Since 1989, I have taught three of the first university courses in the United States to compare multiracial identity in the United States with diverse parts of the world: "Betwixt and Between: Multiracial Identity in Global Perspective," "Close Encounters: Racial and Cultural Blending in the Americas," and "Converging Paths: Multiracial Identity in Brazil, South Africa and the United States."

 

     I also identify as multiracial and have spent much of the last forty years exploring the complexities of this topic. Consequently, I fully support the current proposal to revise statistical surveys so that individuals would be able to designate themselves as "multiracial," if they identify with more than one of the current officially recognized single-racial/ethnic groups. Indeed, the most consistent grievance I hear expressed by multiracial-identified students in my classes--and multiracial-identified individuals generally speaking--centers around not being able to indicate their identity accurately on official forms that request information on race/ethnicity.

 

     In order for you to address these concerns, I recommend that you provide a combined format that includes a separate "multiracial" identifier, but that ALSO allows individuals to check off all the single-racial/ethnic categories that apply. This could be achieved by adding a "multiracial" box on the current forms and instructing individuals to check all the other single-racial boxes that apply. It could also be done without the addition of another box, and instead, by asking the question, "If you consider yourself to be multiracial, check all the boxes that apply." The inclusion of a multiracial identifier, without at the same time allowing individuals to check all the single-racial groups that apply, would not be acceptable.

 

     As long as public policy deems it necessary to collect data on race/ethnicity, particularly as a means of tracking our progress in achieving equity in the area of race/ethnic relations, any change allowing for the inclusion of a multiracial identifier would help us continue to achieve those ends by providing a more accurate picture of contemporary demographics. It would also help alleviate the psychological oppression perpetuated by current methods of data collection and help change a wide variety of societal attitudes reinforced by these methods which currently force multiracial-identified individuals to make an unauthentic choice. More important, the inclusion of a multiracial identifier, along with the "check all that apply" format, would not only be another logical step in the progression of civil rights--not to mention human rights--but also would help deconstruct the very means by which racist ideology and racial privilege are enforced in the United States, which is the notion of racial "purity," as well as mutually exclusive racial categories.

 

     Some individuals have drawn parallels between this new development in the United States and the experience of South Africa and Brazil, where multiracial indiviudals have been officially recongnized for much of their history. Despite significant similarities between race relations in all three countries--the legacy of white supremacy--any suggestion that the new multiracial identity will necessarily propel contemporary race relations the United States in the direction of the South African and Brazilian models of multiracial-identification, ignores significant historical-sociological differences that gave rise to those identities. Multiracial identity in Brazil and South Africa originated largely in colonial systems of exclusion which sought to control the potential threat to white dominance posed by nonwhite individuals. At the same time, this identity helped prevent multiracial individuals from experiencing the full brunt of these policies, as compared to other nonwhites, although all nonwhites have been the targets of de facto discriminatory practices in Brazil and officially sanctionned practices in South Africa. Consequently, a multiracial-identification served as a means by which individuals might distance themselves from the stigma attached to being nonwhite, even if they did not in fact succeed in gaining white racial privilege.

 

     The new configuration of multiracial identity in the United States, however, is not a means by which individuals are seeking either to avoid racial stigma or gain racial privilege. Rather, this new identity is part of a broader and more fundamental shift which is seeking to dismantle the dominant "either/or" mode of racial thinking inherited from our own colonial past. Instead, it seeks to affirm a more inclusive racial identity that not only embraces the concept of "both/ neither" but that also challenges the whole notion of racial privilege.

 

     Brazil, South Africa and the United States remain profoundly racist and thus have much work to be done in order to achieve full participatory racial democracies. Yet, any comparison that examines similarites between multiracial identities, but that does not at the same time take into consideration differences between the historical-sociological, as well as contemporary, contexts, risks providing an analysis that is inconclusive at best and distorted at worst. Indeed, projecting South Africa's and Brazil's pasts onto the United States' future is like injecting poison into medicine. Nurturing healthy racial identities among ALL United States citizens, would seem to be a necessary and significant step in the direction of liberating ourselves from the shackles of our own colonial past. Furthermore, the present would seem to be the logical basis upon which to draw conclusions about, as well as, to nurture the future.

 

Sincerely,

 

G. Reginald Daniel
Department of Sociology
University of California, Santa Barbara



 
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