Hearing on Multiracial Identification

Statement of Representative Danny K. Davis
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

Good afternoon and thank you Mr. Chairman for allowing me this time to address some concerns. I would also like to thank all the panelists for coming here today and sharing your knowledge, expertise and thoughts with us.

I understand that today's hearing is to focus on the possible change of directive 15 (which specifies the definition of race and ethnicity for legal, administrative and statistical purposes) since OMB will decide this summer whether or not to change the definitions of race used by the federal government.

I feel it should be noted that the possible change of this policy has many implications to it in that directive 15 is used throughout the government in policy making and is key to implementing numerous Federal laws.

Since this issue first began to gain public attention, we have heard from a number of groups, organizations, individuals and agencies. They have raised questions that if we get into multiracial identity, then how would this affect the protection of voting rights laws, reapportionment, civil rights laws, lending practices, employment practices, etc.

I realize the personal nature of today's topic and also acknowledge the desire of those of multiracial heritage to be able to fully express themselves. But I also need to convey my worries about the adverse effects that the multiracial category may imbue. Since census informaton is used for civil rights enforcement and policy purposes; and give that we, the federal government, do not currently have a method for ensuring accurate collection and analysis of results in a multiracial category, I am generally opposed to this issue being addressed in the Census 2000. It is too soon to implement.

Until a process to collect meaningful, accurate or specific racial and ethnic data that remedies past, current and/or even prevent future discrimination is in place — I feel that the multiracial category could jeopardize the civil rights of many minorities as well as provide inconsistent and damaging effects on overall racial counts.

I have concerns as to how the fusion of race and ethnicity would challenge the ability to administer and enforce civil rights laws against discrimination. I understand that a multiracial category may make sense for the first generation, but when you begin to look at it long term and those multiracial children marry others, their children are classified as multiracial.

Thus, I attest that there are many social implications to today's hearing in the ned to recognize the role that race and/or racial classifications continue to play in the nation's social, political, cultural, legal and economic system. As is evident in the following areas in which census information is utilized:

Information gathered on race is also used for:

  • Reviewing Federal, State and Local redistricting plans
  • Establishing and evaluating Federal affirmative action plans and evaluating affirmative action and discrimination in the private sector
  • Monitoring the access of minorities to home mortgage loans under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act
  • Enforcing the Equal Credit Opportunity Act
  • Monitoring and enforcing desegregation plans in the public schools
  • Assisting minority business under the minority business development programs
  • Monitoring environmental degradation in minority communities
  • Developing healthcare policies on issues such as childhood inoculation
  • Monitoring Housing Discrimination

To reiterate, I understand the argument for the need to clarify the identity of multiracial individuals, however I have serious concerns in respect to how this process may boggle the issues of fairness and adherence to anti-discrimination and civil rights laws. See, our approach to this argument is not on a biological level, per-say. Rather, it is on a level of social construct, given that race in this country is really defined in socioeconomic terms.

Discrimination and inequality are still firmly entrenched in our social and economic relations. Consequently, the Census has a profound impact on approaches, remedies, palliatives, initiatives, solutions, and directions to deal with the fact that discrimination still exists at a myriad of different levels. Therefore, I strongly believe that any attempt to weaken or diffuse the social impact that race has on our society today or the ingrained impact that race has had on our society in the past, denies justice to the very people who are the objects of current and past discrimination.

I know that there are significant groups and individuals that say equality cannot be assured without measuring; yet, some contend that the very fact of measuring race fosters inequality.

Thus, I conclude that while there is no scientific basis for categorizing a person in one race or another, race as a social construct is very real in society today.

Thank you very much.

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