Blood Pressure

Susan Graham of Project RACE
James A. Landrith, Jr. of The Multiracial Activist

Hidden in 215 pages of government gobbledygook, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued its recommendations for tabulation of multiracial persons in the United States. Released on February 17, 1999, the document known as “Draft Provisional Guidance on the Implementation of the 1997 Standards for Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity” gives the best solutions that the anonymous TABULATION WORKING GROUP INTERAGENCY COMMITTEE FOR THE REVIEW OF STANDARDS FOR DATA ON RACE AND ETHNICITY could come up with.

Below is our review of the government’s best shot-their long awaited draft proposal. In a Question and Answer format, we address only the main issues. The full text of the draft proposal can be found at

Question: Now that we will be allowed to check more than one race, is this finally the end of the “one-drop rule” (which says if you have one drop of black blood, you are black)?

Answer: Absolutely NOT! In fact, the tabulation scheme makes certain the one-drop rule is kept alive in the United States. OMB is strongly suggesting a scheme that would take a person who checks more than one box and then reassign him/her to the largest of the nonwhite groups he/she marked.

Question: Why does OMB need to issue guidelines for people who check more than one race on forms?

Answer: Checking more than one race is a new concept for the government. They feel the need to have all agencies conform to the same “standardized tabulation.” Also, they have given in to pressure from minority groups such as the NAACP, Council of LaRaza, Hapas, and American Indians, who are against a stand alone multiracial classification. OMB wanted to keep peace with those groups at the expense of the multiracial community. After OMB issues its final standards for racial reporting, if an agency wants to racially classify people in any other way, it must apply for a variance to OMB policy, which is reviewed on a case by case basis, and is usually not done by federal agencies.

Question: In the past, OMB has published information in the Federal Register and asked for input. Why is this different?

Answer: Supposedly, this “Draft Provisional Guidance” merely lists options, but they are dangerous options and clearly not what the majority of the multiracial community would ever want or allow.

Question: Why would they exclude us? Was anyone from the multiracial community involved in this strategy?

Answer: Census Bureau and OMB officials made it very clear that they would only speak with those in the multiracial community who supported their position. Ramona Douglass, President of the Association of Multiethnic Americans (AMEA) was on the tabulation group that came up with the unacceptable tabulation strategies.

Question: What about choosing multiethnic?

Answer: During the congressional hearings on race and ethnicity, Carlos Fernandez offered to provide consultation to OMB officials providing multiethnic persons the ability to choose to be Hispanic and non-Hispanic (one Hispanic parent and one non-Hispanic parent, for example). Apparently Mr. Fernandez did not convince OMB of the necessity for a separate multiethnic answer..

Question: Do we still have to deal with observer identification, or having a government worker guess our races based on looking at us?

Answer: Yes, OMB and the United States Census Bureau still encourage the racist practice of “eyeballing” someone, guessing their race(s), and using this information to fill out forms. In some circumstances it is even encouraged.

Question: Will we know the number of people who are biracial or multiracial in this country?

Answer: Yes…and no. No numbers will be provided for persons who consider themselves to be biracial or multiracial. The numbers of persons identifying themselves with more than one race will be reported. We will, therefore, be known as the “check two or more” persons.

Question: We objected to the use of “other” as inappropriate and insensitive as a racial category. Will “other” still be used?

Answer: No, OMB has granted the Census Bureau the ability to use a category called “Some Other Race” instead of “other.” Guess they thought we wouldn’t notice that it’s the same thing.

Question: Will the 2000 Census have a category of “Two or more races”? If so, is this what we should use?

Answer: It’s confusing, but apparently there will be a “two or more races” category in addition to the one race category. Should a multiracial person check all the races that apply, or check “two or more races”? We will advise on this matter when (and if) we receive clarification from OMB and the Census Bureau.

Question: What is “bridging”?

Answer: Bridging is the way in which the OMB retrofits persons who check more than one category back into one of four categories. They reason that they must do this to “minimize disruptions to the single race distributions.” In other words, don’t upset the one drop rule.

Question: What are the goals of bridging?

Answer: Page 61 of the report reads, “The goal of developing bridging methodology for new data on race is to identify a statistical model that will take individuals’ responses to the new questions on race and classify those responses as closely as possible to the responses we hypothesize they would have given using the old single race categories.” The responses they hypothesize! The federal government is going to decide what single race you or your children would pick if you had to pick just one. They not only want people to make a choice of one race, they want to make the choice for us.

Question: How many combinations of races will there be?

Answer: From OMB: “There are 63 potential single and multiple race categories, including 6 for those who marked exactly one race and 57 categories for those who marked two or more races…the 63 mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories of race may be collapsed down to 7 mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories by combining the 57 categories of two or more races. These 7 categories are: White alone, Black or African American alone, American Indian and Alaskan Native alone, Asian alone, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone, Some other race alone, and Two or more races.”

Question: Can you give us an example of the type of language used in the report?

Answer: Sure. Pay close attention now. Page 21: “In the case of summary files, population characteristics in the matrices on the files would be iterated for each racial or ethnic category. This corresponds to the “B” matrices in summary tape files (STFs) 2 and 4 in 1990 census data products in which the “B” matrices were iterated for each of a list of racial and ethnic categories.”

Question: Can we find accurate examples of how the multiracial responses will be tabulated in the report?

Answer: No. OMB has utilized a counting scheme they like very much, which was perfected by The National Center for Health Statistics. They allowed people to report more than one race and then asked them to indicate the single race with which they most closely identified. They still don’t get it. Page 60 of the report states, “This information is directly used in some of the most promising bridge techniques.” Further proof that they don’t get it.

Question: How will having the ability to check more than one race help prove discrimination as a multiracial person?

Answer: It won’t. These are the proposed ways the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) agencies would collect and distribute data:
  • Method 1: Using a Bridging Method. A person who checked more than one box would be reassigned to the largest of the nonwhite groups he/she marked. In other words, a person could never prove discrimination as a multiracial person because EEO would reclassify us all into single race categories. OMB appears to favor this alternative.

  • Method 2: The Lower and Upper Boundary Approach. As far as we can tell, this method will also reclassify multiple responses into single responses, the only difference is that they would call it “all inclusive.”

  • Method 3: Collect Micro Data From Employers. The employer would collect aggregate numbers and a separate data file from each employee. It is unclear what the results would be for reporting purposes.
In any of the three methods, discrimination against multiracial persons would easily continue, since OMB is saying that multiracial persons are not really multiracial, but are only part of a monoracial group. For example, if a person of black and white heritage checks black and white on their employment application, they become black, since it is the largest nonwhite group marked. The immediate supervisor doesn’t like multiracial people and discriminates against the employee based on his dislike for people of combined racial heritage. The employee tries to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. There can be no claim because the person is classified as black, not multiracial, and there is no way to have a group base of “multiracial” as a basis to look at past and present discrimination ratios of multiracials in the work force.

Question: What groups would get most of the multiracial numbers?

Answer: Black or African American would get the most based on their ranking with the highest number of a minority group, followed by Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and finally, American Indian or Alaska Native. It is unclear how this would be reallocated when the Hispanic identifier is included in the race question.

Question: When would the changes be effective?

Answer: Agencies must comply no later than January 1, 2003, although we could find no date by which they must cease using the bridging method or other redistribution of numbers back into the existing racial categories.

Question: Could OMB use fractions in bridging methods?

Answer: Certainly, but it is not their preferred method. They could count someone who checks black and white as 50% in the black race and 50% in the white race. Many government employees told us they are worried that they would end up with more than 100% in the total race column. Apparently, they can’t do fractions very well.

Question: Exactly who does the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) wish to give input on the question of how to tabulate people who check more than one race on the United States Census, school forms, medical forms, voting registrations, etc.?

Answer: OMB is not asking for the input of the multiracial community. They are only asking for the involvement of Federal agencies. They did not send us the draft, nor did they let us know it was complete. We feel this is unacceptable. They would never do this to any other racial or ethnic group.

It is up to us to speak up before OMB issues
guidelines are formulated based on the draft.


It is very important to write or call your congressional representatives. Tell your lawmakers that you are a constituent who is NOT in favor of the OMB Draft Provisional Guidance on the Implementation of the 1997 Standards for Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity.” Insist that your voice be heard in Washington. Also, it is critical that you write to the person listed below. Should you have any further questions, please e-mail Susan Graham at or James A. Landrith, Jr. at

The person in OMB responsible for these suggestions is:

Ms. Katherine K. Wallman
Chief Statistician
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street NW, Suite 10202
Washington, DC 20503

Copyright © 1999 The Multiracial Activist and Project RACE, Inc. All rights reserved.

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