A front-page feature in today’s New York Times chronicles the difficulties that race counters are encountering in our increasingly multiracial society. According to the Times, government people-counters in agencies such as the Department of Education are frustrated by the fact that citizens who claim more than one ethnic or racial group in their ancestry no longer wish to be pigeonholed but instead prefer a label that takes into account their multiracial identity or no label at all.
The piece chronicles how University of Maryland student Michelle Lopez-Mullins, who describes herself as being of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee, and Cherokee descent, is considered to be merely “Hispanic” by the Department of Education because anyone with even partial Hispanic ancestry is categorized as Hispanic. Yet, for their own statistical reasons, the National Center for Health Statistics considers her “Asian.” But Ms. Lopez-Mullins usually fills out forms by putting down “other” when asked about her background. And in response to the demand from such people, government forms have often given them that option.
But government bureaucrats are pushing back. Under the new standards being promulgated by the Department of Education, students like Ms. Lopez-Mullins are no longer given the option to opt out of the race bean-counting but must be considered Hispanic in order to create data about distinct minority groups that the government can measure. Groups like the NAACP have complained that giving citizens the chance to be considered multi-ethnic has diminished the number of those who call themselves African-Americans. As one researcher for a group promoting this sort of racialism is quoted as telling the Times, allowing people to be called multiracial means that “They’re all lumped together — blacks, Asians and Latinos — and they all look the same from the data perspective.” And we can’t have that if we are to continue racialist programs that extend specific benefits and hindrances to specific groups based on past patterns of discrimination that might no longer be relevant to the individuals involved.
But in a country where the sort of rigid divides between the races are no longer relevant and where more or more Americans claim multi-ethnic and racial ancestry, the complaints of the researchers and the government apparatchiks who wish to implement policies based on such numbers are not as important as the right of each citizen to be judged and counted as an individual, not a racial statistic. Instead of seeking to enforce racial categorization as the Department of Education seems to be doing, what the government should be doing is stepping back from counting practices that are not only irrelevant to the lives of contemporary Americans but that also wish to hold in place measures that seek to divide rather than unite Americans.