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U.S. Census: Skin Color vs. "Race"

By Estanislao Martínez in Culture
Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:33:01 AM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

The Washington Post has a very interesting article on the multi-race identification issue with the 2000 U.S. Census.

There is a broad range of opinion on this issue-- from groups which advocate eliminating the race and ethnicity questions blank on the census, and advise people to leave the questions blank, to groups that fully embrace it.

A lot of criticism has fallen on the census bureau, above all, for the race question. These range from the Godwin's-Law-invoking "Hitler used a racial census to kill Jews" to the much more sophisticated "Race is not a scientific concept" dismissals.

I'm actually quite torn over the matter. Yes, "race" is not a scientific concept; however, this unscientific idea has embedded itself very deeply into the USian psyche. And thus, "race" (with the quotes on it) has a social reality to it, with observable consequences. The story quotes Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau:

"Race is not imagination," he said. "It's quite real... When people are being pulled over in their cars because of what they look like, those are African Americans."
Yet, there is something uneasy to me about this statetment. Just to tell a story: I have a friend who lives in NYC, who was born in the Dominican Republic, but brought up in NYC. He has many African American friends. One day he's in a car with many of them, and the cops pull them over. Over the loudspeaker, the cops say: "All you niggers get off the car!" So his friends get off, but he doesn't-- of course, in his mind, the cops were giving the order to the "niggers", not him, since he's Dominican and thus not a "nigger"! So for this he got pointed at with a gun, handcuffed and taken to the station. (He got free easily. No disciplinary action was ever taken against the cops.)

Another story from my friend: in the Dominican Republic, despite the large African heritage, there is a huge racial prejudice. How does this work out? In the mind of many people, the Haitians are "black", while the Dominicans are "indian/spanish mixture". So guess who a good proportion of the people identifying as "Native American" and "Hispanic" in NYC are...

And now for a story of mine: I frequently go to the US, and meet many people who identify as African American, who under the racial concepts that were in place where I grew up would count as white.

What is the moral of these short stories? While there is a cultural reality to racial *classifications*, the fact that they are *cultural* tells you that they are going to vary among cultures. While, contrary to the people who would eliminate the race question as senseless, there is something very real to be observed here-- but the methodology is quite bad, since it doesn't control for the fact that racial classifications are cultural, and what somebody thinks is "black", another may think is "brown", or even "white". So The questions then become two: (a) what is it precisely that the Census should collect, and (b) which methodology should be applied.


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Related Links
o The Washington Post
o a very interesting article
o Also by Estanislao Martínez

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U.S. Census: Skin Color vs. "Race" | 64 comments (53 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
"Race" issues (4.50 / 4) (#3)
by ucblockhead on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 07:13:17 PM EST

One thing that is almost always lost when discussion race in the US is that each different group has a very different situation. We tend to say "minority" as if the situation of the average Asian, the average Hispanic, the average African-American (EM, shouldn't you say African-USian?) is the same. It isn't. Each of those groups has a profoundly different situation.

African-Americans were forcibly cut off from their root culture and are now irretrievably part of this culture as a distinct cultural subgroup.

Hispanics generally came here voluntarily (or were here from the start) and often retain their historical culture, which often has cultural ties to the very land they live on.

Asians generally came here voluntarily, but are very distant from their home culture.

(And, of course, many people in the subgroup have effectively joined the "white" (dominant is a better word) culture.)

Talking about minorities without keeping this in mind is a mistake, but it is an incredibly common mistake. It tends to bite people in the ass when talking about issues that don't effect the different subgroups equally. Great examples from California are "bilingual education" and "Affirmative Action", which confused the media mightily as it tried to find what "minorities" thought.

This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

Genetics vs. Culture (5.00 / 2) (#21)
by Bad Harmony on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 02:54:21 AM EST

African-Americans were forcibly cut off from their root culture and are now irretrievably part of this culture as a distinct cultural subgroup.

Which African-Americans? The descendants of slaves, immigrants from the Carribean, Latin America or Africa, Muslims and Jews from Northern Africa, white people from South Africa?

There are a large number of immigrants from Africa and Haiti in my neighborhood. They seem to have little cultural similarity to the African-Americans who are descendants of American slaves.

In my old neighborhood, I met several Ethiopian Jews who had emigrated to the USA. They were "African-Americans" too.

There is a huge variety of differing cultures and backgrounds among Hispanics and Asians too. Some people would like to put everyone in a neat little box, even if they don't fit.

54º40' or Fight!
[ Parent ]

You are right... (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by ucblockhead on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 10:20:32 AM EST

You are right, of course, and that was the point I was trying to make, but if I'd attempted to break it down completely, I'd still be typing.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Race is a ludicrous concept (3.80 / 5) (#4)
by Tezcatlipoca on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 07:51:30 PM EST

When applied to humans, race is just plainly stupid.

I remember Time magazine a couple of years ago running an issue trying to show how diverse the US has become, but at the same time trying to pigeonhole every person in the article with absoultely ridiculous descriptions (like he is 1/4 black, 1/8 native american, 1/2 white, etc.etc).

Is somebody with black skin that speaks spanish Hispanic or African American?

How can it be justified to group all people from African descent in the same group given the fact that they are more geneticaly diverse (and thus more different between each other) than people from European descent?

Is an Australian aborigin black?

Who is white?

What is Tiger Woods? Why?

And so on and so forth.

The day the US census and similar stuff talk about social groups, not races, there will be some progress, in the meantime those clasifications are just a big, idiotic attempt to grasp how people relate to each other.

Might is right
Freedom? Which freedom?

Tiger? Why he's a... (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by darthaggie on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:25:39 PM EST

What is Tiger Woods?

A mutt, just like most of the rest of us 'merikans.

I am BOFH. Resistance is futile. Your network will be assimilated.
[ Parent ]

I liked Bulworth's idea (3.00 / 2) (#40)
by ZanThrax on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:50:31 PM EST

All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep fuckin' everybody 'til they're all the same color.

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

"Race" is Useful (3.00 / 3) (#5)
by SPrintF on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 08:01:59 PM EST

The "race" meme will continue to propagate because it is useful. Much like "religion" or "ideology," it provides a way of grouping together a collection of people so that one can (1) exploit them by discriminating against them, or (2) exploit them by claiming to "lead" them. Thus, "racists" of all types, pro- and anti- the selected group, gain power. The desire for power is, ultimately, the root of all "racism."

I was perplexed (2.50 / 2) (#6)
by aphrael on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 08:09:40 PM EST

when I was travelling and I met someone from Brazil who had been studying in the US and described himself as 'a brazilian nigger'.

Wait a minute ... Brazilian implies Latino, right? ...

"Hispanic" (3.66 / 3) (#8)
by ucblockhead on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 08:43:40 PM EST

The trouble is that "hispanic" and "latino" really refer to a language/cultural heritage and not an ethnic heritage. You can be ethnically white, black or south/central american indian (or some mix thereof) and be "hispanic".
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
yeah (none / 0) (#53)
by sevenpies on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 02:22:14 PM EST

Yeah, `hispanic' was always one of those definitions that confused me, coming from outside the United States. In Europe, most people would probably consider someone of only Spanish or Portuguese descent as white, if asked. I know that a lot more people from Latin American countries are of mixed race rather than just European, but still, classifying as `hispanic' or `latino' doesn't seem a very useful description.

Although, looking at the census form in a link from the Washington Post article, it seems to have a separate question on hispanic cultural background, and on race, plus allowing you to choose one or more races and fill in an `other' if required, so they seem to have done it in the best way they could.

[ Parent ]

Question 0 (4.66 / 6) (#12)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 09:50:18 PM EST

"So The questions then become two: (a) what is it precisely that the Census should collect, and (b) which methodoloy should be applied."

Actually, there's a question that comes before these: what is it we want to find out? It used to be "how many blacks, hispanics, etc are in the US?" But as you point out, these definitions have no objective meaning (especially when mulit-ethnic issues are brought in) so no objective numbers are possible.

So now we ask what someone "self-identifies" as. But changing the question changes the necessary interpretation of the answer. If we show a 10% rise in "black" answers, that only means that more people are self-identifying as black. That could be a pride issue (again, especially in a multi-choice situation) or an immigration issue. Who knows?

In any case, I would argue that both those questions are irrelevant. We supposedly gather racial information for the purposes of checking fairness (in employment, congressional districts, salaries, etc). But any unfairness currently in effect doesn't come from self-identified racial groupings. Again, your example of the "Dominican nigger" points this out. His report of the incident would have been "5 blacks and 1 Dominican discriminated against". The cop's report would have been "6 blacks discriminated against" (had the cop acknowledged the discrimination).

What we really need is for discriminatory organizations to keep track of who they think they are discriminating against, like the hypothetical cop report above. Who they are "actually" discriminating against is irrelevant. As a matter of fact, banks already do this with loans. The loan officer marks down the (apparent) race of the applicant. It matters not at all what the "actual" race of the applicant is--if the loan officer denies loans to all applicants that he identifies as black, it's discriminatory.

Play 囲碁
Skin color vs. Race (4.00 / 8) (#13)
by Anonymous 242 on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 09:50:29 PM EST

One of more ironic tragedies that occurred last week during the riots here in Cincinnati is that a group of black rioters stopped a car driven by a white women by throwing bricks and rocks through the windows. They were about to pull her out of the car and beat her (possibly to death) when another black person stepped in and dragged her to safety. The ironic part? She was black. She was also an albino so her skin was absent of the giveaway pigment.

I have a co-worker from India that has skin darker than just about any "black" person I've seen.

In my Church we have several immigrants from Egypt and Ethiopia. I'm not certain that considering them to be black is correct.

Is a black child raised culturally white, still black? How about a white family that adopts a hispanic child from guatamala? I had an acquaintence in high school born in Korea and adopted by a white family that lived here in the midwestern United States. Guess how Korean he considered himself to be?

I don't know that race really is a meaningful concept. Culture certainly is. Upbringing and traditions certainly have a large impact on the identity of a given person. Genetics certainly has some bearing. Then again my complexion is such that if I got the proper amount of sonlight, I could pass myself off as being American Indian. Yet my blood lines are entirely German, Irish and Italian.

Speaking of that, can one really say that the descendants of Celtic peoples are really the same race as the descendants of Goths, Franks, Norse, Greeks, or Persians? Adolf Hitler was said to consider the people of Iran to be the fathers of his beloved Aryan race? How many people today would consider Iranians to be white?

Personally I think that race is an idea invented by people that want a reason to be able to marginalize others. If one can categorize all dark skinned people as one race, as that which is other, it is easier to think of those people as less than human. If one does not have to dig into culture and and history to find the differences between the Sephardic Jews and some of the Coptic tribes, for example, it's easier to lump them together.

iranians (3.00 / 1) (#26)
by alprazolam on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 10:08:44 AM EST

the government considers iranians and arabs to be white.

[ Parent ]
iranians (none / 0) (#50)
by wahern on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 11:32:52 AM EST

all of the iranians (persians) i have known have been fairly light skinned (as much or more so than many 'white' people i know, esp 'red necks' from the south). i've been told those w/ darker skin have arab heritage.

[ Parent ]
it's because "Iran" came from "Arya (none / 0) (#54)
by ethereal on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 01:06:38 PM EST

A fascinating (although a little dated) look into this topic of race/cultures spreading around the world can be found in H.G. Well's "Outline of History" (4 volumes). (No, he didn't just write sci-fi.) He traces the migrations of peoples around the world by their culture and race as well as their language. It's a fascinating read, because Wells doesn't focus on the history of one nation or the other, but on the great ebb and flow of human culture and technology over the last 10 or 12 centuries.


Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

Persians (none / 0) (#57)
by core10k on Sun Apr 22, 2001 at 10:40:29 PM EST

Many (most? ALL?) persians are VERY pale, and no, they aren't arabs either. Others have pointed this out, but it's worth repeating.

[ Parent ]
Need to figure out what you'll do with the data (4.60 / 5) (#14)
by bjrubble on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:51:59 PM EST

AFAICT there are two reasons for the Census Bureau to record "racial" demographics. The first is mentioned in the article, to draw congressional districts and otherwise apportion governmental power in an attempt to mitigate discrimination. The other is purely academic, to chart the broad demographic trends impacting society.

Under the first criterion, the important metric is exactly that which the article rails against -- the overall impression given by physical appearance. If your goal is to address racism in the police department, the Dominican friend mentioned in the article should be considered black, because the element of society you're trying to shape treats him as such. I really don't care at all what he wants to call himself, but I care a lot that dark-skinned people can be so mistreated by our self-appointed "guardians." Distasteful as its history is, I would even be in favor of bringing back the skin color chart they used to use in South Africa, because that is probably the closest objective proxy for discrimination in the US.

In terms of demographic data, conventional racial classifications are probably more useful, but I think we'd be better off allowing people to list the broad geographical regions from which they derive their heritage. A child mixed from Irish and Central African heritage may have the same skin tone as a purebred Egyptian (yes, I am vastly simplifying here) but from a demographic standpoint these two situations are completely dissimilar.

Regardless, I fail to see how a single classification, unless it's enormously complicated (even more so than the Census Bureau's current 126-category monstrosity) could ever hope to address both these issues satisfactorily.

US Census classifications (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by mcherm on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:55:51 AM EST

And amazingly, starting with the 2000 census the US Census has begun to address this very problem. They no longer ask people to select which race they belong to (think radio buttons) but instead allow them to indicate membership in MULTIPLE races... whichever ones they feel apply (think checkboxes).

The result will be much closer to the people's on self-identification, which seems to me to measure the SOCIAL phenomenon of race more than the PHYSICAL phenomenon (mostly skin color).

So maybe it's a step in the right direction?

-- Michael Chermside

-- Michael Chermside
[ Parent ]

Yes yes (3.25 / 4) (#37)
by persimmon on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:00:29 PM EST

I'm half Caucasian, half Chinese and always put "Asian" for the radio buttons. When census papers came my brother and I debated whether we're "Asian-Chinese" or "Asian-Chinese/White". For me, it underscored how race is social rather than physical. When we visited my mom's parents and helped with their forms, I was jealous for a time because it was so easy for my mother to just check "Chinese". No debates about how much Cantonese they speak, how insulted they get about the refrigerator joke, rice, immigration or education.

OTOH, I have a youngish cousin whose grandparents are Filipina, midwestern-Caucasian, Inuit and African-American. His mom says "Yeah, I guess that makes him Black. Everybody else seems to think so."
It's funny because it's a blancmange!
[ Parent ]
Refrigerator joke? (none / 0) (#49)
by odaiwai on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 10:37:48 AM EST

> No debates about how much Cantonese they speak, > how insulted they get about the refrigerator > joke, rice, immigration or education. What's the refrigator Joke? dave "ngoh sik gong guang dong wah siu siu"
-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]
D'oh! (none / 0) (#51)
by odaiwai on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 12:02:50 PM EST

Damn! Can't even format simple HTML correctly.

-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]
I think it should be culture (none / 0) (#41)
by bjrubble on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 09:26:20 PM EST

I guess my point is that race only matters to racists. If your interest is scientific, it's the cultural mix that's important. Maybe the Census classifications are more nuanced than I'm giving them credit for, but I'm doubtful that "race" separates the Chileans from the Argentines, the Syrians from the Lebanese, the Sudanese from the Ethiopians. But if you want to track who's moving where and doing what, I think these distinctions are important.

[ Parent ]
But... (none / 0) (#42)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 10:23:49 PM EST

The result will be much closer to the people's on self-identification, which seems to me to measure the SOCIAL phenomenon of race more than the PHYSICAL phenomenon (mostly skin color).

Nope. The problem becomes simply that you can't evaluate the self-identifications that you get, since different people will make then on the basis of different schemes. If persons A and B both self-identify as black, you can't conclude that their self-identifications coincide in any sense other than the trivial "they checked the same box on the form".


"Mere grammar nazis are in awe only at the writing of great writers. A linguist, however, is awed by the speech of ordinary people." --me (but being lazy, not original)

[ Parent ]

The scientific merit of race versus ethnicity (3.00 / 3) (#18)
by Miniluv on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:20:38 AM EST

Preface: I am not an expert, I have seen contradictory evidence which I do not possess the scientific knowledge to evaluate on its own merits. However, I do have a generalized understanding of what the argument for "scientific race" is, and would like to see people who do know correct what I may be misinterpreting.

Race, as a scientific term, is used to mean people who share certain broad genetic traits not found in other segments of the population. This includes skin pigmentation, hair color and type, blood type, in some cases affinity for certain diseases, other genetic predispositions.

Examples of the above include the massively disproportionate incidence of sickle-cell anemia in blacks, or the phenomena known as "asian blush" (fast, instense intoxication of Asians compared to similarly built non-Asians). Quite obviously this is not an exact quantification, but really more in the nature of statistical analysis. However, I would say there is something to the idea that there are certain sub-groups of genetic humans. We all know that environment most likely played a huge role in evolving some of these characteristics, especially the physical ones, but is it really wrong to acknowledge the genetic differences by giving them some form of label?

Ethnicity, on the other hand, is really a social grouping. It doesn't matter what I look like, if I was raised in the Bantu tribe in Africa, I'm ethnically African.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'

answer (4.85 / 7) (#23)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:58:03 AM EST

Race, as a scientific term, is used to mean people who share certain broad genetic traits not found in other segments of the population. This includes skin pigmentation, hair color and type, blood type, in some cases affinity for certain diseases, other genetic predispositions.

These are certainly hereditary traits (and frequently correlate with ethnicity), but they have been given a privileged status for one reason: they are outwardly visible. However, the contemporary attacks on the concept of race are based on a simple idea: how similar two individuals are on these traits does not predict at all their overall genetic similarity. You can't look at two black persons and tell much more about their genotype other than the fact that they have a few genes which result in dark skin color.

Sure, you could still define a concept of "race" based on these traits, but the rest of our genotype encodes many other not immediately apparent traits which in principle would do every bit as well at classifying people as the ones you've mentioned, and would cross-cut among the classic "races" in all sorts of ways.

From this article in Science:

[...] from the few studies of nuclear DNA sequences, it is clear that what is called "race," although culturally important, reflects just a few continuous traits determined by a tiny fraction of our genes. This tiny fraction gives no indication of variations at other parts of our genome. Thus, from the perspective of nuclear genes, it is often the case that two persons from the same part of the world who look superficially alike are less related to each other than they are to persons from other parts of the world who may look very different [...] Although small segments of the genome--such as mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomal DNA (which are inherited in an unusual way) or the few genes that encode visible traits (which may have been selected for)--show a pattern where the genes in a particular human population can be traced back to a single common ancestor, this is not the case for the vast majority of our genes.
This article, BTW, came from the February 16, 2001 issue of Science (which covered the completion of the Human Genotype Project), which has far better discussion of the findings than the popular media (whose coverage left me confused in a way similar to you).

[ Parent ]

Genes (3.00 / 1) (#34)
by ucblockhead on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:41:05 PM EST

It is pretty trivial to divide the world's population up but genetic traits that have nothing to do with race. For example, you could divide people up by blood type, something which is as "important" as skin color. If you did so, you'd find that your groups were made up of people of all different skin colors.

The vast majority of traits that differ between people are like blood type. They are invisible, and occur (in varying frequencies) in people of all races.

This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

fingerprints (none / 0) (#38)
by Puchitao on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:35:19 PM EST

My favorite division scheme involves dividing people into Arches, Loops, and Whorls. There's very little correlation between skin color and fingerprints, IIRC, although there are a couple clusters. (I think folks of Central European ancestry tend to be Whorls, or something like that.)

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
Some others... (none / 0) (#39)
by ucblockhead on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:40:03 PM EST

There's also those who can roll their tongues (obviously the superior race) and those who can't, or those who have detached earlobes and those who don't.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Yes, but why? (none / 0) (#47)
by Kellnerin on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 09:26:56 AM EST

You can divide up the world's population any way you like, in any number or variety of multicolored slices, but I'm not sure what that accomplishes. If you use blood type rather than race/ethnicity/skin color as the litmus test, then you've merely exchanged one arbitrary, meaningless metric for another. But I don't think you're suggesting that we revise census forms to indicate blood type.

Humans have a wide spectrum of differing traits, that are all significant for different reasons. O- is a universal blood donor while AB+ is a universal recipient. Someone with Irish ancestry will sunburn more easily than a Kenyan. If you're trying to track someone with a loop fingerprint you can discount all your files of whorls. Race is just a deceptively obvious way to categorize people because you can so easily point out someone and say they're different, before you know anything else about them.
Somebody go tell Kellnerin it's time for her to change her sig. -johnny
[ Parent ]

importance of race (none / 0) (#48)
by JonesBoy on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 09:43:46 AM EST

>they are outwardly visible

This is not exclusive. Internal organ masses and shapes vary between races too. You are just not familiar with them.

>You can't look at two black persons and tell much more about their genotype other than the fact that they have a few genes which result in dark skin color.

Actually, you dont even know that! Biologists still dont know what genes are responsible for skin color, much less how many. Check out this link, http://www.spectator.org/archives/0104TAS/bethell0104.htm

race questions do tell us one thing, ancestry. A Dominican may not concider himself black, but one can easily trace his genetic ancestry back to africa. The neat thing about race as we know it is that they developed from genetic isolation, and therefore can be used to map migratory routes of modern day humans. Sure we can use other factors, but this is easy to identify, and cannot appear spontaneously within other races (a caucasoid does not have a negroid baby by spontaneous mutation)

Speeding never killed anyone. Stopping did.
[ Parent ]
biological race (4.00 / 2) (#43)
by danny on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 10:28:46 PM EST

Examples of the above include the massively disproportionate incidence of sickle-cell anemia in blacks

The problem here is that

  • not all "blacks" (and biological use of that term begs a lot of questions) have sickle-cell anaemia
  • sickle-cell occurs in other groups as well
If you look at human genetic variation (rather than just a few surface features under selective pressure), you find clinal variation, with allele percentages varying mostly continuously. You also find limited coordination between clines, with most running across any putative "race" boundaries.

Lewontin's Human Diversity is a good introduction to this; for more solid data try Cavalli-Sforza's The History and Geography of Human Genes.

I've also put online fragments of a debate on race and IQ from the anthro-l mailing list.

[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Asian Blush (none / 0) (#63)
by dasunt on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 11:10:15 AM EST

I'll admit this is a quibble, but I dislike terms being misused. Unless I'm wrong, "asian blush" is the blushing of the face that some people of oriental decent receive when they drink alcohol (or, on Cartoon Network, what members of the Tenchiverse receive when they drink "tea").

[ Parent ]

personally (4.33 / 6) (#19)
by 2400n81 on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:01:48 AM EST

this article offends my sense of decency and respect for the american way of compartmentalization, generalization and eradication.

I Am Assuming (none / 0) (#25)
by greyrat on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 09:07:36 AM EST

That the sarcasm light is on, and there is an overclocked, overvolted 400 watt bulb installed...
~ ~ ~
Did I actually read the article? No. No I didn't.
"Watch out for me nobbystyles, Gromit!"

[ Parent ]
Re: I Am Assuming (none / 0) (#61)
by Dwonis on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 10:52:31 PM EST

Lights have clocks?

[ Parent ]
Hey, now! (4.00 / 2) (#30)
by ucblockhead on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:27:26 PM EST

We Americans don't eradicate!

We just put you on a reservation and pretend like you don't exist...
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

shouldn't that be (none / 0) (#33)
by naught on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:36:26 PM EST

...embrace and extend?

"extension of knowledge is the root of all virtue" -- confucius.
[ Parent ]

one sentence says it all (4.00 / 3) (#24)
by mami on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 04:19:30 AM EST

To me the best sentence of the article was that one: (Meki Cox McDougall about her daughter) :

   "Her skin color seems to match whoever's holding her."

What she is, is as diverse as the people around her, judge her to be. Her "race" is not determined by the race she claims to belong to, her "race" will be determined by persons around her, who will profile her according to the race they choose for her.

Because of that, it is very unfair to ask the multi-racial person to define his or her race. Not only is it useless, but also nobody cares anyway. If they see in you a German white person and you feel black, or they see in you a black Senegales person, but you feel French, nobdoy really gives a damn about what you say you feel.

Counting ethnicities and races always will cause more troubles than not counting them. People *see* other people's races, if you count them or not. People will always disciminate, if they can get away with it. If you have a poorer class in your society and they belong in their majority to a specific race, people know that. No need to count. Nobody is color blind.

Counting races always result in politicians trying to adjust laws on the basis of racial profiles. That is exactly what is so dangerous about it. If the legal system is fair and tries to be just in the same way to each of its citizens, it's best NOT to know to which race an individual belongs to, because no law should be dependent on your race.

I haven't studied the American consitution and history yet, but it seems to me that one of the weakest points is, that the census tries to provide the foundation for drawing the congressional
districts for voting purposes, which again has so many other
impacts on funding etc.

Then, because you have to beat the idiosyncracies of your electoral collegs system, you tend to redraw these districts according to their racisl/ethnic composition to give minority races a better chance to vote a member of his ethnic/race group into the Congress or Senate, if I am not mistaken. Though all this is understandable from the view point to counterbalance unfairness against the black population due to the U.S.'s historical entanglement in slavery, the true solution is not in counting races and tweaking the laws to be a bit more fair, but to change the laws in the first place, which make it necessary for you to tweak other laws to build a more just society.

So, instead of making up some flaws in redistricting, one should make up by eliminating a voting system which is not strictly proportional representative, IMHO.

Unfortunately I have barely understood how your country works. So, I should not make such statement. Correct me, if I am wrong.

Redistricting... (none / 0) (#32)
by ucblockhead on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:36:10 PM EST

Well, technically speaking, the constitution says nothing about race when talking about representational districts. In theory, districts are just supposed to be equal populations, drawn up randomly. In practice, whichever party is in power attempts to draw them in a certain way, which is vastly different depending on the party.

But the people doing the redistricting generally aren't looking at the census data but the voting patterns.

This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

The Great American Melting Pot (2.00 / 4) (#29)
by jabber on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:21:38 PM EST

The scum rises to the top while everyone on the bottom gets burned.

Not to mention that all the pork, beef, fish, carrot, potato, pasta, cuccumber, chocolate, cheese and soy bean all eventually start tasting remarkably like chicken.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

race isn't important: (4.28 / 7) (#31)
by naught on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:34:18 PM EST

there are plenty reasons to hate people on a more individual basis.

the reason we have race problems around here (in cincinnati, as in there rest of america, i suspect) isn't because we know what race is, but because we *care*. race matters to us -- and it shouldn't.

one of the great things about human beings is that once we're created, we have a blank slate, and infinite potential. some of that potential is killed off by genetic defects, but for the most part, anybody in america can be anything.

now we start adding in culture. black people like being black. they find identity in it. the revel in their blackness, and all that goes along with it. (by black, in this context, i am referring to 3+ generation americans descended from slaves, regardless or origin). they care.

i'm white. actually, that's not true. i'm native american, in places, and german in others, and viking in the rest of the places. but i don't think about it -- i don't identify with people of my color: it just never comes up. it's not a need i have. some of my best friends are irish. my ancestors raided theirs' costs, then fought wars against theirs on behalf of the british. they are descendants of the people who wiped out the other part of my family. sucks to be an indian, i'm thinking. we don't let it cut into our drinkin' time.

if we care about race (as skin color, or nationality), any more than caring about hair color (blondes of the world unite?), then we provide an opportunity for division. you can cherish your heritage in all its richness without bringing the 'crimes' of the 'past' to bear in the present day. when it's a footnote in your life, things are cool. when it's the dominant factor, you start to take on an insider/outsider POV. that's what causes issues.

so -- leave the questions off the census. there are plenty of categorizations one can do without taking into account nationality, skin color, eye color, penis length, or whether or not the person has a widow's peak. the less often race becomes important to we americans, the better off we are.


"extension of knowledge is the root of all virtue" -- confucius.

Race and the Census (4.33 / 3) (#36)
by Alarmist on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 01:41:39 PM EST

leave the questions off the census. there are plenty of categorizations one can do without taking into account nationality, skin color, eye color, penis length, or whether or not the person has a widow's peak. the less often race becomes important to we americans, the better off we are.

This is why I handled the race issue on my census form the way I did. "Other - Please specify." I checked this box and wrote in "human."

I do not think of myself in terms of black/white/Asian/Hispanic/other. I think of myself in terms of humanity.

I am a human being first. The color of my skin is merely a detail.

Fight the Power.

[ Parent ]

Quite so (none / 0) (#44)
by cpt kangarooski on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 01:07:22 AM EST

I agree completely. I just hope I'm around long enough to be able to have a reason to stop putting 'Human' on one day and start putting down 'Sapient' (or maybe 'Sophont' if it expands in meaning)

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
"they care" (none / 0) (#59)
by sudama on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 03:20:31 AM EST

It sounds like you're saying that Black people are responsible for all race problems in Cincinnati. I find it hard to believe that's what you really think. Perhaps you need to reconsider your analysis.
-- Adam http://randomwalks.com/
[ Parent ]
nitpick (none / 0) (#60)
by Dwonis on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 10:49:40 PM EST

the less often race becomes important to we

That should be:

he less often race becomes important to us

[ Parent ]

"Race" is a social construct (4.50 / 2) (#45)
by Paul Johnson on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 06:12:20 AM EST

The concept of "race" is part of our social constructs about in-groups and out-groups. You can only understand this construct as part of the society that uses it, rather than as some kind of abstraction of reality.

In the past it was simple: there was a scale of racial superiority with white european at the top and negro at the bottom and others (e.g. chinese) somewhere in the middle. If you were any kind of mixture then your racial status was whatever the lowest component on the scale was.

A key element in this simplicity was that everyone knew what the system was, even if they thought it was wrong.

But now enough people disagree with this system that the old consensus has broken down, but we do not yet have a new consensus in place to replace it. As a result "race" has become a social minefield. When two people talk they use common social constructs to negotiate their relationship. Little things like what subjects are suitable for conversation, how far apart you stand whilst talking, and so on. "Race" is a part of this set of social constructs, but because the consensus has broken down you don't know how other people will view your comments. In some circumstances this can be dealt with by just ignoring the whole topic, but in others a combination of visible difference plus the varying constructs of people present make for an explosive situation.

Into this situation comes the US census. Race is an important issue for the census precisely because Americans construct it in so many different ways. But this also makes it very hard to measure, because you cannot ask a single question that means the same thing to every reader. And because the census is also concerned with trends it needs to ask the same question for several decades. But over several decades social constructs can change a lot, which means that questions which try to measure them risk becoming irrelevant.

To summarise the summary of the summary, people are a problem. (Douglas Adams)

You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.

Views also depend on geographical localtion (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by DoomGerbil on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 06:40:10 AM EST

Although this is far less true now than it used to be, it still is the case that the South has a higher proportion of people who view race as a definition of personality. I've lived all over the US (New Jersey, Missouri, South Texas, and now Southern California) and views like this are most prevalent in the south. Case in point: I'm a pale white guy, and my fiancee is Mexican with relitively dark skin. Nobody around here (Orange County) seems to care, or really even notice, but when my family back in Central Texas saw photos of us together, the first response I heard was, "She's the wrong color." When she was looking at colleges to go to, her parents wouldn't even let her look at anything in Texas, because they had grown up there, and suffered some really terrible discrimination (albeit 30-40 years ago). The problems still exist, although they really aren't as severe as many people claim they are.

It's funny... (5.00 / 1) (#55)
by theboz on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 03:12:37 PM EST

I am in an almost similar situation. I am a gabacho (white guy for the readers that don't know) but have darker skin than my Mexican fiancee. Luckily, my family isn't the type to believe stereotypes and they like her a lot, as well as having other latin friends (and some family on my sire's family.) Unfortunately, my mother informed me that my stepfather's family is a bit racist against Puerto Ricans for some reason so next month when they come down from Pennsylvania we will see how they react to a Mexican. Racism is an illogical and weird situation. I can understand disliking a person or their beliefs but something as arbitrary as the tone of their skin color is dumb.

Anyways, good luck with your fiancee and hopefully your family becomes more accepting of your relationship with her. If not, kick their asses.

[ Parent ]

You can't really remove race (3.00 / 1) (#52)
by strlen on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 02:02:17 PM EST

Yes, it's a complicated question. I suggest making the census voluntary, but we still need information on racial make up of the country. For instance, a good way to determine if a central racial group is socially disadvantaged is to see whether their percentage nation wide, is equal to their percentage nation wide in a certain income group. And, yes, it's not in many cases. In cases of blacks, the perecentage is not equal in jail populations either. Clearly, there's still discrimination by police, and minority groups are at a disadvantage. Such statistics also allow us to appropriate funds for minority advancement groups, for localized and race-specific programs. Yes, this is not color blind, but neither are the facts. You can't assume that you have a color blind world, and make decisions based on that, because in fact, it's not.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
Interesting.. (3.50 / 2) (#56)
by infinitesin on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 05:50:34 AM EST

This is relevant to the topic, believe me. A student at the University of Pittsburgh has a website that shows pictures of various people, and asks them if they are African-American or not, and then shows how accurate their guesses were. He's a political science student, and he's attempting to show that people have a tendency to assume racial background based on skin color, when in effect, while it may be important, it may not be the only reason for the color of the skin.

The problem is, the university is trying to shut it down because they feel it is racist, and they're trying to avoid any sort of contraversy, in this bizarre fear the urban campus resorting to a "Higher Learning"-esque racial war. Worst case scenarioists, they are.
"Just wait until tomorrow..I guess that's what they all say..just before they fall apart.."

Racial vs Economic status: Slightly OT (3.00 / 1) (#58)
by bored on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 01:31:16 PM EST

"It's quite real... When people are being pulled over in their cars because of what they look like, those are African Americans."

This issue always makes me angry. I have had friends of various races who have been pulled over because they "looked suspicious." I am angry about the issue because the only thing that is ever discussed is whether or not African Americans are targeted more frequently. What I would like to see at least mentioned in these discussions is that the majority of people who are pulled over because they are 'suspicious' are driving POS vehicles. While I was in HS and college, friends of mine who drove old, cheap, beat up cars almost always got pulled over late at night and searched. Friends who drove newer, more expensive cars were never pulled over. I had a 'white' friend with long hair that drove a 20yo beat up chevette. At least once every 5 months or so he was pulled over and searched for drugs, stolen articles etc in various neighborhoods. Another friend of mine was pulled over a couple times a week driving back from work at 2am. He drove a old POS with a pot leaf bumper sticker. It was almost always the same 2 or three cops who pulled him over because he was out past 2 driving in a nice neighborhood with zero tolerance laws.

I think the cops pull these people over because they know that their targets don't have the economic backing to stand up for themselves. These people cannot tell the cop to wait until the legal representation arrives to witness the search. These people cannot afford to file complaints against an officer, and fight it in court if need be. Its easier and cheaper just to endure the humiliation of standing on the street while someone digs though your belongings then to eat PJ for a few weeks in order to afford someone to defend you. Even in HS when I changed the pledge, to "and justice for those who can afford it", I had a fine understanding that to a certain extent the scales of justice could be tipped by those people who had more money on their side. Then OJ proved it! If he had been poor he would be on death row or serving a life sentence, independent of whether he is guilty or not.

racial profiling... (none / 0) (#64)
by Epicurus on Tue May 01, 2001 at 11:35:35 AM EST

Racial profiling is real, police agencies all over the country do it all the time, and lately a few have been admitting to it. Yeah, I understand the crappy car argument, as I've found that to be pretty much the case, but given the same vehicle and same conditions, a black will nearly always be pulled over instead of a white in the USA.

[ Parent ]
Ah, but there's a simple answer (5.00 / 1) (#62)
by John Milton on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 01:59:01 AM EST

The census bureau should provide color swatches so that we can not only determine our race, but also decide how to match our furniture.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

U.S. Census: Skin Color vs. "Race" | 64 comments (53 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
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