Project RACE was recently invited by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to give our comments on adding a Multiracial category to federal forms, including the census. We had six Project RACE representatives on the conference call, and we did extremely well. Below are the arguments of Deb Ewing.
You can find Mulatto on the 1890 US Census, along with Octoroon and Quadroon, to enumerate the percentage of a person’s mixed race. But in 1930 a person who was both black and white got written down as black, as was a person of mixed black and First American heritage, unless they were considered “predominantly Indian among the community.” These were the instructions given to census enumerators.
We see ramifications of the 1930 census today: Ferguson, Missouri. Charlottesville, Virginia.
Beginning in 1960, people could choose their own race, as long as they chose only one. Families have stories about that relative who “passed” as white. My daughter’s Chippewa ancestors are listed on the census as Indian some years, White in others.
I’m a Project RACE grandparent. I also belong to a genealogy group researching their ancestor’s slaveholders. I know some of my ancestors owned slaves, and I’m willing to help if I can. I asked the group how they felt about checking a box that says [ ] Multiracial:
One of our group is a former Census enumerator. He told us that their instructions in 2020 were to “check all that apply from the list” – you are familiar with that list. His impression was that some people of color would have preferred Multiracial as a choice. Another person said that question (ethnicity Hispanic or Latino) does not work for some of us, because we’re both. And more. How is a person supposed to select only half or part of who they are?”
I’m talking to people who are very aware that their multiracial history comes through slavery – and still choose to honor what they are. We suggest the following instructions: “If you select Multiracial, you may select two or more races or ethnicities.”
Every day we see more collusion between activist groups finding strength in numbers: Muslim-Jewish coalitions; Latino Coalition for Israel; Asian Coalition for Equality – a group for Asian Americans in solidarity with black civil rights campaigns. Look at the pictures of any DC event. We’re a melting pot – but it’s not citizen to citizen. It’s in our genes.
I’m not just white: I’m English, Scots, Irish, French and three kinds of German, because this mattered to my family. My Multiracial daughter and her children are also part Chippewa. My Multiracial grandson is also African-American. I don’t want anyone, including him, to think of him as being just one box.
Counting “multiracial” doesn’t alter the tallying of checked boxes for financial purposes but it does create another picture of America.
Decisions made now will help define what society means in 2030. You have an opportunity and a responsibility to create an authentic future.
Let us count ourselves for what we are.
Let numbers tell the truth.