October 27, 2022
Interagency Technical Working Group on Race and Ethnicity Standards (ITWG)
Remarks of Susan Graham, Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally)
Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts about race and ethnicity with the Working Group today. Let’s first go back to 1993 when my son and I were asked to give our statements to the Subcommittee on Census, Statistics, and Postal Personnel. My son, Ryan, was eight years old at the time. He told the subcommittee that he wanted a Multiracial classification on forms then for he and his little sister. Ryan turned 38 in August. Thirty years is a long time to wait for the government to recognize who you truly are.
Throughout the 1990s we tried to work with OMB and the Census Bureau to find a solution to the lack of an appropriate classification for Multiracial and Biracial people in this country. We gained the ability to check two or more races, but not the ability to have a true Multiracial category on the census and government forms. We also gained the ability to self-identify, which was very important. Never-the-less, we persevered through Project RACE to push for what we truly needed; the ability for Multiracial individuals to see themselves on forms. I truly believe we have proven the need for accurate racial classifications for the Multiracial population.
Most states for many reasons follow the federal mandates, but many have passed legislation using the Multiracial nomenclature. Schools are where most children and their parents first run into this question: What are You? If checking two or more races is allowed, the results are tabulated as “two or more races.” They could just as easily be tabulated as “Multiracial” alone. Multiracial people complain that they are separated by the answer “two or more races,” and they should be able to be counted for who they really are in total—Multiracial.
We can compare this back to 1993, when we had passed legislation in the state of Georgia that mandated “Multiracial” on forms that required racial and ethnic data. Let’s look back for a moment. The Fulton County, Georgia Schools had 110 students who marked themselves as Multiracial in the first year that it was offered in 1994, but let’s not spend all our time in the past. The latest statistics (for the 2021 school year) show that 3,122 students considered themselves to be Multiracial, or 3.5 percent of the total enrollment of 89,900. A very respectful and important increase.
Meanwhile, on a national level, in the 2020 census, the unthinkable happened. According to the Census Bureau, the Multiracial population went from 2.9 percent in 2010 to 10.2 percent in the 2020 Census—a 276 percent increase!
It’s not just schools that are using Multiracial, it is businesses as well as organizations, non-profits, research facilities, etc. Basically, anywhere racial data are used. We work with companies like Google, Biz Rate, Jergens, Estee Lauder, Apple, AARP and many, many others that wish to comply with what their Multiracial employees and customers wish to see on forms. We work with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) every day to serve the Multiracial community. In fact, Project RACE received Congressional Certificates of Special Recognition in 2021 and 2022 for recognizing the Multiracial community in our country. The New York Times finally added “Multiracial” to its data and studies reporting. And we celebrate Multiracial Heritage Week every year. The Census Bureau even helps promote it, which we appreciate. We have made a difference.
Make no mistake, this is not just a “feel good” category change. Project RACE is involved with bone marrow donor drives on the medical front. Races and ethnicities must match for a successful bone marrow transplant to take place. The one-drop rule doesn’t work here. The sooner the total racial and ethnic make-up is known, the better, and the search for a donor can begin. This is life and death and is in the hands of the OMB and applicable medical forms. The federal government must do the right thing.
Going into the 2030 census gives us one more opportunity to convince the Census Bureau and OMB that correct and respectful terminology is not only timely, but necessary to data collection at the federal level. By not taking our wording into account, the bureau once again used a confusing catchall phrase, “some other race,” which was unfairly utilized by many, many Multiracial data users. “Two or more races” was also used when a simple Multiracial category could have been used to describe our population.
We at Project RACE hear all the time from parents, children, teens, and other adults about names that people use for us. Many of them we would rather not hear. It isn’t right and could easily be corrected at the federal level.
As an alternative, it would be easy to change the instructions to the census and other government forms. The instructions should read: Mark (X) one or more boxes. Multiracial people can mark (X) as many boxes as apply AND print origins. The answers could then be tabulated as Multiracial or disaggregated if necessary for purposes of redistricting, for example. I don’t believe our federal government would want people to falsely self-identify as one race alone just to gain votes. Maybe….
Proper wording is very important in racial and ethnic classifications. Several weeks ago, Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits were unveiled at the White House. Mrs. Obama referred to her husband as “Biracial.” That was a huge leap from the past when he called himself a “mutt.” It shows how far we’ve come, even with our former President. We must give our children proper terminology when referring to themselves. But we must first teach them to use the respectful terms of Biracial and Multiracial. Sometimes we hear the term “mixed.” That term lends itself to “mixed up kids,” “mixed nuts,” etc. When I thought about my aversion to the term mixed, I realized that mixed is the opposite of “pure” and I don’t think we want to go to pure and mixed people in our society.
In the 1990s, OMB told us we had to pick one name for ourselves. We surveyed Project RACE members, and they overwhelmingly chose “Multiracial.” We have used the proper terminology of Multiracial ever since.
When I found out in 2019 that the Census Bureau was steering Multiracial people away from checking more than one race, by enumerators, phone calls or via the Internet, I emailed the question to the Census Bureau on 12/16/2019. This was their response: “You will choose “mixed race” but most of our biracial respondents chose AA, (for African American). Thank you for contacting the US Census Bureau.”
We all know there is no “mixed race” category on the Census. We also know that to steer multiracial participants to the “AA” box is inaccurate to our community, which includes people of many, many racial combinations. This will also lead to an inaccurate census count. This error was created and perpetuated by the U. S. Census Bureau. It must be stopped.
In the book Democracy’s Data: The Hidden Stories in the U.S. Census and How to Read Them by Dan Bouk, he writes, “Fitting into a form can be uncomfortable when the form has not been designed with you in mind.” I agree and hope you will, too.
As I have said, I truly believe we have proven the need for an accurate racial classification for the Multiracial population. The proper terminology would make a significant difference to millions of Multiracial children in America. It is time to reflect our heritage in a respectful way. We are not nameless. We are not mixed, we are not “Some Other Race,” we are not “Other,” we are not mutts, and we are not hyphenated. We are Multiracial people and would appreciate the proper use of our preferred terminology. Thank you for your time.