The Other Census Disaster That’s Waiting to Happen

Have seen earlier discussion of the issue but this is the most comprehensive analysis:

Everyone hoping for an accurate 2020 Census breathed a sigh of relief two weeks ago when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to block the Trump administration’s cynical attempt to add a citizenship question to the forms—only to experience Twitter-tantrum whiplash when the president ordered his administration to make a last-ditch attempt to include it.

But with so much attention focused on the controversy over the citizenship question, another similarly disastrous Census Bureau decision has gone largely unnoticed: the administration’s choice not to substantively update the decennial survey’s questions on race. As a result, no matter how conscientiously Census Bureau staff administer the survey, a woefully inadequate portrait of the changing face of America will emerge.

The last census, in 2010, became a data disaster when “some other race,” showed up as the third-largest racial group in America. Over 20 million respondents, most with roots in Latin America or the Middle East, selected this none-of-the-above option, making it the most popular choice after white and black. Any time a public-opinion survey asks respondents to self-categorize and “none of the above” comes back as a popular answer, it’s a clear sign that the choices given don’t match up with people’s identities.

Facing this problem squarely, the Obama administration convened the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations, a panel of academic experts and minority community leaders, to advise the Bureau on improving its race questions for 2020. The committee made myriad recommendations, most crucially suggesting that a “Middle East or North Africa” category sit alongside the “Hispanic origins” box in the upcoming questionnaire. But the Trump administration overruled this advice and, aside from a few minor tweaks, is flying into the 2020 survey without substantive changes. Given continued Latin American and Middle Eastern immigration since 2010, and the more extreme forms of racial “othering” these groups have faced ever since candidate Donald J. Trump came down the escalator in 2015, experts fear that “some other race” will become the second-largest racial group in America according to the 2020 Census.

Every census since the founding of the country has asked about race and ethnicity. Until recent decades, race was not a matter of self-identification; historically, federal census-takers were charged with determining the race of each resident of their assigned census tracts according to their era’s standards. Tracing how race questions have changed over time offers a time-lapse history of American racial concepts in 10-year snapshots. (All of the race questions are conveniently archived on the website racebox.org.)

The most drastic changes to the census race questions took place after the fall of Reconstruction, at the rise of Jim Crow, when America’s mixed-race realities were blotted out and a strict racial binary imposed. Openly mixed-race activists, in particular Charleston’s “Browns” and New Orleans’s “Creoles of color,” had been central to post-Civil War civil rights progress. Their court challenges to segregation, of which Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was only the last and most famous, assailed the notion that Europeans and Africans remained distinct racial groups in America given centuries of overt and covert race-mixing. At the time, the “one-drop rule” that any African ancestry at all made an American a “Negro” was still new and not widely accepted. This more fluid racial mindset was reflected in the late 19th-century censuses, which all catalogued biracial “mulattos” as distinct from “whites” and “blacks.” The 1890 questionnaire recorded even finer-grained mixed-race categories: “quadroon” (an American with three European grandparents and one African grandparent) and “octoroon” (an American with seven European great-grandparents and one African great-grandparent). But with the firm establishment of the color line post-Plessy, the 1900 census switched to a unitary race. (Not until 2000 would the census again allow respondents to claim mixed-race identities, this time by checking more than one racial box.)

“Only in 1980 did the Census begin to grapple with Latino identity.”

As segregation took root, the stakes of being deemed “white” grew higher. Even as Jim Crow laws proliferated in the early 20th century, the states differed on their official definitions of what exactly a “white person” was and who precisely constituted a “colored person.” Myriad ethnic groups clamored to get into whiteness, often petitioning through the courts. “Semites,” for example, won their way into whiteness using clever, albeit pseudo-scientific, arguments. Their trump card, first argued in 1907 by H. A. Elkourie, a Syrian Christian physician in Birmingham, Alabama, was that if he wasn’t white then Jesus hadn’t been white either. Anglo-Americans’ revulsion at the thought they were worshipping a person of color each Sunday was strong enough that Elkourie and the fellow members of his “Semitic” “race” were deemed “white.”

The next major revamp of the census’s race questions came in the wake of the 1960s civil rights movement. For the first time, the Census Bureau empowered each respondent to choose her own race rather than have a census-taker determine it for her. And embracing the modern understanding that race has no biological reality, only societal meanings, the Census Bureau modified the racial categories to learn more about American society rather than engage in the fool’s errand of sorting humans into some fixed number of distinct races. To this end, the 1970 Census listed eight racial categories, one of which was “Hawaiian”—a useful category for understanding American society but a group so tiny no early-20th-century race scientists ever elevated it into their core “Races of Man.”

Only in 1980 did the census begin to grapple with Latino identity. Rather than add “Hispanic” to the list of races, it introduced a question to stand apart from the various racial choices: “Is this person of Spanish/Hispanic origin or descent?” By noting that Hispanics can be of any race, the Census Bureau hoped to track the growth of this community that comes in all colors. But this well-meaning attempt never fully worked since the Latin American and Anglo-American conceptions of race are fundamentally incompatible.

While the U.S., after Reconstruction, forced Americans to claim a retroactive racial purity, Latin America never denied its mestizo realities. On the most recent Brazilian census, for example, the majority of respondents identified as afrodecendente (Afro-descended). But in Brazil this identity does not in any way suggest that the same person is not also of European, Native American, and/or Asian descent; indeed, over 80 percent of self-identified afrodecendente Brazilians claimed roots on non-African continents as well.

In Mexico, the concept of race (la raza) is even more un-American. The Mexican supposition is that the people of the New World are, in a sense, a new race unto themselves, a mixture of all the world’s peoples. It is these mutually-incompatible conceptions of race between the U.S. and Latin America that has led millions of census respondents to check that they are of Latino origin but are members of “some other race.”

Arab-Americans are similarly migrants from an alternate racial system. Arab identity embraces people of all skin colors and is largely tied to language—people whose mother tongue is Arabic are Arabs even if they don’t live on Asia’s Arabian Peninsula. Though officially white in America since the early-20th-century rulings that “Semites” are white, contemporary American racism has again called Arab whiteness into question.

“The best-case scenario is that none-of-the-above comes out as the third-largest race in America rather than second-largest.”

The most recent federal definition of a “white person,” formulated in 1997 by the Office of Management and Budget and currently used by the Census Bureau—“A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa”—clearly includes Arabs. But if “whiteness” has no biological reality and is purely a socially-constructed category in American society for those who enjoy full citizenship, including the presumption of innocence, since 9/11, Middle Easterners have no longer been white. This mismatch between being officially white by the federal definition but not being treated as white in American society has sparked a wildcat campaign among some Middle Easterners not to check the “white” box on the Census (tag-line: “Check it right, you ain’t white”). Indeed, the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations found many Middle Eastern- and North African-Americans are doing just that, checking “some other race” in defiance of the current federal definition of whiteness.

At this point the 2020 race questions are set, with just a few tweaks from 2010. The 2020 form will include “Lebanese” and “Egyptian” as examples of white ethnicities to remind Arabs to, essentially, “check it right, you are white.” The new wording also adds “Aztec” and “Mayan” as examples of American Indian ethnicities to instruct people with roots in the New World beyond the United States borders that they should still identify themselves as indigenous.

Even with these minor changes, the best-case scenario is that none-of-the-above comes out as the third-largest race in America rather than second-largest. Whiteness in America is in flux today in a way it hasn’t been in a century—even if the Census Bureau’s political appointees, in keeping with the Trump administration’s Know-Nothingism on race, won’t admit it. An administration that has backed border walls and Muslim bans has already shown Latinos and Middle Easterners that, if whiteness means first-class citizenship, they’re no longer white. The painful irony is that the rise of “some other race” at first glance suggests America is becoming post-racial, while its real roots are in rising racism.

Source: The Other Census Disaster That’s Waiting to Happen

Race or class irrelevant in intelligence of babies, groundbreaking Oxford study finds

The basics make the difference – medical care and nutrition:

Babies born in similar circumstances will thrive regardless of race or geography, Oxford-led research has found, quashing the idea that race or class determines intelligence.

In a scientific first, the team of researchers tracked the physical and intellectual development of babies around the world from the earliest days after conception to age two.

“At every single stage we’ve shown that healthy mothers have healthy babies and that healthy babies all grow at exactly the same rate,” said Professor Stephen Kennedy, the co-director of the Oxford Maternal and Perinatal Health Institute. “It doesn’t matter where you are living, it doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is, it doesn’t matter what your race and ethnicity is, receiving decent medical care and nutrition is the key.”

The INTERGROWTH-21st Project, jointly led by Prof. Kennedy and Prof. Jose Villar at Oxford, involved nearly 60,000 mothers and babies worldwide, tracking growth in the womb, then followed more than 1,300 of the children, measuring physical growth and development.

The mothers – in locations as diverse as Brazil, India and Italy – were chosen because they were in good health and lived in similar environments. Their babies scored similarly on physical and intellectual development: in fact, researchers found more variation within racial groups than between them.

The study should help settle the ongoing debate genetics as a determination in intelligence which has been rumbling since the publication of Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve in the 1990s. The book argued that a “cognitive elite” was becoming separated from the general population.

“There’s still a substantial body of opinion out there in both the scientific and lay communities who… believe that intelligence is predominantly determined by genes and the environment that you’re living in and that your parents and grandparents were living in and their nutritional and health status are not relevant,” said Prof Kennedy. “Well, that’s clearly not the case.”

Frederick Douglass’s Fight Against Scientific Racism – The New York Times

Good read and reminder of early attitudes and beliefs, and the struggle to overcome them:

The 200th birthday of one of America’s greatest thinkers, Frederick Douglass, is being celebrated this month. Douglass is remembered as many things: a fugitive slave who gained his freedom, an abolitionist, an advocate for women’s rights, a gifted writer and orator. But we should also remember him as someone whose insights about scientific theories of race are every bit as relevant in our era as they were when he wrote them.

When Douglass rose to prominence, in the 1840s, he was living in a world just as excited and anxious about his era’s new inventions, like the railroad and the telegraph, as we are about modern-day innovation. But he understood that the ends to which science could be used were forever bound up with the moral choices of its practitioners. “Scientific writers, not less than others, write to please, as well as to instruct,” he wrote in 1854, “and even unconsciously to themselves (sometimes) sacrifice what is true to what is popular.”

That statement was part of a lecture in which he attacked one of the most prominent scientific fields of the antebellum era: ethnology, or what was sometimes called “the science of race.” Though often dismissed today as pseudoscience, at the time Douglass was writing, it was considered legitimate. The most accomplished scientists engaged in it, and the public eagerly consumed it.

Ethnology was not embraced just by Southerners who supported slavery. Its most important theorists lived in the North: one, Louis Agassiz, taught at Harvard; the other, Samuel George Morton, was president of one of the nation’s leading scientific societies, in Philadelphia.

Agassiz and Morton rejected the 18th-century view of race, which held that all human beings descended from a single pair and that physical differences emerged because of changes in the natural environment.

In preparation for the 1854 lecture, Douglass read dozens of books on ethnology, then dismantled polygenists’ claims one by one. Among the most important to Douglass was Morton’s claim that ancient Egyptians were white. To support his claim that black people were inferior, Morton needed to explain away the fact that ancient Egyptians were Africans, since if they were, it meant that people of African descent had the potential for similar greatness. As proof, Morton noted that the Bible made no mention of Egyptians’ color.

Douglass would have none of it.

He cited text after text, all written by respected European scientists, that noted that ancient Egyptians bore a striking resemblance to modern-day Africans. But more important, he argued that racial descriptors were not mentioned in the Bible because, at that historical moment, race did not exist. It was, as we now say, a social construct, something better understood as a product of history rather than of science.

When Morton assumed that the ancient Israelites, who he believed were white, would have never married ancient Egyptians if they were black, he failed to realize that racial prejudice was a “genuine American feeling,” Douglass wrote. “It assumes that a black skin in the East excites the same prejudice which we see here in the West.” Douglass was saying that we learn racism — we are not born with it.

Of course, engaging with ethnology on its own terms was a dangerous game. It sometimes meant that Douglass perpetuated scientific ways of thinking about race rather than simply dismantling its logic and insisting on race as a product of history. He borrowed from the ethnological theories of his friend James McCune Smith, a fellow black abolitionist and the nation’s first credentialed black physician, to argue that both black and white people would be improved by racial mixing.

Yet it would be wrong to dismiss these ideas as merely the result of Douglass’s own mixed racial heritage — his father, possibly his owner, was white — or as a backhanded insult to black history, to black culture. They were always written in the service of a clear political agenda, one that was radical for his time: full black integration rather than segregation.

In 1887, Douglass traveled to Egypt and published another essay about how the ancient Egyptians were, in fact, African. “I have long been interested in ethnology,” he wrote, and “I have wanted the evidence of greatness under the colored skin to meet and beat back the charge of natural, original and permanent inferiority.” He found it in the ancient pyramids and the majestic sphinxes, with their undeniably African features.

But even as Douglass refused to allow racist scientific theories to go unchallenged, he always understood that science was not the antidote to white people’s racism. There were only so many facts you could give to prove black people’s humanity.

In 1893, two years before his death, he was disturbed by the way the nation’s white scientific elite had represented people of African descent at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Scientists from Harvard and the Smithsonian helped design the exhibition, which mirrored what they took to be humankind’s racial progress from savage to civilized.

The pavilions for Haiti and for African nations, designed as primitive huts, came first. As you walked through the exhibition, you eventually crossed a bridge into the “White City,” which housed marbled pavilions for white nations, showcasing their marvelous scientific inventions.

One day was set aside for black Americans to present their own culture, and the press came ready to lampoon the event. White vendors had their fun too, bringing watermelons by the cartload. Some black leaders called for a boycott, but Douglass insisted that black people engage — after all, here was a chance to showcase black excellence.

But Douglass also wanted to set the record straight about race, or rather, about racism. This time, he did not bother making a scientific argument about black equality. Instead, he got to the heart of the matter and wanted the clutch of white reporters at the event to listen closely, to print it in all their papers.

The problem was not with black people, he said, it was with white people. If they loved their democracy as much as they said they did, they would stop looking to science to make excuses for their own failure to treat black Americans as equal citizens. As he put it: “The true problem is a national problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution.”

via Frederick Douglass’s Fight Against Scientific Racism – The New York Times

Black or white? In Brazil, a panel will decide for you

While the policy intent was understandable, implementation is another matter. Having officials develop an assessment table was bound to end up like this (like the history categorizing Blacks by their percentage of Black bloodline):

Public-service jobs in Brazil pay significantly better than private-sector ones and come with a host of generous benefits such as meal and transport allowances; workers are rarely fired and can retire at age 55 with large pensions. Competition, consequently, is fierce. Candidates must pass a gruelling exam that some study for and take repeatedly for five or six years.

Until August of this year, the quota system relied on candidates’ self-identification of their race. That system was being abused, by white people claiming to be mixed-race (although researchers estimate that no more than 5 per cent of applicants were lying).

Under pressure by some advocates from the black community, the government decided the solution was “commissions of verification” – tribunals that would evaluate each candidate. Guidelines from the Ministry of Planning said that panels should consider only physical attributes: “The forms and criteria for verifying the veracity of self-declaration should only consider the phenotypic aspects of the candidate, which will be checked in the presence of the candidate.”

That means that a panel of assessors (three, five or seven people) would look at each candidate and decide if their appearance matched their self-declared race.

Last August, officials in Para, Ms. Chaves’s state, released a chart of criteria for investigators to use, with a point system for physical characteristics such as “lips: thick,” “gums: pink,” “hair: frizzy.” It caused such an uproar that it was hastily withdrawn. But no information has been disclosed about what criteria examiners are using instead. Some tribunals work purely from physical appearance; some panelists apparently see race as more than that and ask candidates about their experience of discrimination, or their families.

The end result, frequently, is confusion. Ms. Chaves has no idea how the three people who made up her tribunal concluded she was white.

Eduardo Sobral, 30, a geologist who says he is mixed-race, was rejected for a reserved position with the Ministry of Planning in Brasilia. He was examined by video-conference, then asked about his “day-to-day life as a brown person.” He replied that it was “normal,” the interview ended and he was rejected. He is suing the ministry.

Rodrigo Campos, an electrician in the central state of Minas Gerais who says he is black, never even got before the assessors: They rejected him based on photos they asked him to submit. Meanwhile Igor Anatoli, a mixed-race police officer from Rio who is trying to join the diplomatic corps, went before a panel of seven in Brasilia in September; they chatted at length about his family and his experience of prejudice and ruled that he is, as he had declared, black.

Source: Black or white? In Brazil, a panel will decide for you – The Globe and Mail

A Wide Gulf Persists Between Black And White Perceptions Of Policing : NPR

Not surprising but nevertheless revealing, both in terms of the differences and the similarities:

A new study highlights differences between the races as they view the recent spate of deadly encounters between blacks and law enforcement.

A survey by the Pew Research Center finds only a third of blacks and nearly three-quarters of whites say police in their communities do an excellent or good job using appropriate force.

From Pew’s report:

“Most whites (75%) say their local police do an excellent or good job when it comes to using the right amount of force for each situation. Only 33% of blacks share this view; 63% say the police do only a fair or poor job in this area. About six-in-ten Hispanics (62%) say their community’s police are doing at least a good job in this area, while 35% say they are doing only a fair or poor job.

When it comes to treating racial or ethnic groups equally, 35% of blacks say the police department in their community does an excellent or good job, compared with 75% of whites. Conversely, about a quarter (23%) of blacks say their police department does only a fair job and about four-in-ten (38%) say they do a poor job. (Among whites, about a quarter – 24% – say their department does only a fair job or a poor job in treating racial and ethnic groups equally.) Roughly six-in-ten Hispanics (58%) say their local police are doing an excellent or good job in this area, while 38% say they are doing only a fair or poor job.”

The two races come to different conclusions about the reason for fatal incidents. About 8-in-10 blacks (79 percent) say the recent deaths are a sign of systemic problems between police and the black community, compared to 54 percent of whites.

The survey was conducted online and by mail with 4,538 U.S. adults between Aug. 16 and Sept. 12. The poll came before protests of a Sept. 16 shooting in Tulsa, Okla., as well as the fatal shooting of a black man in Charlotte, N.C. That shooting on Sept. 20 set off two nights of protests.

Both groups favor the use of body cameras by police to record encounters when dealing with the public. Overall, only about a third of all those surveyed have a “lot of confidence” in their own police department.

Race and the Standardized Testing Wars – The New York Times

Without data, hard to know where the issues are and what to do about them:

As a counterexample, he pointed to Kaya Henderson, the chancellor of Washington’s public schools, who has made it a requirement that all second graders learn how to ride a bicycle.

Ms. Henderson, in an interview, said she believed that, in the transition to the Common Core learning standards, states and districts had not been “as aggressive as they need to be in terms of changing their curriculum and professionally developing teachers and principals to really understand how to teach differently.”

Her own district, she said, spent four years developing a curriculum in which students hone their reading and math skills while studying a wide variety of subjects, including science and social studies.

She added that it was the responsibility of state and district leaders to emphasize the importance of field trips and extracurricular activities and to tell principals that “holding kids back from those kinds of things doesn’t help them on the test.”

“I’ve had to at some points remind my principals that kids should have a well-rounded experience all throughout the year, and it’s not O.K. to say no field trips until after the test,” she added.

But she also said that doing away with the tests would be most damaging to black and Latino students and those with disabilities. “Before No Child Left Behind, there were lots of schools where parents thought their kids were going to great schools, but after you disaggregated the results, you figured out that black kids and Latino kids or special-ed kids were actually worse off” than similar students in less high-performing schools, she said. “We need to know that kind of information. I don’t ever want to go back to a time when we don’t know.”

Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy and practice at the Education Trust, an organization that advocates for high academic achievement for poor and minority students, said she had watched the video produced by the Baltimore Algebra Project and been shaken by the students’ disappointment in their education and feelings of marginalization.

She said it was educators’ responsibility to speak to students about testing in a positive way. Ms. Brookins Santelises recalled an experience from when she was a middle schoolteacher, when she showed a student named Tabitha her test scores and explained to her that she was significantly below grade level in reading.

“She said to me, ‘Oh, my God, nobody told me I couldn’t read,’ ” Ms. Brookins Santelises recalled. “I watched how she started to internalize it, and I immediately said, ‘Wait a minute, hold up, this test is not Tabitha. But what this says is we’ve got some real work to do, and I am here to help you.’ ”

If students are being made to feel inferior, she said, it is because educators — from teachers to district officials — aren’t taking responsibility for their own failures and instead are sending low-income students the message that their poor performance is their fault.

Source: Race and the Standardized Testing Wars – The New York Times

Is ‘racial colour-blindness’ hurting our children?

The risks of colour blindness to identity (US study):

A new study by Social Psychological and Personality Science, When societal norms and social identity collide, asks this question in relation to how minority children living in western countries see both themselves and others. “Their racial background is often integral to their identity and how others perceive them,” stated the study’s authors Kristin Pauker, Evan Apfelbaum and Brian Spitzer. “Yet, talk of race is taboo.”

The study came to this conclusion after gathering 108 American-raised Latino, Asian, Black and Caucasian children between the ages of 9 and 12 and asked them to play a game similar to “Guess Who.” Each child was given 40 photos and told they had to ask as few questions as possible to figure out which card the other person was holding.

Children who come under the “visible minority” umbrella, it seems, were just as likely to avoid the topic of race.

“It is troubling that pressures to adhere to colour-blind norms override talk of race, even among racial minority children,” wrote the authors. In fact, only 40 per cent of the children asked questions like “are they Black?” or “are they White?” in order to win the game.

Afterwards, about 58 per cent said it would have been rude or offensive to ask those types of questions, while 23 per cent insisted it would be extremely racist. “Teachers are particularly important social referents for instilling norms regarding race,” noted the study.

Is ‘racial colour-blindness’ hurting our children? | Globalnews.ca

See How the Wealth Gap Between Whites and Non-Whites Is Getting Wider | TIME

wealthbyrace-avg1Not completely surprising but still striking nevertheless:

The average white family accumulated $677,656 in total assets in 2013, more than six times that of Latino families and seven times that of African-American families, according to a new study that shows ethnic minorities slipping behind in the post-recession economy.

The Urban Institute released a series of graphics that shows the wealth gap between white and non-white families widening from a multiple of five in the early 80’s to multiples of six and seven by 2013.

See How the Wealth Gap Between Whites and Non-Whites Is Getting Wider | TIME.

ICYMI: White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier – NYTimes.com

While not based on a random sample, nevertheless interesting results, showing just how much mixing has occurred, and continues to occur, in the US:

In the United States, there is a long tradition of trying to draw sharp lines between ethnic groups, but our ancestry is a fluid and complex matter. In recent years geneticists have been uncovering new evidence about our shared heritage, and last week a team of scientists published the biggest genetic profile of the United States to date, based on a study of 160,000 people

The researchers were able to trace variations in our genetic makeup from state to state, creating for the first time a sort of ancestry map.

“We use these terms — white, black, Indian, Latino — and they don’t really mean what we think they mean,” said Claudio Saunt, a historian at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the study.

The data for the new study were collected by 23andMe, the consumer DNA-testing company. When customers have their genes analyzed, the company asks them if they’d like to make their results available for study by staff scientists.

Over time the company has built a database that not only includes DNA, but also such details as a participant’s birthplace and the ethnic group with which he or she identifies. (23andMe strips the data of any information that might breach the privacy of participants.)

The scientists also have been developing software that learns to recognize the origins of the short segments of DNA that make up our genomes. Recently they used their program to calculate what percentage of each subject’s genomes was inherited from European, African or Native American forebears.

“This year we saw that we were in a great position to do the analysis,” said Joanna L. Mountain, senior director of research at 23andMe.

On average, the scientists found, people who identified as African-American had genes that were only 73.2 percent African. European genes accounted for 24 percent of their DNA, while .8 percent came from Native Americans.

White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier – NYTimes.com.