Mixed-Race Numbers Expected to Increase on 2010 Census
When she fills out her 2010 Census form this week, Mei-Ling Malone is looking forward to answering Question #9 â€• “the race question.” She’s adamant about documenting her multiracial background.
Malone, who studied multiracial politics at UC Irvine and is now pursuing a doctorate at UCLA, has an African-American father and a Taiwanese mother. For Malone, 26, this is her first opportunity to respond to a census and possibly provide a different answer to the race question than what her parents may have noted for her 10 years ago.
“President Obama is called our first black president, yet his mother was white," she said. "For a majority of people who are black and multiracial, we are physically viewed as black, and treated, or discriminated [against] as such. I’m glad that when I indicate I’m multiracial, I’m also counted as black.”
On 2010 Census forms, respondents have the option to self-identify more than one race. Ten years ago, when, for the first time, respondents had options to self-identify as more than one race, nearly 7 million people (roughly 2.4 percent of the respondents) indicated such.
This year the boxes on Question #9 reflect five different races, seven Asian ethnicities and four Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander groups. For those who do not identify with any of those groups, they can write in a response to indicate any race they wish to be counted as.
Some criticize the race categories on the U.S. Census form as not being inclusive of our diverse population, but Census officials are quick to respond to these charges. They point to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) “Directive 15 “ (issued in 1997) that sets the federal standards for collecting, classifying and tabulating data on race and ethnicity across all federal agencies.
For Census 2000, the question on race included 15 separate checkbox response categories and three areas where respondents could write in a specific response. This same approach is used for Census 2010.
The checkbox response categories and write-in responses can be combined to create the five minimum OMB-defined race categories plus the category "Some Other Race." In addition to "White," "Black or African American," "American Indian and Alaska Native" and "Some Other Race," seven of the 15 response categories are "Asian" (Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Other Asian) and four are "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" (Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, Other Pacific Islander).
The actual data collection process works as follows: The Census Bureau first takes responses from 2010 Census forms and scans and captures the answers. Then, this information is turned into electronic text. For Question #9, an “auto coder” â€• a computer program that classifies and tabulates write-in information â€• then tabulates the data into different multiracial combinations of the initial race groups.
The five major race categories, as defined by the OMB, plus the "Some Other Race" category, can be put together in 57 possible unique combinations of two, three, four, five or six races. When this information is added to data of the six single-race groups, the Census Bureau will have 63 different tabulated categories.
While there are many options for race self-reporting, those who advocate individuality, and intend to write in “American” or “human being” â€• responses that the Census Bureau has received in the past â€• will not have their race tabulated in the final race data.
For the majority of respondent answers, answers to Question #9 will arguably yield some of the most interesting data for our “Portrait of America” –- the phrase used by the Census Bureau in many of its advertisements to describe the work of the decennial census.
Heightened racial awareness and numbers of self-reported multiracial identity are expected to increase. Many believe this is a reflection of social change and greater opportunities since the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which overturned the laws against interracial marriage that were still in effect in 16 states.
"A fascinating phenomenon of our nation’s dynamic nature of racial and ethnic composition is that it is diverse and always changing," said Nicholas Jones, chief of Census Bureau Racial Statistics. "The Census 2010 results will provide a new portrait of America, with information on the racial and ethnic diversity in the population, as well as the changes in the multiracial population.”
A Census Bureau brief on its 2000 data showed 40 percent of those who reported more than one race lived in the West. With 1.6 million self-reported multiracial persons in California, this was the only state with a “two or more races” population greater than 1 million.
Ten years ago, 40 percent of the self-reported multiracial population was under age 18.
“This is a historic opportunity," Jones said. "For the first time, we will have information from two decennials to make comparisons and analyze past and present characteristics and how multiracial self-reporting translates over age groups and gender."
Beyond data on self-awareness and interesting social trends, more significant is how Census 2010 results will shape and influence public policy.
“For those who may think that the option to identify with more than one race is trivial, they are mistaken," said Christopher Parker, a professor of political science at the University of Washington. "Marking more than one box can affect both the enforcement of civil rights and inform the political behavior of those who choose more than one racial category with which to identify.”
Malone, for one, sees the value in that.
“While race is not a biological category, it’s important in determining how people are received, treated and what opportunities they will have," Malone said. "In order to monitor progress, race needs to be quantified when information is officially collected.”
It will take approximately six months to collect, analyze and tabulate the data. The Census Bureau is required by law to deliver a population count to President Obama by Dec. 31.
This story was produced in collaboration with Spot.us.