Self-identification and the US 2010 Census

[I hesitated for quite some time to post this article because the Census and ethnicity are such big categories – how can I possibly scratch the surface? So, my scratch:]

We’ve talked previously about the critical importance of self-identification. Two of the ten questions (questions 8 and 9) on the US 2010 Census focus ethnicity and “race.”

Question 9 asks for an identification of “race.” Census respondents are indeed able to check multiple boxes, allowing for self-identification of multiple ethnicities; and there are write-in options. The Census Bureau has broken “race” into five categorizations, with varying terms: White, Black, American Indian, Asian, other. (In the interest of space, I’ve noted only the first of varying terms listed.) The incongruity is that these five categorizations leave large holes – namely, how do those of mid-East or Hispanic heritage identify themselves? And again, we’re back to the fundamental question of self-identification versus identification initiated by others.

Question 8 inquires whether the respondent’s ethnicity is Hispanic, Latino or Spanish, with further categorization.

Further perspectives:

* Baratunde Thurston’s YouTube commentary in response to his own appearance on CNN

* NPR’s story on All Things Considered about movements within the Arab-American community whether to self-identify as “white”

* CNN’s Raquel Cepeda inquiring of individuals on the street their thoughts on the census categorizations

* Randy Cordova for Arizona Central on the impact of the census questions for Hispanics [and yes, I did choose Arizona Central for ironic effect, considering recent Arizona legislation]

* President Obama’s self-identification as “”Black, African American or Negro”

Now I must question the census: why such an emphasis on “race” and ethnicity, why not an emphasis on other major self-identifiers? The marketing campaign for the 2010 Census centers around funding for local communities, hospitals, schools and public works / infrastructure projects – the government determines distribution of some financial support based on the number of residents in a community. The choice in data collection leads to the ability to analyze – that is, the census sets the framework for its usability based on the questions it asks, the data it collects. How will the Census Bureau utilize its answers, and what is it missing?


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