Mixed-Race Population Makes for Difficult Math

February 10, 2011  |  

(New York Times) — The federal Department of Education would categorize Michelle López-Mullins — a university student who is of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee and Cherokee descent — as “Hispanic.” But the National Center for Health Statistics, the government agency that tracks data on births and deaths, would pronounce her “Asian.” And what does Ms. López-Mullins’s birth certificate from the State of Maryland say? It doesn’t mention her race.  Ms. López-Mullins, 20, usually marks “other” on surveys these days, but when she filled out a census form last year, she chose Asian, Hispanic, Native American and white.  The chameleon-like quality of Ms. López-Mullins’s racial and ethnic identification might seem trivial except that statistics on ethnicity and race are used for many important purposes. These include assessing disparities in health, education, employment and housing, enforcing civil rights protections, and deciding who might qualify for special consideration as members of underrepresented minority groups.  But when it comes to keeping racial statistics, the nation is in transition, moving, often without uniformity, from the old “mark one box” limit to allowing citizens to check as many boxes as their backgrounds demand.

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