NOT AN "OTHER"
JULY 16, 1997
Increasingly, many Americans find they don't easily fit into any racial group. But will adding a new "multiracial" category on the census take away the effectiveness of the count? After this background piece by Betty Ann Bowser, Paul Solman leads a debate.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Kathleen Hom, David Williams, and their daughter represent one of the fastest growing segments of the population; they are a multi-ethnic family. Hom is Chinese. Williams is white. Their daughter is both. But when Melinda has been asked to identify herself by race, frequently she has had to choose either white or Asian. But now under a new administration proposal when the year 2,000 census is taken, Americans would be allowed to choose more than one category when they fill out the form. In the 1990 census form, there were 16 boxes for racial identification, including one labeled "other." A person was instructed to circle only one box. In the proposed new form, a person is allowed to mark one or more categories to indicate what race they consider themselves to be. And the "other" category is deleted.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
July 16, 1997
Paul Solman leads a debate on the multiracial census category.
June 18, 1997
Essayist Richard Rodriguez discusses his views on checking the race box.
June 12, 1997:
Despite a clash over a ban on census sampling included in the bill, a flood relief package to help northwestern states passes Congress.
June 11, 1997:
Reps. Shimkus and Allen discuss the role of the census in flood relief problems.
U.S. Census Bureau
DAVID WILLIAMS, Parent: I've thought about this for Melinda. If a child is choosing one or the other, in some sense the child is choosing which parent, and that's, I think, a very, very difficult thing to do. And the way it's been too, with the remaining category "other," I mean, your whole identity is a phrase "other." I mean, this is--I think that's really demeaning.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: When the 1990 census was taken about 10 million people identified themselves as "other," or of mixed race. Over the past thirty years the number of mixed marriages has grown from about 150,000 to more than one million--and the number of racially mixed American children has quadrupled to two million. After a lengthy study, a 30-agency federal task force unanimously agreed those numbers merit a new approach to the census form. It recommended the new proposal, which the task force says will more accurately count the population. Kathleen Hom thinks it's a good idea.
KATHLEEN HOM, Parent: We're finally taking down the "You must fit in one box." We're finally saying, "You, as an individual, with all these different things that make you individual, all those things count." And for my daughter, as my husband said, it's not having to choose; not having to say "I'd rather be this or I'd rather be that, because I must choose one thing."
BETTY ANN BOWSER: More than a head count of the American people is at stake. Census data is used to determine how the federal govt allocates money--for everything from education to housing, medical research, and affirmative action. But equally important, the census is also used to decide how the House of Representatives and state legislatures across the country are apportioned. The proposal is a defeat for those who have been pushing for a new all-purpose category on the census form, a new box that would say "multiracial." People who support this concept say they don't belong in any of the existing categories. Last summer they held a demonstration in front of the capitol to show their support for the multiracial category. But the task force said a "multiracial" box would "create another population group and no doubt add to racial tension and fragmentation of our population".