My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Adventures With the Race and Ethnicity Questions

To all of the enumerators and other workers out there, let’s here your stories in the comments section about how people respond to the race and ethnicity questions…

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33 Responses to “Adventures With the Race and Ethnicity Questions”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    why? what’s the point?

    BTW are you going to retract that last story or not?

  2. Sherry Says:

    Nobody’s had a problem with it, surprisingly. But several people of Mexican ethnicity insisted on being called Mexican as their race, so I had to X other and write Mexican under all their names.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I embrace the multi-cultural, multi-race/ethnicity of the U.S. This is one of the major reasons I wanted to work for the Census. I sincerely write down what the individual tells me. Many people of all races have been offended by the term “Negro”. Most people of very proud of their racial heritage and tell me what race they are. If it is not listed, I check “Other” and write exactly what they tell me. This is important to each individual that I have interviewed. Some people ask me to write “American” and I write this after checking “Other”.

    The 19 year old teen and his family should not have had to justify what he was or wasn’t. There is no excuse for the behavior of that Census worker as an employee or a human being.

  4. Dean Says:

    Someone refusing to tell me anything but the number of people living in her household insisted, with her chin up, “I am an AMERICAN!”

  5. Maiasaura Says:

    Both the “Hispanic Origin” and the “Race” questions are remarkable for their short-sighted stupidity. When I was enumerating in the Milwaukee area, I observed that:

    * People who had any African-American heritage identified themselves as “African-American”, even people who looked to be racially mixed. No one said they were “Black”, “African-American/White” or “Negro”.

    * People who said they were of Hispanic origin identified very specifically the country or countries their family originated from (Peruvian, Mexican, Spanish, etc.)

    * African-Americans were slightly insulted that I even asked the “Hispanic” question. They did not want to be considered Hispanic in any way.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Maiasaura, that’s great; however, my respondents were opposite. I told them we have “unlimited” choices for race. Well, that opened a floodgate for some individuals! I had 2 to 3 lines written by the “Other” box for one gentleman. Remember, we are recording info for future generations, too. Ancestry.com would be proud. :)

  7. CLA Dave Says:

    No problems here. Quite a few people insist on Hispanic or Mexican. No extra-terrestrials yet, but I’m hoping. :)

  8. NarfooSnafoo Says:

    Eh. I had only one who said “[European Country]-American.” I get generic black/white responses, no “I’m an American” statements.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Comedy Central: race – Other – Micky Mouse, Donald Duck, Star Trek (Trekkie), etc.

  10. SAS Says:

    One person in my office had an EQ where the respondent had indicated that they were every race—except Black.

  11. Linda M Says:

    We’ve had everything from “Elvish” to “Human” to “Race is an outdated concept.”

  12. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    For those who are wondering (or complaining) about the “Negro” option, it’s simply there because a significant number of older black folks, primarily in the South, still use that term. African-American, black and Negro are simply synonyms; that’s why that option is one choice. Nothing conspiratorial or racist about it.

    Presumably, there are no people left who would identify themselves as “colored”, but that was once the accepted term for black folks. Terms change over time.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    YAE, I beg to differ with you. I have had several older African-American individuals offended by the term “Negro”.

  14. GS-X Says:

    Anonymous,
    I think you went off the farm when told residents there are unlimited choices for race.
    You have only so many little boxes and you can write only one letter in each little box.
    Please reread the Enumerator Manual on this subject. The two to three lines you are
    writing by the Other box will not only not get scanned; they may screw up the scan of
    whatever you write within the little boxes.

  15. Crew Leader Says:

    Other CLs in my district were expressing frustration with the race question. A typical statement was, “You would think, after all these years, we’d have this figured out by now.” My responce was, “The race question isn’t getting more simple with time…it’s getting more complex.”

    The lines between the races aren’t being more defined, they are being blurred. We are blending more, now. We are becoming more & more homogeneous.

    One sad note in regards to this: Redheads will, one day, become extinct. I love red hair & encourage all redheads to stop breeding with brunettes. Don’t breed out the red hair gene!

    My CLD is heavily Hispanic. I find that most South Americans insist on being Hispanic. Most Mexicans say they’re white. Most Guatemalans are Mayan.

  16. Detroit region Says:

    I found Hispanics generally unsure as to what to select for race. I also ran into quite a few people who wanted American to be written in for their race. Then there were the white people who seemed insulted that they were even being asked these questions. Most infuriating was the CLA who wanted the enumerators to answer the race questions themselves based on the respondent’s looks and/or last name. Isn’t that considered racial profiling?

  17. 'nuff already Says:

    Go check out the blog called “Angry Black Bitch.” Let the
    ABB set you straight as to why blacks are offended by use of the word negro in 2010. Apparently, there’s many a black folk who refuse to participate in the census because the “n” word was used. Lawdy! I went to many a black household and only one woman commented that she had heard the word “negro,” was included, but she laughed it off. Perhaps others should follow suit?

  18. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @Anonymous, May 25th, 2010 at 4:35 am: I didn’t say, or intend to imply that all older black folks would refer to themselves as “Negro, just that some (a significant number, primarily in the South) do so.

    This came up both in our training and out in the field as I was interviewing (I worked in primarily black neighborhoods). In both cases were were instructed by the respondent to cross off “Negro” on the EQ, which I obediently did. Not that it makes any damn difference, of course, but it did make the respondent feel better, which I was glad to do.

    “Negro” is both just a synonym for “African American” or “black” and a racially-loaded term for some folks. This is emblematic of the complex problems with the whole question of compiling “racial” statistics on the American population …

  19. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @Detroit region: what you described (the enumerator choosing a race for the respondent) was exactly what we did when I worked for an earlier operation of the Census, GQE (group quarters enumeration), when we were instructed to do “enumeration by observation” if we approached someone who refused to answer our questions, or at least refused to answer the race question. If we could make a definite good guess as to the person’s race, we filled that out on our ICRs (individual census reports, the GQE equivalent of EQs). So no, in that context it’s not “racial profiling”.

    On the other hand, we were were instructed in NRFU training not to guess at a respondent’s race if they didn’t answer that question.

  20. mollysydney Says:

    Many blacks were confused by 3 choices given for their race; they seemed to think they had to choose one. Among other ‘races’ discovered: Appalachian Indians, Black Sicilians, White Sicilians. A lot of people tried to answer the race question when asked whether they were Hispanic, Latino etc. “No. I’m white.” Or the other variant, “No, I’m black.”
    Why no category for Middle Eastern, Arabic? Seems the whole race questions is ambiguous – more ethnic origin than race. And that has evolved over the years at the Census Bureau.

  21. NarfooSnafoo Says:

    @Linda M–

    “Race is an outdated concept.”

    I saw that in one of the forms during GQE, after we wrapped up one GQ. You’re from Indiana?

  22. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    Why no category for Middle Eastern? Arabic is not a race, that’s why. Though perhaps that should have been one of the ethnicity questions.

    It’s a sticky mess, a can o’worms, for sure. On the other hand, if you look at the bigger picture, it will probably yield some statistically useful information. Most people picked one of the “canned” choices, after all.

    My take on this: the whole issue of race wouldn’t matter and shouldn’t be asked if there were no such thing as racism, meaning racial discrimination in the U.S. But there is, so we need to quantify these things in order to eliminate racism (like that’s ever going to happen …)

  23. Anonymous Says:

    GS-X and YAE: Unlimited race “Other” is OK and 2 to 3 lines written underneath the category do scan successfully. “Negro” is offensive to some older African-American people (and other human beings) because of the negative emotions it conjures up — especially the Jim Crow era.

  24. In The South Says:

    The issue our group of enumerators is having is with Rush Limbaugh audience members. Apparently he told his audience that when the Census workers come to your door and ask what race you are, the only correct answer is “AMERICAN”. Mr. Limbaugh, “American” is not a race, but a nationality. However, we are required to write the answer given and we do. I’m still not exactly sure why race information is needed any more, but I’m sure some statistician somewhere is having palpitations just waiting for all this data…

  25. Kai Kai Says:

    I’ve had several different responses. An elderly woman (African American) was offended about the question Q#5, she was like um why would you ask me such a thing! Don’t you see what color my skin is! (I explained that I have to read the questions as is). I’m sorry but I had to laugh (after I left her home) because I grew up with people of all colors/shades and many where her exact color and Q#5 applied. Well also I’ve run into issues with Q#6 people who wanted to put other and didn’t know what group to put. Many told me to put American or Spanish. I put whatever they tell me. Q#6 has left out some major races and I feel for the future needs to have those added and not just “other”. As for the “Negro” selection, I am born and raised southern (African American, Creek Indian, and Irish) and I feel strong that “Negro” should be removed from the selection. If they are going to leave it as “Negro” they might as well put “Colored” on there too, because these are both just as offensive.

  26. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    But as I explained, that choice (Negro) is there because there are still significant numbers of people who self-identify that way, but none alive who would identify as “colored”. That choice (Negro) will certainly disappear in the future, perhaps one or two censuses past this one.

    It’s not a matter of the term being offensive; it’s a matter of it being what people identify themselves as. Most black folks do NOT identify as Negro, and some of them are offended. If they like, they can have the enumerator cross that choice off on the EQ (I had this requested of me in the field).

  27. DQ Says:

    My favorite was the family with 2 parents who were Hispanic/Mexican, and 3 kids who were Hispanic/Mexican_AMERICAN .

    As clerks we’ve been told to take anything at all in the race boxes.

  28. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    Well, DQ, as funny or ridiculous or pathetic as that may sound to you, think about it a minute. We’re asking people what race they are. What is race? To them, it’s what kind of people they are. These folks aren’t sociologists or anthropologists or political scientists; to them, say a family where the parents were born in Mexico, moved here and had children, then it seems perfectly sensible for them to identify their children as Mexican-American. The distinction between “ethnicity” and “race” is a very fine one, and it’s pretty academic. So such responses are only to be expected, in my view.

  29. Blanche Says:

    I got a sociologist in his sixties who went off on the race question. “There is no such thing as race. Here you have every combination of melanin, why not let that be? I’ll tell you who this question is for — politicians. They like things in boxes. If you ever worked in a coding room as I have, you’d know how wrong these questions are.” I’m getting all sorts of responses, most not on the list of official races. Most of the Hispanic respondents I’ve had insist on Hispanic as race or “Ecuadorian”. Some of the whites say “I’m boring, just white.” One of my crewmates tells people, “Try not to think about these questions too much.”

  30. Enumerator John Says:

    First off, I think people offended by the word ‘negro’ need to mellow out.
    Sorry, but in the Spanish language, ‘negro’ means black.

    I had a few black people yell things at me like ‘not interested’ after looking at the info sheet and then slamming their door in my face (I’m white).

    Some responses I’ve heard for Q#6:

    White
    Spanish
    Guamanian
    Filipino
    Native American
    Puerto Rican
    Latino
    Nepalese
    Mongolian
    Palestinian
    Saudi
    Other Asian – Russian (looked white to me! ;-)

    Unfortunately, I didn’t encounter any Kazakhs.

    And of course some mixes of the above.

    In my 1st EQ observation during training I asked a black woman if she was of Hispanic origin, to which she declared, “Do I look Hispanic!?!”

    The white people that respond with a depressed tone, “I’m just white”, make me laugh.

    Had one woman identify her female ‘partner’. I had to hold in a chuckle.
    I guess they had a daughter. I’m not one to judge.

    The mothers and fathers that identify themselves as Mexican and their children as “AMERICAN!” crack me up.

  31. NRFU Clerk Says:

    My favorite response I’ve seen so far while QCing EQs was one man who insisted his race was “Gay.” This led to an office-wide discussion as to what could or could not count as a race; some likened this to claiming their race as Loves Dogs or Cubs Fan, while others claimed it was just the same as someone claiming to be Klingon. To that, the OOSFO argued, “At least being a Klingon is hereditary!”

  32. anonymous Says:

    I just write down exactly what the respondent tells me.

  33. NRFUnator Says:

    Me: “Please look at list D and choose one or more races… and your roommate?”
    Respondent yells across the house, “HEY WHAT RACE ARE YOU?”
    Roommate yells back: “I’M HALF KOREAN AND HALF WHITE, BUT I HAVE A BIG BLACK [fill in the blank]!” “MAKE SURE YOU WRITE THAT DOWN!”