This week’s 10 Questions in the magazine when to the Census Director.
I asked about the use of the word negro. His full response after the jump.
Why is the word “Negro”–a word considered by many to be a racial slur— used as one of the choices in the race section?
Matthew Thacker Bowling Green, OH
Common question. It’s a slightly long story. Before the 2000 Census there were a set of research studies that queried how people would self classify racially. At that time, one of the discoveries was that there was an aging cohort of African Americans who in free form, if I just said, what word do you use to describe your race, they would say, Negro. For that reason in the 2000 form, that word was used. So the check box had the label, black, African American or Negro. That’s exactly what we’re using now. There was a surprise in the 2000 Census connected with this. There were about 50,000 people who checked that box and then in the free-form response below, also wrote in Negro. We inferred from that, that they felt pretty strongly that that’s the word they wanted to describe themselves. We analyzed the characteristics of that group and to our surprise, half of them were under 45 years of age. That was a finding. This decade there wasn’t as much research on the exact wording. I regret that as a social scientist, and we’ve apologized to people who find it offensive. I can tell you the motivation to keep it that way was to go over the board to be inclusive for all the groups. There are other words there are offensive to other subgroups, but some folks say, That’s me. My hunch is that the measurement of race will be constantly changing in this society. In fact, it’s a study itself just to go back and see how we measured it in the past. And it changes almost every decade. Most of the research this decade was based on the fascinating result that if you ask ethnicity before race, you get different on race than if you ask race before ethnicity. A finding that most people wouldn’t guess beforehand. There was a lot of study about the order of those things and what seemed to be best.
I’m curious, what’s the difference?
It mainly affects Hispanics. Those that can say, I’m first Hispanic and then now let me consider myself on racial terms, it changes the rate of Black Hispanics versus White Hispanics.
Why is race relevant at all to the census?
Christine Hermann, Middletown, DE
It is mandated under the restrictions of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts. We ask race/ethnicity because when the states redistrict, many of the states redistricting plans are reviewed by a unit within the Department of Justice to make sure that the racial composition of the congressional districts they drew up or they’re proposing are not discriminatory. It’s actually a law. We’re following this law.