by James C. Sherlock
Federal and state executive and legislative branches and the courts make thousands of decisions daily based on race and ethnicity data.
The federal regulations for gathering and reporting those data have been imposed in response to civil rights laws. The iron law of unintended consequences has taken precedence as it often does in such matters.
We know absolutely that those data are wrong: both artificially constructed and inaccurately reported. The working assumption in the drafting of the regulations is that the data will be close enough for government work. Let’s take a look.
Race and ethnic information about educational system participants is required by the federal government from the states, by the states from school districts and institutions of higher education and by those institutions from individuals, all driven by federal regulations.
Data about school staff, teachers and students are being collected at each of those levels and consolidated at each level in reporting.
Top Level Requirement: Racial and Ethnic Descriptions reported by the Virginia Department of Education to the Federal Government
From the Federal Register:
When reporting data to the Department (of Education), educational institutions and other recipients will report aggregated racial and ethnic data in the following seven categories:
(1) Hispanic/Latino of any race; and, for individuals who are non-Hispanic/ Latino only,
(2) American Indian or Alaska Native,
(4) Black or African American,
(5) Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander,
(6) White, and
(7) Two or more races.
…The Department’s final guidance, which is consistent with OMB guidance, is designed to ensure that OCR (Office of Civil Rights) and other offices in the Department have access to all necessary racial and ethnic information about all individuals participating in federally-funded programs for monitoring, enforcement, and research purposes.
If any Department office needs additional racial and ethnic information about individuals, the final guidance requires educational institutions and other recipients to maintain the original responses from staff and students for a specific length of time announced at the time of the data collection.
In addition to being required to maintain this detailed information for the Department, States, educational institutions and other recipients are encouraged to continue to make such data and information available to the public, civil rights advocates, parents, and other members of the public, within the constraints permitted under applicable privacy and other laws.
When reporting racial and ethnic data, these entities are also encouraged to make public their methods used to bridge or allocate the data longitudinally.
But these data arrive at the federal level through several steps.
Step 1: Individual Racial and Ethnic Questionnaires
Those requirements are fulfilled by individuals (staff, teachers, post-secondary students and by the parents of primary and secondary school students) in the education system by answering a required two-part question that allows them to check off one or more of the races above in addition to answering the Hispanic yes/no question.
Accurate answers to those questions would of course be subject to genetic testing.
The answers people, including parents, actually provide is based on genetic testing (for a very few), family trees (which can hide inconvenient episodes), family lore, guesses, social attitudes, and other personal considerations or, in some cases, ignorance.
Parents of primary and secondary students have an option to refuse to answer, whereupon the federal Department of Education requires ‘‘observer identification’’ of the race and ethnicity of elementary and secondary school students when self-identification or identification by the parents does not occur. (I am not making that up.)
One question is whether the aggregation of such answers satisfies the requirements for accuracy in government decision making.
The other is whether the people of the United States and the goals of their nation are being properly served.
Step 2: School districts and higher education institutions report Racial and Ethnic data to the state
The reporting from the level of a school district or institution of higher learning to the state is then formatted and reported as follows:
Racial and Ethnic Code Descriptions collected by the Virginia Department of Education
1 American Indian or Alaskan Native
3 Black or African American
6 Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
7 American Indian or Alaskan Native and Asian
8 American Indian or Alaskan Native and Black or African American
9 American Indian or Alaskan Native and White
10 American Indian or Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
11 Asian and Black or African American
12 Asian and White
13 Asian and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
14 Black or African American and White
15 Black or African American and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
16 Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and White
17 American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian and Black or African American
18 American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian and White
19 American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
20 Asian, Black or African American and White
21 Asian, Black or African American and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
22 Black or African American, White and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
23 Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and American Indian or Alaskan Native
24 White, Black or African American and American Indian or Alaskan Native
25 White, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and American Indian or Alaskan Native
26 White, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and Asian
27 American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Black or African American and White
28 Asian, Black or African American, White and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
29 Black or African American, White, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and American Indian or Alaskan Native
30 White, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaskan Native and Asian
31 Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian and Black or African American
32 American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Black or African American, White and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
Y Yes, individual is Hispanic/Latino
N No, individual is not Hispanic/Latino
The state collects these data and then provides them to the federal government in the seven category format cited earlier by combining all of the individual races checked in multiple race answers into the “two or more races” category.
But as the Federal Register indicates, the state must retain the more specific information in case a federal agency asks for it, and is encouraged to release it to the community in the more complex format.
The federal and state governments then take this mess and treat it like it was handed down by God to make decisions that affect us all.
- We came to this in fulfillment of the federal obligations to enforce civil rights laws. Are we moving the ball forward in the pursuit of racial justice by increasing the number of racial and ethnic slices of the population?
- Are there too many categories or not enough? Asian, for example, describes 59% (world atlas) of the world’s people. Yet the federal government led by the guidelines of the Office of Management and Budget currently treats Asians as a single “race.” That is a bureaucratic decision without any scientific basis made purely for the purpose of convenience.
- Finally, is this single-minded focus on race and ethnicity really OK with the people?
We already know the data are inaccurate. Perhaps the best hope is that eventually there are so many categories that they prove functionally useless.
Even that will not prevent them from being required by federal regulators until a federal court says “stop” over:
- constitutional concerns; or
- the accuracy of the data for the uses to which they are put by executive branches and courts. There is enough genetic testing data now to prove the futility of asking individual citizens to provide the answers to such questions; or
The sooner the better for the United States.There are currently no comments highlighted.