E Pluribus Unum

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,
(3) Asian,
(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
2 Asian
3 Black or African American
5 White
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

Ethnic Flag
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.

Questions.  

  • 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
  • both.

The sooner the better for the United States.

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22 responses to “E Pluribus Unum

  1. From our “You Can’t Make This Schist Up” department….only 32? As I recall, when my wife was a VCU adjunct, her personnel paperwork had 17 categories under gender….maybe it is 30 some now, too.

    Reductio ad absurdum is NOT a fallacy, but instead a proof. 🙂

    • 32 makes sense. One for each of your contributed chromosomes to each offspring. I’m beginning to think genetic testing would be easier. Hey! Maybe that’s the plan! Wear us down until we submit to a national database. Worked for Real ID.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Don’t forget Annuit Coeptis: “He favors our endeavors.”
    and
    Novus Ordo Seclorum: “A new order for the ages.”
    Brought to us by founding Father Charles Thomson.

    Were the race classifications organized 1-32 in any particular manner? Curious arrangement.

  3. Defendit Numerus!

  4. They really do need one more,
    33) I have no effing idea,
    for the minority of us adoptees who really don’t have an effing idea!

  5. Boy, all these studies keep using this available data to show that there are pretty clear disparities along racial and ethnic lines. What should we do about it? I know! Get rid of the data!

  6. I don’t understand the point of this post. Yes, we know data is not 100 percent accurate. Would you prefer that we have no data at all? A lot of the reason for the collection of data is to guard against the discrimination of minorities. (It happens, you know.)

    It is legitimate to question or criticize the uses to which the data is put or to question the usefulness of specific data, but to oppose the collection of data generally is wrong-headed.

  7. Does a student have a privacy right not to have a school official assign racial and ethnic classifications to the student and report them to state and federal governments? Does a student have a right to challenge the categorization given to her/him by the school, the state or the federal government? Can a student object to be categorized as Asian and insist on being classified as Laotian, Japanese or Siberian? Some courts have been holding that a student can challenge the gender assignment given by the school system. What is the difference?

    How about people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh? Genetically, they are Caucasian, but tend to be classified as Asian. Can they insist they can choose their classification?

    How about people with Celtic ancestry, Irish, Scots, French from Brittany? While there are academic debates on the details, many think that Celts who had lived in Galatia, northern Spain, migrated to Ireland, Scotland and other locales settled by Celts. I’m more than 80% Irish and Scots, but my DNA matches well to old lines from Spain. Wouldn’t I have a right to claim I’m really Hispanic as it’s quite likely that I had ancestors who lived on the Iberian Peninsula? Why not? What’s the difference between determining the racial/ethnic classification of descendants of people who moved from Spain to South and North America and descendants of people moving from Spain to the British Isles or northwest France?

    How about religious/ethnic discrimination? It wasn’t until 2020 that SCOTUS struck down the 19th Century Blaine amendments as unconstitutional. As anyone who knows real history, states adopted these amendments and prohibited state aid for religious schools not because of separation of church and state, but rather, because of hatred of Catholic Irish and Italians. Virginia laws still reflect this bigotry and discrimination today.

    The left personifies Animal Farm – some victims are more important than other victims. Some discrimination is wrong, while the rest of it should not be discussed in woke communities.

    • The school doesn’t assign those designations, parents/guardians do when they enroll their student in school. The registration form is the point of truth in race/ethnicity determinations.

      Fun fact- the same student may have two different race/ethnicities in a single year. For example, in the VA SOL testing program, students must be registered for the testing administration (spring non-writing for example), and then registered for each test in that registration (such as Grade 3 Reading, Grade 3 Math, etc.). The race/ethnicity is coded at the test level, not the administration level. Therefore, a student who was registered by a white father at School A may have registered the student as white. The student takes his Grade 3 Reading SOL test on Tuesday, and is coded white on that test. That day, the mother gets custody of the student in court, and registers him at another school as Asian. When he takes his Grade 3 Math SOL test on Wednesday, he is coded as Asian. This is how the data is reported out from there.

  8. Pingback: Race vs. Class in Education Personal Data Collection – An Alternative | Bacon's Rebellion

  9. “ 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.”

    Of course there is no scientific basis for categorizing 59% of the world’s population under one “Asian” race category. Race is a social construct, not a scientific reality. There is literally no way to be more “scientific” about categorizing people into different biological races, since they do not actually exist.

  10. Pingback: Race vs. Class in Education Personal Data Collection – An Alternative – The World-Africa-Nigeria

  11. Hmmmm… if I’m a boy and want to be classified as a girl is that ok,,or can I be a dog maybe,,,
    And do we really want to be classifying people ,,, I thought we were trying to get away from that sort of thing,,,
    And will we use that against people,,, sure,, if you’re a smart Asian we might not let you go to TJ high school because it doesn’t have enough of some other classification..
    Just looks like another way for government to do what they do best..
    Pick Winners and Losers…

    • Unfortunately we already have winners and losers, and to a certain degree they are somewhat divided along racial lines. For example, let’s look at SOL performance at the regional level in Virginia. In 2019, the difference between the top and bottom pass rates among Virginia’s regions on the Math SOL tests was about 6 point for white students, and almost 13 points for black students. Given that it is the educational system’s responsibility to educate all students, and we don’t want to ensure that a student’s immutable attributes doom him or her to sub par achievement, it is very useful to look at this aggregate data. We have to identify the problems, problem solve to address them, and monitor our progress to ensure we’re fixing it.

  12. When asked to specify my race I write “Virginian”. Based on the notion that race seems to be identified by where you were born or at least where your parents were born. Maybe I’ll start to simplify it further and just state “Human”.

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