“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
“It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.”John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
OMB Expanding Racial Categories: Implications for Affirmative Action
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is updating its race and ethnicity statistical standards. It is doing this to try to provide “consistent data on race and ethnicity…throughout the Federal Government, including the decennial census, household surveys, and Federal administrative forms ( e.g., benefit application forms).”
Comments on the OMB proposal are due by April 27th.
Any discussion on the topics in this article is likely fraught with emotion with an overlay of vested interests. As a result, there is little open, thoughtful discussion and seeking common ground among those with differing points of view.
Once a policy is in place, it takes on a life of its own with entrenched supporters and detractors but little substantive change. Those who have worked within a government agency know that changing long-standing policies and procedures is a difficult process, even if the original facts justifying the policy no longer exist.
With the government’s continuing emphasis on race and other personal characteristics, one might expect that these policies are in the national interest and help ensure America’s place in the top tier of successful countries. The reality and consequences may not support this conclusion.
While the OMB proposal notes that “the categories are not to be used for determining the eligibility of population groups for participation in any Federal programs,” the reality is different. The classifications can be used to “allocate needed resources,” and “program administration and assessment, and enforcement of existing laws and judicial decisions”.
And, for federal employees, applicants for jobs or promotions in the favored racial or ethnic categories are likely to be given more consideration to be able to meet agency goals and objectives for achieving diversity goals.
Expanding Categories of Racial Groups
The new OMB standards would increase the number of primary racial groups to seven instead of five. It would split the white current category into two—one labeled “white” for people with European ancestry and another labeled “Middle East and North Africa,” or MENA. (See more in the sub-heading “We’re Not White: We’re MENA“.)
Also, the proposal creates a new race in place of an ethnic group. The new race would be called “Hispanic”. The proposal would result in counting these “races”:
- American Indian
- Native Hawaiian and
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) goes into more detail in counting federal employees. In its FedScope database, OPM counts these racial categories:
- American Indian or Alaskan Native
- Black/African American
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
- More Than One Race
- Hispanic/Latino (H/L)
- H/L & American Indian or Alaskan Native
- H/L & Asian
- H/L & Black/African American
- H/L & Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
- H/L & White
- H/L & Of More Than One Race
Further Division of America by Race
No doubt, many Americans thought after the election of Barack Obama that America would enter a new, less divisive age with improved race relations. That did not happen.
In the past decade, the country has become more obsessed with race and experienced more racial conflict than in the previous several decades. Views of America concluding the US is infused with racism, such as that of the 1619 Project, critical race theory, and other far-left theories, are now common in the media, federal government, and corporations. It has led to increasing conflict and racial division.
Federal employees in particular, and Americans in general, have come to view terms like Black/African American, White, Latino, and Asian as well-established scientific categories that are sacrosanct and have been with us for many decades because they are common knowledge.
The classifications appeared in the 1960s and ’70s. Some agencies started using these terms or variations of them. The current generally accepted racial categories (American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian and Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, and White) were established in the 1970s.
Creating Broad Racial Categories Reflecting Bureaucratic Ease of Administration
Government bureaucracies in our country and others routinely seek simplistic classifications because it is easier and more consistent. Our federal government is so large and spends so much money on so many programs throughout the world that federal usage spreads quickly and becomes normal and accepted. These racial categories are often meaningless other than for placing people into convenient categories.
Here is one description of the accuracy of these racial categories:
For some reason, people turn white west of the Pakistani border, so that people in Iceland and Afghanistan are considered white (also everyone in the former Soviet Union, which extends to the Pacific Ocean, are also classified as white), whereas everyone from India all the way to Fiji are considered to be in the Asian/Pacific Islander classification. The amount of diversity and differences covered by each of these labels is dizzying in its complexity. Yet, as far as the government is concerned, they are all the same.
Hispanic refers to people, cultures, or countries related to Spain or the Spanish language. It usually applies to Spaniards and Spanish-speaking populations and countries in Hispanic America and Hispanic Africa, which were formerly part of the Spanish Empire. In other words, the definition includes German descendants living in South America who have blond hair and blue eyes. It also includes Mexican-American mestizos and Puerto Ricans who are often descended from Africans. Many people living in America but with Spanish surnames consider themselves “white”.
And, with regard to Asians, should Pakistani, Chinese, and Filipino Americans be in the same category despite obvious differences in culture, appearance, religion, and numerous cultural differences?
Black Americans are often viewed as one monolithic group. Most government programs using these racial classifications to help Blacks in America are (or were) theoretically used to make up for economic deprivation created by slavery and state-sanctioned discrimination.
Despite this perception of a unified group, the actual application and outcome is more complicated. For example, more than two-thirds of Black undergraduate students at Harvard, often considered a sure path to economic success, are immigrants, children of immigrants, or biracial rather than descendants of enslaved ancestors.
In addition to the 12% of Black people living in America who were born in a foreign country, roughly 9% are second-generation Americans, meaning they were born in the U.S. and have at least one foreign-born parent. The racial categorization system provides immigrants the advantage of affirmative action in competition with the people for whom the policies were established.
And what about “white” Americans? Are they all the same?
The federal government lumps Jewish, Polish, Italian Americans, Irish, and Scotch-Irish living in economic poverty into the same racial group as Boston Brahmins. These people are all non-Hispanic whites. So Jewish Americans and Arab Americans have both been locked out of the ancestry-based affirmative action system like the others. But, with a new MENA category on the horizon, Jewish and Arab Americans may soon be able to seek an advantage through the American system of racial division. (Sorry, no change for Polish, Italian, Irish, or other “white” people.)
Racial Categories Increase Racial Competition and Division
Being in a preferred racial category is an advantage. Preference in obtaining government jobs is on display for the preferred categories in various executive orders, presidential statements, and agency practices.
In the system of affirmative action, public and private preferences in hiring, contracts, loans, and college admissions go to specific national-ancestry groups only if those groups are part of racial categories largely based on government classification.
In the book Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America, author David Bernstein notes that “implicit in America’s racial classification scheme is the notion that society will be permanently divided into suspicious or hostile racial groups.”
He also notes the negative effects of promoting a white identity among groups of people who do not share common interests or culture in their ancestry. While that is a historical reality, creating a new artificial category can, and probably already is, creating a movement toward white-focused political action.
E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum is Latin for “Out of many, one.” The meaning of the phrase originates from the concept that out of the union of the original Thirteen Colonies in America, one nation emerged as a new single nation. It is included in the scroll and clenched in the eagle’s beak on the Great Seal of the United States.
Continuing and expanding racial categories and creating government benefits of various kinds based on racial classifications divide our country. As groups compete for government benefits or other advantages based on racial categories, we become less united, and animosity between groups is enhanced. Creating and placing everyone into more racial categories, in an attempt to be fair and more inclusive, exacerbates the problem.
Census data show about 20% of new marriages are between people of different races or ethnicities. It is even higher for some groups of people. While this would indicate that race is continuing to be less relevant in America, OMB nevertheless cites this trend as a reason for collecting more data on race to accommodate “a growing number of people who identify as more than one race or ethnicity.”
No doubt, continuing to try and keep up with increasing racial diversity will become less relevant and more difficult as the bureaucracy tries to keep up and continue the long-standing policy of racial categorization in a population in which the process is less relevant.