Black White Man

My mother is black, and my father is white. I walk among you.

Archive for October, 2009

Multi-racial or other as a category

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but I used to work in market research.  My job was to craft online surveys for such luminaries as Ford Motors, Hillary Clinton and Christina Aguilara.   Needless to say, the question of race was often an important one, as corporations and politicos both tried to cater to (quite often) Hispanic and (occasionally) African American audiences.

When I was in High School and starting to define my complicated relationship to race, I was somewhat in favor of “Multi-racial” as a separate category.   But after working in market research for some time, I’ve come to really detest it.   Throwing a Black-White person like me into the same group as a Hispanic-Asian person, and thinking that your going to get any relevant data from the group is ridiculous.

I understand that the other alternatives aren’t particularly attractive either.

  • You can allow people to check more than one race, but then you end up double- or triple- counting people with complicated ethnicities — making their opinions more important in some way.
  • You can force people to choose only one race, which causes multi-ethnic people to complain loudly (myself included).
  • Or you can allow people to check multiple boxes and then quietly recode them into a single race on the back end.   This is subversive and makes your own racial biases institutionalized (for example, that a Hispanic Black person is “really” one or the other).

But, really, I think that having a “multi-racial” category as separate from the other races is a cop out.   It’s worse than a bad solution — it’s an avoidance of the entire problem.   All it really does is cause the data supplied by multi-racial people to be thrown out (at least, any data as regards to race).

Let me give you an example.    I’ve been looking for schools for my son, who’s in preschool at the moment.   The Chicago Public Schools do a good job of giving you a break-down of each school by racial demographics.    This has been crucial to me, because I want my son to grow up in a multi-cultural environment that reflects his home life.   Unfortunately, the CPS data includes “multiracial” as a category.   Usually, you can guess at what it means.   If a school is 80% Black, 10% White and 10% Multiracial, chances are that the multiracial kids are Black and White.   But, it can get a little dodgy.   Some of the private schools, in particular, have higher “multiracial” percentages than any minority.   What am I to make of a hypothetical demographic like 60% White, 20% multiracial, 10% Black, 10% Asian.   Are there any Hispanic kids at a school like that?   Could be tons.   Could be none.   The multiracial statistic by itself obfuscates as much as, if not more than it clarifies.