An Open Letter to the Multiracial Community

by  Susan Graham for Project RACE

I spent two days recently involved in a meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations. Call them NAC, as in they have a knack, except they don’t. I had my usual reaction to their meetings. I’ll explain to you how they go.

They start with almost three hours of opening remarks, executive remarks, and a short 2020 Census update. They pat each other on the back and tell everyone what they and others did during the last six months when they last met. I intentionally skip the first three hours, so I’m already ahead. OK, now down to some real work. Oops, it’s lunch time!

After lunch, everyone was ready for a siesta, but there was work to be done. Presenters came up to the front of the room with their slideshows in hand. One woman made a very strong point of saying things like “we use actual people!” and “….again, real people.” Lest we forget about the fake people they must use to project inaccurate data.

What stood out for me was that everyone there was supposedly a hand-picked expert on race and ethnicity and was there to speak of group issues. However, they all drew on their own races or ethnicities. From the long-haired woman who talked about Hawaiians, to the white woman staunchly advocating for American Indians, to the slow-talking man who represented the MENA (Middle Eastern North African) group, they each pushed their own agenda.

The problem for the multiracial population is that there was no one there to represent us. I always expect to see at least someone else from the multiracial groups there, but no—never. Eric Hamako, who was on the NAC at one time, did nothing when he was there and even less since. The Internet is filled with groups that claim to represent multiracial people, so where are they? By the way, Project RACE not only spent two days listening, but sent a statement, which was disseminated to all the committee members.

It is beyond me how the Census Bureau holds a two-day meeting on race and ethnicity and says so little. I don’t know how or why they do that. I do remember one thing I heard from Nicholas Jones, Census Bureau Race Guru, “We have ongoing dialogue with OMB.” I’m glad they have that ongoing dialogue, because we sure don’t. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is staying very quiet and all we know is that this committee and the Census Bureau will have their recommendations to OMB sometime in 2016.

Then what happens? This is very important. The multiracial population has one last chance to get our recommendations heard by OMB. One last chance. OMB and NAC have already received over 4500 letters from the MENA community. The only way to let OMB and the Census Bureau know that we want them to use the respectable term “multiracial,” is to have a letter writing campaign. Unless we, the multiracial community, can pull together, as we did in the 1990s, and come to some way to do this thing together, don’t count on any letters. That would truly be a shame.

Some individuals in the multiracial community do not understand what the government has to do with race and ethnicity, and why we should worry about a box on the census form. As one individual said about multiracial people in one group, “ They are more concerned about checking off a box under the term “multiracial” rather than being concerned about the practical implication of that. I for one do not need a box on the Census to validate my identity.” Checking a box on the census is not meant to validate racial identity. This poor fella is so mislead. Many people who came before him and laid the groundwork for multiracial gains would be turning over in their graves to see how he has twisted the meaning and work of the multiracial advocacy.

I don’t care all that much about the boxes on the census, which happens every ten years. It’s what happens between those years and how the boxes affect people’s perceived identity that matters. When OMB decides on racial categories and nomenclature, it does so for each and every government agency. It affects the forms that are used not only by the Census Bureau, but when we apply for jobs, finance our homes and our cars, drive, go to the hospital and on and on. It affects dollars our communities get and the terminology other people use to describe us, especially our children. Every minority group in America “gets” how important it is, even though one multiethnic person in Southern California obviously doesn’t get it.

Therefore, I am stating that Project RACE will work with any organization or individual to add the term “multiracial” in some way to the 2020 Census. All you have to do to receive important notifications is put yourself on the email list at our website www.projectrace.com. It’s up to you now.


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