New York Times Q & A

This “The Ethicist” column appeared in the Sunday New York Times.

My mother is from Central America. She came to the United States for college and met my American father. I am, therefore, 50 percent Latino genetically, but I don’t identify as Latino. There were (to my regret) no Central American influences in my upbringing — no Spanish language, no Latino relatives, no foods from “the old country.” There was also no discrimination directed at me or my mother (we look “white”). Is it ethical to identify as Latino in social situations and on the census? Name Withheld

Our ethnic and racial categories drape loosely around the realities of our complex lives. I am the son of an English woman and a Ghanaian man. I am an American citizen. Am I a black American? African-American? Anglo-American? Anglo-African? “Latino” is a word that hovers uneasily between a category defined by culture and one defined by descent. The latter conception makes you Latino. The former doesn’t quite. There’s also a notion that ethnicity should be defined by your own sense of identity — by whether you think of yourself as Latino. But whether you think of yourself as Latino is shaped by ideas about culture and descent. There isn’t a single correct view about that. Still, here’s a solution: In cases in which you don’t have the time or space to explain your situation, probably the least confusing thing to say to people in the United States is that your mother is Latina. (As far as forms go, if they permit you to check two boxes, I’d do that. If they don’t, I don’t believe it matters much what you do.)

Latino Students

Latino Students Make Strides, Still Face Challenges, Report Shows

A new report from Excelencia in Education, an organization that advocates for higher educational achievement for Latinos, provides a snapshot of enrollment and educational achievement for the fastest-growing population in K-12 public schools

The report, “The Condition of Latinos in Education: 2015 Factbook” pulls data from a number of sources to give a state-level look at Latino K-12 enrollment and shed light on national advances and challenges.

The report dispels the perception that most Latino students are English-language learners. Among students ages 5 to 17, the report found that 84 percent who speak a language other than English at home speak English with no difficulty.

Latinos represent the fast-growing segment of all students in U.S. public schools. In 2011, they represented 24 percent of public school enrollment. Within a decade, they are projected to represent nearly one-third of all U.S. students in K-12 public schools.

Between 2003 and 2013, Latino students, as a group, showed marked improvement on National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and math tests for elementary and high school students. During that same time period, the high school dropout rate for Latino students decreased by nearly half, but remained higher than that of their black and white peers.

The report shows that recent Latino high school graduates enrolled in college at a higher rate than their white and black peers, but were more likely to attend highly racially segregated high schools.

The report also notes that Latino students were the second-largest racial group represented in both special education and gifted and talented programs.


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Academic Success?

It would be good to have this kind of data for multiracial students.-Susan

Latino and African-American Academic Success Improves, But Gaps Remain

The number of Latinos who leave high school having taken the ACT has nearly doubled in the past five years. Still, fewer than half of Latino graduates who took the ACT met any of its college-readiness benchmarks.

The volume of Latino high school students sitting for at least one Advanced Placement exam has tripled between 2002 and 2012. Yet, among Latino students with high potential for success in AP math, just three out of 10 took any such course.

Despite gains in access, when they finish high school, Latinos are more likely than their white peers to attend for-profit colleges or community colleges, as opposed to four-year univerities where graduation rates are typically higher.

These are some of the statistics included in a new brief, “The State of Education for Latino Students,” released by The Education Trust June 30. It paints of picture of both progress and challenges ahead, as does the companion publication that came out June 23 on education for African-American students. Last fall, the Washington-based education advocacy group released a similar document on the status of native students.

Together, Ed Trust officials hope these documents will be useful tools for policymakers working to close the ongoing achievement and opportunity gaps between these minority groups and their white counterparts.

Latino students are seeing more gains than African-American students, said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy development for Ed Trust in a phone interview. “The data are clear about gaps in opportunity. Across the board, we are providing African-American students less of everything we know contributes to achievement in schools,” she said. “Those gaps in opportunity cause gaps in achievement.”

The Ed Trust report notes that while 15 percent of graduates in the class of 2013 were African American, they make up only 9 percent of those who took AP tests. Looking at all students who passed an AP exam, just 5 percent were African-American.

Hall said schools need to be more intentional in identifying students who could be successful in rigorous courses and providing support to help them succeed. Also, creating more fair and consistent disciplinary policies would keep students in school for more days and could help solve the problem.

For Latino students, in particular, Hall said schools that have been successful tended to focus on vocabulary and background knowledge for students who are English-language learners.  Also, schools should be creative about use of time. This might mean expanding instruction before and after school, using time differently within the day, and grouping students for needed intervention and support, she said.

Ed Trust is also working to provide students with equitable access to strong teachers who have content knowledge and effective classroom strategies to help close these gaps, added Hall.

Source: Education Week

Hispanic Question on Census: The Multiracial Advocacy

Latinos may get own race category on census form

Under proposed changes under consideration by the Census Bureau in its once-a-decade census forms, Latino and Hispanic would be added to the list of government-defined races, rather than being listed separately as an ethnicity. And people from the Middle East and North Africa, now counted as white, would be allowed to write in their country of origin.

By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter
U.S. residents of Spanish origin typically have no trouble checking the box on their census form that asks whether they are Latino, Hispanic or Spanish.
It’s a different question — the one that asks their race — that apparently gives some of them pause.

In the 2010 census, well over one-third — perhaps unsure how to answer that question — either checked “some other race” or skipped the question entirely.

Now, in advance of the 2020 count and as part of its ongoing effort to allow Americans to better reflect how they see themselves, the U.S. Census Bureau is researching ways to clear up the confusion by adding Latino or Hispanic to a list of government-defined race categories that includes White, Asian, Pacific Islander, Black and American Indian, along with a “two or more races” option.

The bureau is also considering an end to use of the term Negro, which is listed alongside black and African American on the form. And it’s floating the idea of allowing people from the Middle East and North Africa, now counted as white, to write in their country of origin.

The question of race has long been a thorny one, and over the decades the categories for it on the once-a-decade census form have morphed and expanded.

While government definitions of race groups are set by the White House Office of Management and Budget, any changes to the census form ultimately must be approved by Congress.

Luis Fraga, a political-science professor at the University of Washington who directs its Diversity Research Institute, said, “identifying ourselves by racial grouping is at the very core of who we are as a nation and how we understand political power.”

Results from the decennial survey not only help direct more than $400 billion in federal funds are distributed each year, but they also help evaluate how well government policies are responding to historical disparities among various racial and ethnic groups.

“As much as we hope we become a country where these racial distinctions don’t matter — and that’s a worthy goal — it is central to how we understand ourselves as a people and how we decide who has opportunity, rights, privileges and protection under the law,” Fraga said.

The changes under consideration are based largely on an experiment in 2010, when nearly 500,000 households were given forms with the race and ethnicity questions worded differently from those that other households received.

The bureau found many people who filled out the traditional form didn’t feel they fit within the five main race categories, while the alternative questionnaire, designed to address this concern, improved response rates and accuracy.

The Latino question
Of the possible changes, the one affecting Latinos — who now number more than 50 million nationwide, including an estimated 755,790 in Washington state — is likely to ignite the most debate.

Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race, which means although those in the population share a common language, culture and heritage, they can be of any race.

The census has had the separate ethnic question since the 1970s, asking respondents to indicate if they are Spanish, Hispanic or Latino and then giving them the option of noting their country of origin. It then prompts an answer to the question on race.

While in the 2010 census a majority chose white, some 18 million checked the catchall “some other race” category.

Under the proposed changes, the two questions would be combined, allowing respondents to check a single box.

While Latino advocates generally support the idea, it has been met with mixed reaction, with one concern being whether it could lead to a decline in the number of people who identify as Latinos.

“Latinos are the only group in the country with their own question on the census form,” said Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy in New York City and a community adviser to the census. “The question that comes up right away is: Why would we give that up?”

He and others acknowledge there has been confusion, that large numbers of Latinos already consider their ethnicity a race.Officials with El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, an advocacy organization that helps educate Latinos about the importance of the census, will be closely watching how the conversation unfolds.

“We want to make sure that everybody is counted and at the same time everyone has the opportunity to self-identify,” said Enrique Gonzalez, a policy advocate for the group. “Those two concerns have to be balanced.”

Middle Easterners
For Middle Easterners, the concern isn’t so much about preserving an identity as it is establishing one. More than one-third of all Middle Easterners are Muslim, and among them there appears no real consensus about providing specific identifying information to the government, given a strained relationship with federal law enforcement.

While some worry the information could be used to target them, they also recognize the need for useful demographic data.In the early 1900s, to get around entry quotas and achieve greater opportunities, Arabs lobbied to be classified as white, defined as the original people of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

“Now it’s kind of the opposite,” said Samer Araabi, head of governmental relations with the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C., which promotes the concerns of Arabs and is a partner with the Census Bureau. “The community wants an identity for itself, to be counted as a unique group separate from whites.”

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Arab American Community Coalition, conducted a survey to gauge how people felt about a separate identity for Middle Easterners on census forms.

Feelings at the time were still raw, and people were fearful of how the government would use the data, recalls Rita Zawaideh, who runs a travel agency called Caravan-Serai in Seattle that provides travel tours to parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

Years later, it came up again.”There was a feeling we needed to have a voice,” she said. “We weren’t known as Americans. The politicians weren’t courting us. We weren’t being counted as a group.”

But now, with a rise in cases of racial profiling, “we’re back to square one,” she said.
Zawaideh said she usually completes her census form by checking “some other race” and then writing in “Arab.” She’d prefer to see a separate race category for Middle Easterners and North Africans, not just a write-in option, she said.
Source: The Seattle Times. com 


Multiracial Children and Identity

Multiracial Children: Teaching Kids they can be Many
I was not going to write about Allena Tapia’s commentary in The Huffington Post earlier this month, but it kept coming back to haunt me. The title of her piece was “Multiracial Children: Teaching My Kid to Check the Latino Box on Applications.” She happily explained that “I’ve told my children from day one to always self-identify as Latino or Hispanic on any official forms.” That was followed by this: “I tell my children to always choose Hispanic or Latino based on the positives they stand to gain from doing so. Yup, I said it.” She admitted to seeing more of “the multiracial,” but said it’s not always an option and then she asked if her children were genetically 50/50, would the tiebreaker be the cultural influence?
First of all, Ms. Tapia is putting race and ethnicity in the same category. She spoke later in the piece about the Census and the fact that in 2010, they sent in the completed census form back with two Latino children, their Latino father, and her as “the lone Caucasian in the bunch.” Had she actually read the instructions, she would have known that she could have checked that her children were Latino and White.
Hispanic is an ethnicity and white is a race. Tapia stated the following aha moment at the end of her commentary:
     “My husband loves being Latino. My children think of themselves as Mexican-
       American. They love to talk about their culture and identity. They’re proud…They
       are truly Latino, 100%. Through and through.”  
By implication her children are not proud to be anything like their mother, who is white. That’s fine, it’s their identity, but I have some problems with the way it’s being presented. First, why shouldn’t they be as many races and ethnicities as they truly are? Were they even told about this option? Is it somehow bad to be any percent white? I think not. If they were in need of a bone marrow donor, they would have to look to the group that is Hispanic or Latino and white. It’s an important fact of their genetic code.
Another thing that bothered me about Tapia’s commentary was her blatantly broadcasting to the readership of The Huffington Post that she advised her children to choose Latino as a way to get the goodies, and I’ll say it for her, prosper from affirmative action. Should kids be told by their parents to self-identify as one race or ethnicity to play the system?
To pigeonhole any young child into any one thing is dangerous if it’s not the truth. My son wanted to embrace his entire heritage when he was young, so we changed the way race was reported on his school forms. We took action rather than be made to choose. Then, when he was in college, he called me one day and told me he had been invited into a “Black fraternity,” but he would have to say he was black to join. I advised him to first see what his university had him classified as, even though he had checked both black and white on his application form, not to get the goodies, but to be honestly what he felt.
He went to the school and found that someone had checked off “White” for his race on his official records. He called me back and asked what he should do. I told him that if they were not going to let him choose more than one race, he could choose whatever he wanted for whatever reason. It was his choice as an adult, not anyone else’s and if they would not allow him to choose to be multiracial, he could do whatever he wanted. He could be black one day and white the next and screw the system that wouldn’t allow him to be who he truly felt he was. He called me back a little while later and said, “Mom, I’m black now!” and we both laughed. We knew the system, we knew the game, we chose to play it then, but he was an adult who knew he was 50% Black and 50% White.
So, Ms. Tapia, if you teach your multiracial kids to check any one box on any form, be sure you also let them know that it’s OK to be proud to be multiracial.