OMB Decision on Race Delayed

Trump Administration Delays Decision On Race, Ethnicity Data For Census

The 2010 census form included separate questions about race and Hispanic origin. The White House has yet to announce its decision on a proposal that would allow race and ethnicity to be asked in a single, combined question on the 2020 census.

A major decision on the way the U.S. government collects information about race and ethnicity through the census and other surveys was expected to be announced this week by the Trump administration.

But the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which sets standards for this type of data for all federal agencies, was silent on Friday, which OMB had said was the deadline for an announcement.

A spokesperson for OMB could not provide any information about the delay.

Under consideration by the White House are proposals introduced during the Obama administration that would fundamentally change how the government counts the Latino population. Another proposal would create a new checkbox on census forms and other federal surveys for people with roots in the Middle East or North Africa. If approved, the policy changes could have significant implications on the upcoming 2020 census, as well as legislative redistricting, civil rights laws and health statistics.

“[The delay] tells me the new administration has taken an interest in the possible changes … and wants to way weigh in,” says Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House oversight subcommittee for the census who now consults on census issues.

First issued as a White House Office of Management and Budget directive in 1977, the federal standards on race and ethnicity data largely have stayed the same for the past two decades. The last major revisions were announced in 1997, when the Clinton administration decided to allow recipients of the census and other federal surveys to check boxes for more than one race.

Sally Katzen, who oversaw the 1997 revisions as the administrator of the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, says decisions by federal agencies often take more time than anticipated.

“There is no date certain for decision-making,” Katzen says. “The objective in each instance is to arrive at the right decision, not at any old decision.”

An announcement by early spring would help the Census Bureau prepare its report to Congress on the final wording of the 2020 census questions. That report is due by the end of March 2018.

But the timing of the Trump administration’s announcement is ultimately in the hands of the White House, which has been reviewing research by the Census Bureau on the changes’ potential impact, as well as public comments, and recommendations from an advisory group of experts from various federal agencies.

Some census watchers are concerned that delays could impact preparations for the 2020 census already underway.

“The later the decision is released, the more uncertainty continues as far as how the census is going to proceed with its format for collection of race and ethnicity data for 2020,” says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, which supports the proposals to change the standards. “Given all the moving pieces and all the uncertainty about funding and leadership [at the Census Bureau], it doesn’t help when there’s uncertainty with this major part of data collection.”

The Census Bureau has not responded to a request for comment on the impact of the delay on the 2020 census.

To prepare for the upcoming census, researchers at the bureau started studying how to improve collecting race and ethnicity information in 2010. One of the main goals has been to address confusion among many Latino census recipients, who left the race question blank or selected “some other race” — the third-largest racial group reported in 2000 and 2010.

The researchers’ findings suggest the proposals could improve the accuracy of the 2020 count by combining the two census questions about race and Hispanic origin required by the current federal standards into one combined question, with “Hispanic or Latino” as an option for both race and ethnicity. This change, however, would likely shrink the white count on the upcoming census.

“If OMB has decided not to proceed with the major revisions that the career staff has developed in concert with the Census Bureau over the course of the decade, I think that really pulls the rug out from under a great deal of painstaking scientific research that has also cost taxpayers a lot of money since 2010,” says Lowenthal, a consultant to The Leadership Conference Education Fund, which supports the proposals.

A report released by the federal advisory group earlier this year pointed to concerns about how the changes could impact state governments, schools and hospitals that may or may not follow the federal standards for their own record keeping.

“Inconsistency between self-reported [federal] survey information and reporting on administrative records results in discrepancies between major sources of information for the [nation], which could be made worse by changing the standards,” wrote the advisers of the Federal Interagency Working Group for Research on Race and Ethnicity.

The White House could decide to reject the proposals and keep the status quo — or propose different changes to the standards for race and ethnicity data. But Cary Coglianese, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who directs the Penn Program on Regulation, says any decision would be limited by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“To the extent that an administration were to show racial animus and to make decisions about the statistical classification or the questions on surveys that relate to race in a manner that was motivated by racial animus, that would be clearly illegal and unconstitutional,” Coglianese says.

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What Biracial People Know

Credit Lynnie Z.

After the nation’s first black president, we now have a white president with the whitest and malest cabinet since Ronald Reagan’s. His administration immediately made it a priority to deport undocumented immigrants and to deny people from certain Muslim-majority nations entry into the United States, decisions that caused tremendous blowback.

What President Trump doesn’t seem to have considered is that diversity doesn’t just sound nice, it has tangible value. Social scientists find that homogeneous groups like his cabinet can be less creative and insightful than diverse ones. They are more prone to groupthink and less likely to question faulty assumptions.

What’s true of groups is also true for individuals. A small but growing body of research suggests that multiracial people are more open-minded and creative. Here, it’s worth remembering that Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, wasn’t only the nation’s first black president, he was also its first biracial president. His multitudinous self was, I like to think, part of what made him great — part of what inspired him when he proclaimed that there wasn’t a red or blue America, but a United States of America.

As a multiethnic person myself — the son of a Jewish dad of Eastern European descent and a Puerto Rican mom — I can attest that being mixed makes it harder to fall back on the tribal identities that have guided so much of human history, and that are now resurgent. Your background pushes you to construct a worldview that transcends the tribal.

You’re also accustomed to the idea of having several selves, and of trying to forge them into something whole. That task of self-creation isn’t unique to biracial people; it’s a defining experience of modernity. Once the old stories about God and tribe — the framing that historically gave our lives context — become inadequate, on what do we base our identities? How do we give our lives meaning and purpose?

President Trump has answered this challenge by reaching backward — vowing to wall off America and invoking a whiter, more homogeneous country. This approach is likely to fail for the simple reason that much of the strength and creativity of America, and modernity generally, stems from diversity. And the answers to a host of problems we face may lie in more mixing, not less.

Consider this: By 3 months of age, biracial infants recognize faces more quickly than their monoracial peers, suggesting that their facial perception abilities are more developed. Kristin Pauker, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and one of the researchers who performed this study, likens this flexibility to bilingualism.

Early on, infants who hear only Japanese, say, will lose the ability to distinguish L’s from R’s. But if they also hear English, they’ll continue to hear the sounds as separate. So it is with recognizing faces, Dr. Pauker says. Kids naturally learn to recognize kin from non-kin, in-group from out-group. But because they’re exposed to more human variation, the in-group for multiracial children seems to be larger.

This may pay off in important ways later. In a 2015 study, Sarah Gaither, an assistant professor at Duke, found that when she reminded multiracial participants of their mixed heritage, they scored higher in a series of word association games and other tests that measure creative problem solving. When she reminded monoracial people about their heritage, however, their performance didn’t improve. Somehow, having multiple selves enhanced mental flexibility.

But here’s where it gets interesting: When Dr. Gaither reminded participants of a single racial background that they, too, had multiple selves, by asking about their various identities in life, their scores also improved. “For biracial people, these racial identities are very salient,” she told me. “That said, we all have multiple social identities.” And focusing on these identities seems to impart mental flexibility irrespective of race.

It may be possible to deliberately cultivate this kind of limber mind-set by, for example, living abroad. Various studies find that business people who live in other countries are more successful than those who stay put; that artists who’ve lived abroad create more valuable art; that scientists working abroad produce studies that are more highly cited. Living in another culture exercises the mind, researchers reason, forcing one to think more deeply about the world.

Another path to intellectual rigor is to gather a diverse group of people together and have them attack problems, which is arguably exactly what the American experiment is. In mock trials, the Tufts University researcher Samuel Sommers has found, racially diverse juries appraise evidence more accurately than all-white juries, which translates to more lenient treatment of minority defendants. That’s not because minority jurors are biased in favor of minority defendants, but because whites on mixed juries more carefully consider the evidence.

The point is that diversity — of one’s own makeup, one’s experience, of groups of people solving problems, of cities and nations — is linked to economic prosperity, greater scientific prowess and a fairer judicial process. If human groups represent a series of brains networked together, the more dissimilar these brains are in terms of life experience, the better the “hivemind” may be at thinking around any given problem.

Photo

Credit Lynnie Z.

The opposite is true of those who employ essentialist thinking — in particular, it seems, people who espouse stereotypes about racial groups. Harvard and Tel Aviv University scientists ran experiments on white Americans, Israelis and Asian-Americans in which they had some subjects read essays that made an essentialist argument about race, and then asked them to solve word-association games and other puzzles. Those who were primed with racial stereotypes performed worse than those who weren’t. “An essentialist mind-set is indeed hazardous for creativity,” the authors note.

None of which bodes well for Mr. Trump’s mostly white, mostly male, extremely wealthy cabinet. Indeed, it’s tempting to speculate that the administration’s problems so far, including its clumsy rollout of a travel ban that was mostly blocked by the courts, stem in part from its homogeneity and insularity. Better decisions might emerge from a more diverse set of minds.

And yet, if multiculturalism is so grand, why was Mr. Trump so successful in running on a platform that rejected it? What explains the current “whitelash,” as the commentator Van Jones called it? Sure, many Trump supporters have legitimate economic concerns separate from worries about race or immigration. But what of the white nationalism that his campaign seems to have unleashed? Eight years of a black president didn’t assuage those minds, but instead inflamed them. Diversity didn’t make its own case very well.

One answer to this conundrum comes from Dr. Sommers and his Tufts colleague Michael Norton. In a 2011 survey, they found that as whites reported decreases in perceived anti-black bias, they also reported increasing anti-white bias, which they described as a bigger problem. Dr. Sommers and Dr. Norton concluded that whites saw race relations as a zero-sum game. Minorities’ gain was their loss.

In reality, cities and countries that are more diverse are more prosperous than homogeneous ones, and that often means higher wages for native-born citizens. Yet the perception that out-groups gain at in-groups’ expense persists. And that view seems to be reflexive. Merely reminding whites that the Census Bureau has said the United States will be a “majority minority” country by 2042, as one Northwestern University experiment showed, increased their anti-minority bias and their preference for being around other whites. In another experiment, the reminder made whites more politically conservative as well.

It’s hard to know what to do about this except to acknowledge that diversity isn’t easy. It’s uncomfortable. It can make people feel threatened. “We promote diversity. We believe in diversity. But diversity is hard,” Sophie Trawalter, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, told me.

That very difficulty, though, may be why diversity is so good for us. “The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise,” Katherine Phillips, a senior vice dean at Columbia Business School, writes. “You have to push yourself to grow your muscles.”

Closer, more meaningful contact with those of other races may help assuage the underlying anxiety. Some years back, Dr. Gaither of Duke ran an intriguing study in which incoming white college students were paired with either same-race or different-race roommates. After four months, roommates who lived with different races had a more diverse group of friends and considered diversity more important, compared with those with same-race roommates. After six months, they were less anxious and more pleasant in interracial interactions. (It was the Republican-Democrat pairings that proved problematic, Dr. Gaither told me. Apparently they couldn’t stand each other.)

Some corners of the world seem to naturally foster this mellower view of race — particularly Hawaii, Mr. Obama’s home state. Dr. Pauker has found that by age 7, children in Massachusetts begin to stereotype about racial out-groups, whereas children in Hawaii do not. She’s not sure why, but she suspects that the state’s unique racial makeup is important. Whites are a minority in Hawaii, and the state has the largest share of multiracial people in the country, at almost a quarter of its population.

Constant exposure to people who see race as a fluid concept — who define themselves as Asian, Hawaiian, black or white interchangeably — makes rigid thinking about race harder to maintain, she speculates. And that flexibility rubs off. In a forthcoming study, Dr. Pauker finds that white college students who move from the mainland to Hawaii begin to think differently about race. Faced daily with evidence of a complex reality, their ideas about who’s in and who’s out, and what belonging to any group really means, relax.

Clearly, people can cling to racist views even when exposed to mountains of evidence contradicting those views. But an optimistic interpretation of Dr. Pauker’s research is that when a society’s racial makeup moves beyond a certain threshold — when whites stop being the majority, for example, and a large percentage of the population is mixed — racial stereotyping becomes harder to do.

Whitelash notwithstanding, we’re moving in that direction. More nonwhite babies are already born than white. And if multiracial people work like a vaccine against the tribalist tendencies roused by Mr. Trump, the country may be gaining immunity. Multiracials make up an estimated 7 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, and they’re predicted to grow to 20 percent by 2050.

President Trump campaigned on a narrow vision of America as a nation-state, not as a state of people from many nations. His response to the modern question — How do we form our identities? — is to grasp for a semi-mythical past that excludes large segments of modern America. If we believe the science on diversity, his approach to problem solving is likely suboptimal.

Many see his election as apocalyptic. And sure, President Trump could break our democracy, wreck the country and ruin the planet. But his presidency also has the feel of a last stand — grim, fearful and obsessed with imminent decline. In retrospect, we may view Mr. Trump as part of the agony of metamorphosis.

And we’ll see Mr. Obama as the first president of the thriving multiracial nation that’s emerging.

Source: New York Times