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Jewish World Review March 30, 2000 /23 Adar II, 5760

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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Why the 'race industry' loves the census as it is -- CLAREMONT, Calif. -- Rest assured, future dictionaries will contain the word "Clintonesquely."

I am certain of that as I think about Question 8 on my still un-returned, new and different Census form. It reads: "What is Person 1's race? Mark one or more races to indicate what this person considers himself/herself to be." There are 15 potential boxes to check, including, "White," "Black, African Am., or Negro," "American Indian or Alaska Native," "Asian Indian," "Korean" "Filipino" and "Guamanian or Chamorro." There is a final option: "Some other race."

At last week's meeting of the Population Association of America (PAA) in Los Angeles, I talked to the distinguished demographer Paul Demeny about the new racial classification system. He said: "It's un-American. America fought a war against racism. I know; I'm from Hungary."

It has indeed gotten ridiculous. We're talking ketchup numbers here: The demographers were buzzing that 63 varieties of humanity may now be indicated on the form -- for example, a person who marks both "White" and "Guamanian or Chamorro." Actually, if you count Question 7, about Spanish/Hispanic/Latino ethnicity, there are 126 combinations. And you may factor that by four choices within the SHL rubric. At the PAA, I heard allusions to Hitler's "Nuremberg Laws" more than once, some comic, some not.

The recent argument about race in the Census began in the real world. As exogamy (inter-marriage) has become more common in America, many of the offspring of the exogames did not want to be labeled as one race or the other. Tiger Wood's mom is Thai, his Dad is a black American, and he calls himself Cablinasian. One would assume that, between winning tournaments, Tiger would want to check at least two boxes on his Year 2000 Census form, to express his diverse background.

So, many parents of multi-racial children asked that a new box be added, "multi-racial."

This did not sit well with those involved in what is sometimes called "the race industry." They said that such a new option would diminish or dilute the minority numbers, thereby diminishing political influence of minorities and cutting the amount of public monies flowing to minority communities. But Peter Skerry of Claremont College and the Brookings Institution, author of the newly published "Counting on the Census?" says that minorities are putting far too much emphasis on the actual numbers. Any payoff there may be, he says, comes from the policy that is used to implement whatever the numbers may be.

Still, politics is practiced by politicians, and Bill Clinton is one. Faced with two electoral groups tugging in different directions, he acted in three ways, Clintonesquely. No, his Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ruled, there would be no multi-racial box to check in the 2000 Census. But, yes, the Census form would now list the option of choosing more than one race. And, as a kicker, for purposes of civil-rights monitoring and enforcement, a person who lists white and a minority race would be tabulated wholly as a minority.

Thus, the most racially liberal president America has ever had has codified into law the infamous "one-drop rule." For example, a person who is, say, one-sixteenth black, will be counted wholly as black. Furthermore, as Skerry points out, there has yet to be a determination about how to count the offspring of two minorities. How is Tiger counted when he checks at least the boxes marked "Black" and "Other Asian"? How will a child who is the issue of Latino and Korean parents be counted? Try consulting the "Allocation Guidance" by OMB, bureaucratic bafflegab that invites activists to game the system. The directive was issued, Clintonesquely, on March 10, Friday afternoon, the deadest part of the news cycle.

Is this crazy? I am tempted not to answer Question 8. That would be against the law. But civil disobedience in the cause of conscience is by definition against the law. However, the Census Bureau is one of the great federal agencies, and if anyone has feasted off their harvest of numbers, it's me. Moreover, the academic community is beginning to say there is no such thing as race. Help! I am thinking Clintonesquely.

I will not announce here the beginning of a campaign to eliminate the race question on the 2010 Census. Skerry isn't buying. Race is a legitimate question, he says; it's how we implement it that matters. If we didn't have racial numbers, he says, we'd have race by rumor. He's right about that. For example, most whites think blacks have substantially more children than whites. But black fertility rates have fallen sharply to about the "replacement level" of 2.1 children, just about equal to the national rate. What to do? I pick up my pen. In the space provided for "Some other race" I write "human." So sue me.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

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