Barone: The Census Bureau’s latest attempt to play racial politics

By Michael Barone

AEIThe Census Bureau is considering a change for the 2020 Census: Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin would be one of the responses offered under a single race question. This is a profoundly bad idea, as Amitai Etzioni explains in a recent opinion article in the Wall Street Journal.

The change is apparently prompted by the fact that 2 million people who claimed Hispanic status in the last two censuses changed their race classification from “some other race” in 2000 to “white” in 2010. The aim, it seems, is to maximize the number of people classified as non-white and therefore entitled to some form of racial preference. It’s understandable that Hispanics should give inconsistent responses, since the Latin American societies from which they (or their immigrant ancestors) come have different racial mixes and different radical categories than those in the United States. They do not fit easily into U.S. racial categories.

Etzioni points out what’s wrong here. “The changes proposed for the 2020 Census affirm and further encourage the media to racialize Hispanics, and many colleges use Census categories in their admissions policies. If the Census Bureau is allowed to proceed, it will increase divisiveness when what we need is more community building.”

Of course the use of racial categories — racial discrimination — is prohibited in state college and university admissions in states like California and Michigan, but that hasn’t stopped admissions officers from violating the law, as Peter Berkowitz reminds us in his opinion article “Affirmative Action and the Demotion of Truth.” He makes reference to the research of then-UCLA professor Tim Groseclose that UCLA began violating the law in 2006, after demonstrations buy black students. Interestingly, the admissions office raised the admissions rate of blacks from 11.5 percent to 16.5 percent, but simultaneously lowered the admissions rate of Latinos from 18.3 percent to 16.8 percent and Southeast Asians from 28.6 percent to 21.4 percent — even though Latinos and Southeast Asians, like blacks, tend to come from less-affluent-than-average households. Apparently some minorities are more deserving of quotas and preferences than others.

All of which brings to mind the words of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts: “It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.” My own proposal is that the Census Bureau should not ask questions about race, just as it does not now ask questions about religion. That would make it harder for governments, individuals and corporations to engage in what is today’s predominant form of racial discrimination, conferring benefits according to racial quotas and preferences. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 got it right: no racial discrimination.

Michael Barone, a political analyst and journalist, studies politics, American government, and campaigns and elections at the American Enterprise Institute. he is The principal coauthor of the annual Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), he has written many books on American politics and history.

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