In preparation for the year 2000 census, the US Office of Management
and Budget has begun a review of OMB Directive 15, which defines
racial and ethnic categories used in the census and for other
government purposes. The following statement was provided in response
to a call for public comment, and represents a Germanic American
Presented at Office of Management and Budget Public Hearings,
San Francisco, California, July 14,1994
Thank you for this opportunity to address these hearings. My name is
Gerhard Holford. I am Co-Moderator of the Conference of Americans of
Germanic Heritage. We are a community of ethnically and culturally
aware persons who are contemporary descendants of the many indigenous
peoples from the historical lands of Europe. I am here representing
The Germanic Conference to respectfully request that Statistical
Policy Directive No. 15 be revised to eliminate the category of
"white" as a racial or ethnic designation, to eliminate the
designation of any race as "the majority race", and to include the
category "Germanic" as both a racial and an ethnic identification.
The reasons for seeking these changes are to achieve appropriate and
dignified identification of American citizens and non-citizen
residents, and to facilitate the government's fair and unbiased
safeguarding of the civil rights of all Americans.
WHY IT IS IMPORTANT FOR STATISTICAL POLICY DIRECEIVE NO. 15 TO
ELIMINATE THE DESIGNATION "WHITE" AS A RACIAL OR ETHNIC CATEGORY
The term "white" is commonly and most often applied to persons of
European origin as a racial or ethnic designation. It cannot be
defended as either.
"White" is a color. It is not a racial designation. As a consequence
of the genetic condition of albinism, a person of any "race" can be
White is also not an "ethnicity". An ethnic group is defined by
culture, language, and history. In American society today, almost
none of the people categorized by their government as "white" would
consider their culture to be "white" culture, or their language to be
"white" language, or their history to be "white" history.
If anything, the notion of "whiteness" is a political idea or a state
of mind. From time to time, "whiteness" has been a factor in a
variety of political movements, both "pro-white" as well as
"anti-white." But times change. And because of the inherent
subjectivity and changeableness of political ideas and states of mind,
the number of persons identifying themselves as "white" -- either as
a matter of racial identity or of ethnic identity -- changes as well.
In fact, the Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage as well as
other ethnically and culturally aware European American groups have
noted a significant trend among Americans of Germanic and other
European heritages to reject and disavow the term "white" as a part
of their identity. We believe this trend may in part be due to the
common stereotype that anyone who does identify him or herself as
"white" is latently or potentially a "white supremacist."
If the objective of the Office of Management and Budget is to
establish an unambiguous and durable measurement framework for
defining and guiding government policies, then any categorization
system that relies on the term "white" as an ethnic or racial
definition will be inherently politicized, ambiguous, and result in
ever changing results and interpretations.
WHY IT IS IMPORTANT FOR STATISTICAL POLICY DIRECTIVE NO. 15 TO
ELIMINATE ALL REFERENCES TO A "MAJORITY RACE".
Statistical Policy Directive 15, as well as all other official
writings and communications of the government should eliminate and
prohibit all references that characterize, state, or imply that a
race is "dominant", "superior", or "more powerful" than other races.
In a system where governmental decision making is based on
majoritarian practices, the implicit or explicit characterization of
the "white" race as "the majority" race carries the clear implication
that the "white" race is "more powerful" than other races that are not
"white". This suggests that "white" people are a monolithic group,
think, act, and vote alike, and lack diversity. This is a defamatory
stereotype of European Americans and is not acceptable to the
Germanic or European American communities.
WHY IT IS IMPORTANT FOR STATISTICAL POLICY DIRECTIVE NO. 15 TO INCLUDE
A SPECIFIC "GERMANIC" CATEGORY
The term "Germanic" has been in use at least since Roman times and is
valid and useful both as a racial and as an ethnic designator.
Based on anthropological and physiological distinctions, the
indigenous peoples of Europe can be broadly divided into four main
racial categories: Germanic, Celtic, Mediterranean, and Slavic.
Although all categories are typified by pale (not "white") skin, each
has characteristic racial attributes.
Each of the racial categories is historically associated with a group
of tribes and with geographical regions. The Germanic peoples
originated in and populated much of northern and central Europe.
The tribes that comprised the Germanic category are well known to
historians and are linked to contemporary regions and ethnic groups.
This linkage allows a straightforward, factual and practical basis for
ascribing ethnicity. Among the principal ethnic groups that can be
identified as "Germanic" are: Austrian, Dutch, German, Swiss,
Scandinavian (Nordic), English (Anglo-Saxon), Russian (Rus), French
(Burgundian, Frankish, and Normand), and northern Italian (Lombardic).
National boundaries have changed randomly and chaotically over
history, but underlying tribal association provides a fundamental,
valid, and durable basis for ethnic identity.
The racial and ethnic category of "Germanic" is also important and
necessary to reestablish societal equity for a large and neglected
segment of our society.
The Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage is primarily
concerned with the identity issues faced by persons of Germanic
descent. It is not widely appreciated today, but the twentieth
century has been a period of extreme cultural stress for Germanic
Americans. And the root cause of so much of this pain has been the
tragic confusion of Germanic race and ethnicity with German
As this century began, people of Germanic origins were the model
immigrants and nation builders: eager, industrious, skilled,
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson took a bitterly divided America to
war against a German nation. The American press and political
leadership adopted a vehemently anti-German tone. Persons of German
ancestry were demeaned, ridiculed, harassed, assaulted, assassinated,
and even lynched. Homes and businesses were burned. In 1918, the
charter of the three million member German-American National Alliance
was revoked by the US Congress. Five hundred thousand persons of
Germanic origin were required by the US government to register as
enemy aliens. Six thousand persons of German descent were interned in
camps in the United States.
Nonetheless, one third of the military forces the United States sent
against Germany were soldiers and sailors of Germanic heritage, asked
to fight, in many instances, against their brothers, cousins, or
In 1941, America was again brought into conflict with a German
nation-state; Americans of Germanic ancestry were again vilified; and
again an army with a third of its soldiers of Germanic descent was
sent to war against a German nation. And in the United States, 10,908
persons of Germanic ethnicity were interned in camps established by
the United States government.
In the years subsequent to World War II, Americans witnessed the
Nuremberg trials where criminality was broadly ascribed to "the
German character." Americans were also bombarded with images of the
Berlin Wall, goose-stepping border guards, and over 400 motion
pictures produced in Hollywood portraying Germans as fanatical
dictators, sadistic martinets, or soulless cannon fodder.
Over more than eighty years, an enormous amount of public hostility
against German nation-states was transferred to persons of Germanic
ancestry. Germanic social and cultural institutions were suppressed;
street names were changed; speaking or teaching the German language
Many Americans of Germanic heritage abandoned their Germanic
identities as completely as they could. German Americans claimed to
be Austrians, Dutch or Swiss. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps
millions, changed or anglicized their names: Schmitz became Smith;
Mueller became Miller; Burg became Burke. What occurred in the United
States over most of this century was an "ethnic cleansing" of persons
of Germanic heritage. As a consequence of this wholesale identity
transformation, the apparent number of people of German descent in the
United States has been substantially diminished. The magnitude of
current undercounting of persons of Germanic heritage may be in the
United States government policies as well as official indifference
toward the injustices visited upon Americans of Germanic heritage
were important factors in the suppression of Germanic culture and
identity. The standards for classification of persons as they exist
in OMB Directive 15, will perpetuate this suppression of Germanic
identity and will do nothing to discover or reveal the extent of this
"ethnic cleansing". Moreover, the existing standards will not
provide any basis for policy makers to develop and implement programs
to remediate the injustice.
The government will be unable to measure the scope of the injustices
that have been done to Germanic Americans if it does not identify
Germanic Americans. Likewise , it will be unable to design programs
to rectify the injustices and assess the effectiveness of programs
without being able to ascertain who is a Germanic American. For reasons
of equity and justice, we urge the Office of Management and
Budget, the Executive Branch, and the United States Congress, to
establish racial and ethnic identification categories of "Germanic".
OTHER PROPOSALS RELATING TO CATEGORIES FOR EUROPEAN AMERICANS
With minor exception, The Germanic Conference agrees with and endorses
the proposal made by Joseph Fallon on behalf of the National European
American Society and the Society for German-American Studies. That
proposal was presented to the OMB on July 7, 1994 at the public
hearings in Boston.
The principle change we would make to the Fallon proposal is to
establish a category named "Germanic" instead of "German-American".
Our reasoning for this is that both the terms "German" and "American"
are nationality terms, as is the combined term "German-American",
whereas the term "Germanic" is descriptive of an ethnicity, and is
conceptually similar and analogous to the currently sanctioned term
The category "Germanic" would also be substantially more encompassing
than the category "German-American".
The Germanic Conference also agrees with and endorses the proposal
that the "Germanic" ethnic category include at least nine "Germanic"
ethnic sub-categories: Alsatian, Austrian, German, Liechtensteiner,
Luxemburger, Germans from Russia, Pennsylvania German, Silesian, and
Swiss. We believe that additional Germanic ethnic sub-categories may
also be warranted.
In conclusion, I respectfully request that my statement be made part
of the official record.
Thank you for your courtesy and consideration. I hope the Office of
Management and Budget will accept these proposals for improved
identification submitted today on behalf of the Conference of
Americans of Germanic Heritage.
Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage
Re: German-Americans: don't call us "white"( Wed, 20 Jul 1994 09:54:29 -0500)
[John Radzilowski writes:]
This statement by the German-Americans (which was forwarded to me by a
a member of your list) echoes what Polish and other east and south
Europeans having been saying for a long time: that they are not
indistinguishable from Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and that their cultures
and histories are real. In the current debate over "cultural diversity"
these voices have been ignored by both conservatives and liberals.
Although this may understandable coming from those who oppose such
programs, it is absolutely unconscionable coming from those who support
them. Subsuming hundreds of ethnic and cultural groups under the
single term "white" is homogenization, not diversity.
The term white is a catch-all that means "not-black, not Asian/Pacific
Islander, not-Native American, not-Hispanic." Arabs, for example, are
considered white, as are immigrants from the Portugese Canary Islands.
It is also clear that terms like black or Hispanic hide as much as they
reveal. One such term cannot convey the diversity that occurs within
such groups. (How similar are Mexicans and Cubans?) Of course, for
political leaders of such groups, who wish to present a united front
to world, such are arguments are dangerous. In the end, it is politics
not scholarship that holds such definitions together. It behooves
scholars to move away from such fuzzy terms--constructs--and use more
precise language. It would also be helpful if the census dropped such
I find myself in disagreement with the German-Americans on a couple
counts, however. First is their inclusion of "Rus" (Russian) as a
historically German people. Please. Likewise, I get a little nervous
when I hear about the terrible hardships Germans suffered in WWII.
As a Pole, I find it hard to weep too many tears about this.
My most serious point of disagreement, however, concerns the proposed
categories of ethnic classification proposed by the Germans' statement
which would create four broud categories for Europeans (Germanic, Celtic,
Mediterranean, Slavic). Besides sounding like something of a throwback
to the last century, these categories create all sorts of new problems.
Why should Greeks and Italians share something in common just because
they live alongside the same sea? The French are neither fully
Germanic or Mediterranean. This also leaves out hundreds of ethnic
groups, from Lithuanians to Hungarians to Albanians, who fit in none of
Categories (which become "constructs" given time) are a legitimate and
useful way to impose some order on otherwise unmasterable complexity.
Yet, like the word "white," such terms acquire a logic and an
intellectual momentum of their own, and they go on to predetermine
and cloud our thoughts. Categories, models, and theories are tools to
be used, not matras to be repeated.
Finally, I doubt even the moral and political efficacy of words like
"white." Calling Sicilians "white" will not make them admit their
"guilt" in the supposed crimes of the white race. They may
even decide they don't like people who call them names, and thus vote
Republican. Certainly, they will be angry and resentful that someone
has seen fit to throw their history and culture into a homogenized grab-
bag (perhaps garbage bag) with over 400 other cultures just because
someone, somewhere, decided that all people with a somewhat paler skin
tone acted and thought alike.
c/o THE HISTORIAN
Department of History
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85281-2501
602-965-8364 or 966-9514
Thank you, John, for your excellent critique of the mindless use of "racial
categories" as if they correspond (ed) to the social and cultural reality
of American society. These categories were (are) invented for political
purposes; they were so used in the past and are in the present. The
particular formulation we are saddled with was articulated in 1977 in the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's DIRECTIVE NO. 15: RACE AND
ETHNIC STANDARDS FOR FEDERAL STATISTICS AND ADMINISTRATIVE REPORTING which
established the following categories for compliance purposes: White, not
of Hispanic origin; Black, not of Hispanic origin; Hispanic, regardless of
race; American Indian or Alasakan Native; and Asian or Pacific Islander.
These categories, of course, have no basis in anthropology, ethnology, or
history, egregiously mixing "racial", cultural, and geographic criteria,
and lumping together ethnic groups with quite disparate cultures and
histories. Yet this quinquepartite of the American population has not
only become the basis for governmental and private sector policies
relating to such matters as employment, admissions, etc., but for what
passes for scholarly discourse regarding race and ethnicity in America.
I share the view that race and ethnicity are cultural constructs or
inventions. However, I do not subscribe to the notion that they are
simply ideological formulations, although, heaven knows, they are
susceptible to being ideologized and politicized. Ethnicity (and I view
race as being subsumed within this more encompassing concept) is based on
a subjective state of group identity and affiliation which in turn
derives from the realities of history, culture, and human experience. The
ruling castes (themselves embodying particular ethnicities) in
authoritarian regimes may seek to impose categories--which use "racial"
(body shapes, ancestry, skin color,etc.) or "cultural" (religion, language,
nationality, etc.) markers--upon populations for purposes of exploitation,
social control, or ethnic cleansing (and may even succeed in persuading
their victims on the legitmacy of such categories), but certainly one of
the basic rights in a democratic society is ethnic self-determination.
Efforts to force all persons to conform to the Procrustean bed of imposed
racial/ethnic categories are, I avow, inherently undemocratic and inimical
to a truly pluralistic society.
I urge those of you who share these views to communicate them to
Sally Katzen, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory
Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget, which is currently
reviewing the racial and ethnic categories established in 1977 (see the
piece originally in the NEW YORK TIMES by Steven A. Holmes, "Diversifying
with the times," reprinted in STAR TRIBUNE (Minneapolis), July 9, 1994).
In my opinion, the government ought to scrap the current classification and
either get out of the business of racial/ethnic categorizing or include the
215 ancestry groups which were reported in the 1990 census (U.S. Bureau of the
Census, DETAILED ANCESTRY FOR STATES, 1990 CP-S-1-2). These data are based
on the responses to the question: "What is this person's ancestry or ethnic
origin?" After all, are you not the final authority on who you are?
Rudolph J. Vecoli
University of Minnesota