Testimony on a "multiracial" OMB category (x Interracial

Date: Fri, 25 Nov 1994 08:45:47 -0600

[Co-moderator's note: In a recent posting to H-Ethnic, Rudy Vecoli voiced his disappointment that scholars of migration and ethnicity had not participated vigorously in the ongoing debate over the revision of OMB 15, the directive which sets federal standards for the collection and reporting of data on race and ethnicity. This posting, and the one immediately following under the subject heading "Testimony on "Germanic" as OMB 15 category", are two examples of recent public testimony before two different

federal bodies. In this first posting, Romana Douglass, an officer in the Association of MultiEthnic Americans, testifies before the House Subcommittee on the census. Thanks to Richard Jensen for forwarding Romana Douglass's testimony.]

Issue: May/June 1994

Title: Ramona's Census Subcommittee Testimony

Author: Ramona Douglass

(In recognition of Ramona Douglass' ascendancy to the AMEA Presidency, we gladly reprint a copy of her testimony before the House Subcommittee on the Census. Ramona's witness was a part of an ongoing effort to compel the Census Bureau to establish a multiracial category for the 2000 Census. She and other representatives of the mixed-race community appeared before Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer's (D-Ohio) Subcommittee on Census, Statistics & Postal Personnel that held hearings last summer on "Government Measurement of Race & Ethnicity." Ramona's testimony is reprinted by permission of Interracial/Intercultural Connection, the Chicago-based Biracial Family Network's local newsletter, in which it was published.)

My name is Ramona E. Douglass. I am the current Vice President for the Central Region of the Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA), and the immediate Past President of Chicago's Biracial Family Network. I am a multiracial adult child of an interracial marriage. My mother is a Sicilian-American and my father is of Native American descent (Oglala), on his mother's side, and of African-American descent on his father's side. Both my parents are retired, and are currently living in Scauri, Italy. They have been married for forty-five years. I am forty-three years old, and have been active in the Biracial Family Network since 1986. I have served on its Board of Directors in the capacities of: Publicity Chair, Biracial Adult Chair, Vice President and most recently, as its President. In 1988, AMEA was formed at a Charter Meeting held in Berkeley, CA. The Biracial Family Network was one of fourteen charter member organizations in attendance. I was elected AMEA's first Vice President, nationally, and later reelected in 1991 in the position I now currently hold. I am totally committed emotionally, and politically, to the ever-expanding multiracial/multicultural movement in this country. I believe it is the right of all individuals and families of multiracial/multiethnic descent to have a separate category (on government documents), which embodies their racial/ethnic background as a whole.

There are many critics, outside the multiracial/multicultural movement, who view our efforts as a personal threat to their monoracial/monoethnic cultural pride and politics. They do not see me, or others like me, as individuals whose lives are th sum total of our racial and ethnic diversity. They have chosen instead, for their own reasons, to "cherry pick" those parts of our heritage which suits either a particular need or bias, coming from their own personal agenda or history. I am who I am, not because of how others label and perceive me, but because of how I label, live and culturally affiliate myself. This is no to say that any of us are insensitive to the legitimate fears that any given monoracial group may have regarding our push fo a separate category.

In a society which continues to cripple itself with racial obsession and rejection, it is understandable that there might be some suspicion that our motivation to have a multiracial/multiethnic category is masking a more deep-seated desire to disassociate ourselves from those parts of our heritage that have been ill-favored, or depreciated by the stigma of racism. I cannot speak for everyone in the interracial/multiethnic community, but I do know that AMEA and its affiliated local chapters are committed to the protection and continued support of programs that enhance/embrace both our own culturally diverse interests, and the interests of other monoracial/monoethnic groups who have suffered discrimination in public education, health care, housing and employment.

What we are asking is that we also be recognized for our unique identity, special circumstances, and the discrimination we have had to endure when randomly lumped with one monoracial/monoethnic group or another, depending on how we are perceived, where we are perceived, and by whom we are perceived.

The Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision of 1967 (which made miscegenation laws unconstitutional) may have freed our parents to make their own choices for partners in love and marriage, but it did nothing to eradicate the insidious distortions or myths about the offspring of those unions. Contrary to popular opinion, we are not any more confused, stressed, or tragic in demeanor, than the progeny of any monoracial/monoethnic union who are attempting to find their own identity, and niche in a "color struck," racially polarize society. What we don't have, which is no longer acceptable to the ever growing millions we represent, is an official acknowledgment of our very existence. I can't be "white" in the state of Illinois because it deems the race of the mother as the only reliable criteria for determining the "race" of the child, and at the same time be "black" or Native American in another state which only acknowledges the race of the father, or minority-designated parent. It's not logical, it's not real and, more importantly, it's not me. The term "other" is also unacceptable, for it negates our claims to any part of the racial or ethnic categories listed before it.

If America was living up to its ideals, which advocate equality for all, in the eyes of the law, maybe racial classifications of any kind would be unnecessary, and we would simply acknowledge people ethnically, as Americans first and foremost. But the ideal has yet to become the reality. Those of us in the national, multicultural community firmly believe that "race" or "ethnic" affiliation is a personal choice, and should not be in the public, political or governmental domain. As long as it is, multiracial/multiethnic children have the right to be identified as just that: "multiracial/multiethnic."

Submitted by Ramona Douglass