OMB's multiracial categories [x Interracial Voice magazine]

Date: Fri, 25 Nov 1994 08:45:23 -0600

[Thanks to Richard Jensen for this informtive contribution to the debate over the revision of OMB 15.]

Issue: November 1994

Title: Census Updates!

Author: Charles Michael Byrd


It's been two months since OMB's deadline for receiving comments on the proposed multiracial category for the 2000 Census. Since September 1, we've not heard much of an official nature, but hot rumors abound such as the one about OMB (Office of Management and Budget) having already given a thumbs-down, or the other one about Project Race and AMEA (Association of Multi-Ethnic Americans) not being "kept in the loop" as to what's happening.

Not being disposed to buy into rumors of war, we contacted OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in Washington, D.C. and spoke with Suzann Evinger, an assistant to Katherine K. Wallman, the Statistical Policy Chief. We obtained Suzann's name and phone number from Shelly Wilkie of the Subcommittee on Census, Statistics and Postal Personnel, chaired by Democratic Congressman Tom Sawyer of Ohio. Shelly assured us that it wa Suzann and not Ms. Wallman who is in charge of the day-to-day operations of sifting through testimony and comments-some emailed via the Internet-to Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Ms. Evinger confirmed that she was indeed OMB's Lone Ranger on this deal, and that no decision would be made until the spring. The following, however, are some other interesting tidbits gleaned from our conversation with Suzann Evinger:

1- There is concern in the community of health data users as t what the impact of the multiracial category might be. Ms. Evinger feels that these folks are entitled to express their views on the matter; she considers it a legitimate concern.

2- OMB is developing a research agenda. One aspect of it will be to test "multiracial response options."

3- Project Race participated at a workshop at the National Academy of Sciences. In other words, no problem with P.R. being kept in the loop, though no mention was made of AMEA.

4- OMB's interagency committee is going to begin reviewing the public comment record (the public comments solicited up until September 1). Those meetings will be with federal agencies; they're not public advisory committee meetings.

5- Though her office is too busy to send out monthly updates as to its progress in this regard, Suzann has written an article that will appear in the winter issue of "Chance" magazine. It's published by the American Statistical Association.

6- Sometime next spring, there will probably be a Federal Register Notice with OMB's preliminary recommendations for further public comment.

7- Public comments are available in OMB's Docket Reading Room.

Anyone can make arrangements to travel to D.C. to look through them first-hand. Anyone interested should call 1-202-395-6880 to obtain clearance into the building to do that.

What follows is an important, must read interview with Dr. Marvin Arnold-who is also a Major in the U.S. Army-from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He is one of the principle investigators of military research pertaining to soldiers and their families. He was previously a member of the Biracial Family Network in Chicago before relocating to suburban Washington, D.C. He is now the Washington area representative for Project Race (Reclassify All Children Equally).

Dr. Arnold will be part of a group giving testimony later this month on the appropriateness of a multiracial category. He is also earnestly looking for input and help from anyone who is knowledgeable in any of the three main aspects of this question: education, the law, and medical considerations. Those who can help are encouraged to contact Dr. Arnold at 1-301-427-6585.

INTERRACIAL VOICE (IV): Is there a concern that the multiracial category might be in jeopardy?

MARVIN ARNOLD (MA): There's always been a concern that it may not happen, and we want very much for it to occur.

IV: It's just interesting that it might come down to medical reasons as to whether it's denied or approved

MA: It could come down to anything, but I believe the more data we have in the areas we're concerned with, the better. Let me try to give you a quick overview.

Anyone who has information or data relative to the following categories-there are other categories-but I'm primarily talking about psycho-social categories in that we're speaking largely about the self-esteem issue: the psychological impact of a kid not being able to choose who he or she is and the denial of one part of their heritage-in fact, one part of their parentage by having to choose a category that's not reflective of their entire heritage.

In the education area, we're interested in anyone who has some information about schools and the way that they handle the identification of multiracial children. We know, for example, that often it's a question of "eyeballing." A secretary, a principal or a school administrator will come out and decide what the race of a kid is. As we now know with the case in Wedowee, Alabama, the principal down there said the multiracial kid was a mistake. So any information in that area would be helpful.

In the area of law, we're very concerned now because this has become a civil rights issue, much like the homosexual one. We feel the civil rights of these children and their families are being violated because they are unable to identify who they are.

Lastly, in terms of the medical arena, we're very much concerned about the negative effects of not being able to track kids genetically in the manner in which they should be. That is, if one of the other part of the heritage is overlooked, any medically related illnesses or problems related to that aspect of a kid's heritage will simply not be checked out.

So people who have information in any of these areas-or any other areas that will impact on the multiracial classification should contact us and help us. I can be reached during the day at 1-301-427-6585.

IV: So you'd like to hear from doctors, statisticians, geneticists, social scientists.

MA: Yes, and one of the things we keep hearing is the idea that there is going to be this mass exodus from other categories into this multiracial one.

IV: Don't black politicians fear that the most?

MA: Yes. Somebody does, but we've found that not to be true with the studies we've done. So any information to document that particular aspect would also be very helpful.

IV: Now you'll be presenting your information on November 18 to what group?

MA: This will be a subcommittee of the Public Health Services that reports back to OMB (Office of Management and Budget). A couple of weeks ago we had a meeting with a Health and Human Services (HHS) subcommittee along similar lines.

IV: Will the testimony on the 18th be the last public testimony that will be allowed before a final decision is reached?

MA: I doubt it. It's all in the hands of OMB and the Department of Commerce which controls the Census. They are doing some testing now on this particular category. I'm not sure exactly how they're going to do it, but they are going to somehow test whether it's appropriate to put this on the 2000 Census, which is what we want.

IV: I'm told that next spring there will be a Federal Register Notice with OMB's preliminary recommendations for further public comment. What happens then? Do the Census people read that and act on that? Who makes the final call?

MA: I believe that the results of the testing will be announced in the Federal register, but in terms of the final decision, OMB will decide. Directive 15, the document controlling the racial classification of people in this country, is an OMB document. So, presumably, OMB, the Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce will get their heads together and decide for 2000.

Another thing that I'm working on is an international workshop on multiracial families, and hopefully it will be held in D.C. There are many people in many countries interested in this particular issue, so we want to bring these folks together and begin a process that will hopefully lead to a worldwide organization.

IV: Dr. Arnold thank you for your time.

MA: Thank you.