Census Should Remove Questions about Race

by Cliff Vacin ‘25

Every 10 years, the census asks a question that reads “What is your race?” The provided options are “White,” “Black or African-American,” “American Indian or Alaska Native,” “Asian,” and “Native Hawaiian or some other Pacific Islander.” For Hispanics, there is an additional item, where the respondent marks their origins and what other race they identify with. This particular question is not inclusive, with many options being left out. Since race-related questions require people to choose an identity that they don’t really feel is theirs, the U.S. Census should stop collecting such information. This is not a radical idea given that much of the rest of the world does not collect data on race on their versions of the census.

For many people, their origins are outside of the categories listed on the U.S. Census. A few of these groups affected are those from the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) region, Southwest and Central Asians, Hispanic people, and other races that may fit under the Biracial category such as Mestizo people and the Aboriginal Australian people. A category for people from the MENA region was going to be added to the 2020 Census; however, since it wasn’t decided whether or not it was going to be its own category or if it would be a white ethnicity, no change was made. Most Hispanic people typically have to identify with one race such as white or black, but a considerable number of Hispanics (36.7 percent on the 2010 Census) identify themselves as “Other” because they do not view themselves as one particular race.

Twenty of the 38 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries do not collect race data and in fact, it is illegal in many of those countries to collect such data. With the exception of the United States, the 20 remaining countries record race in a loose way, mainly seeking out if respondents are from one of the country’s ethnic groups, such as Colombia asking if the respondent is Indigenous, Rom, Raizal, Palenquero, or if they fit into the Black, Mulatto, Afro-Colombian or Afro-descendant category.

There are valid arguments that race data could be used to aid certain minority groups and more accurately allocate resources to minority populations. However, information about people’s socio-economic situation, housing, health, and overall well being still could be collected in the U.S. Census without needing to know the race of respondents. It’s a bad idea to split everyone by race, as it creates divisions that may foster hostility among groups. The U.S. Census reduces people’s identity to their race, which perpetuates the dangerous idea to define people by how they may look.