The Public Interest

Do we need the census race question?

Nathan Glazer

Fall 2002

A FEW years ago, asked to comment on the controversy over the demand of so-called multiracial advocacy groups for a “multiracial” category in the census, I made a brash and wildly unrealistic proposal. I will describe the proposal in a moment, but first I will explain what I find troublesome about the existing questions on race, Hispanicity, and ancestry in the census. By the 1990 census, these questions had evolved in a way that, to my mind, was false to American racial and ethnic reality. Also, as formulated, they were incapable of eliciting coherent responses, to the extent that coherence is possible in a census.

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