Thursday, September 10, 2009

Census Question On Race & Ethnicity: How Am I Supposed To Respond?

I just finished watching National Geographic's "Human Family Tree." National Geographic sponsored the Genographic project, which is described on their website as follows:
A Landmark Study of the Human Journey

Where do you really come from? And how did you get to where you live today? DNA studies suggest that all humans today descend from a group of African ancestors who—about 60,000 years ago—began a remarkable journey.

The Genographic Project is seeking to chart new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species by using sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of DNA contributed by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. In this unprecedented and of real-time research effort, the Genographic Project is closing the gaps of what science knows today about humankind's ancient migration stories.

The Genographic Project is a five-year research partnership led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Spencer Wells. Dr. Wells and a team of renowned international scientists and IBM researchers, are using cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand our human genetic roots. The three components of the project are: to gather field research data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional peoples around the world; to invite the general public to join the project by purchasing a Genographic Project Public Participation Kit; and to use proceeds from Genographic Public Participation Kit sales to further field research and the Genographic Legacy Fund which in turn supports indigenous conservation and revitalization projects. The Project is anonymous, non-medical, non-profit and all results will be placed in the public domain following scientific peer publication.
Genographic researchers take a swab of DNA from inside people's mouth. Although everyone's DNA is 99.9% the same, the tiny differences called "markers" can help trace the migration of our ancestors back to the beginning of man. In the show "Human Family Tree" it displays people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds from New York City getting surprising results. As the film points out, human biology does not recognize the racial and ethnic divisions that so consume our society and our politics. In fact, the DNA project shows that everyone's ancestry can ultimately be traced back to one man and one woman living in Africa.

My first thought is this has to be very upsetting news to those Klansmen who thrive on racial hate. My second thought is when the census taker comes around next year, should I identify my ancestors as coming from Africa - that I am an African-American?


M Theory said...

I just might report my race as African American to the Census Bureau after seeing this report, Paul. Sounds like 99% that I am!

Hoosier in the Heartland said...

Well, of course! We're all (ultimately) out of Africa!

Asking about race and ethnicity on the census is absurd on its face.

Paul K. Ogden said...

No, HFFT, it is a 100% chance you are African-American.

Sean Shepard said...

I declned to answer to those and a significant portion of the census questions.

If race doesn't matter, everyone needs to quit asking and worrying about.

The Federal Government is required to conduct the census for purposes of drawing political boundaries but, really, they don't need to know how many toilets are in my house, if and where I keep a gun or what "race" I am (aren't we all the same race?). Let's just assume, "human" ... although, I admit, opinions may vary.

Jon said...

If we all quit declaring our race will there be any minorities?

jabberdoodle said...

Self-declaring race or ethnicity does contribute to the database with which bias can be statistically gleened.

You are what you think you are. Its nice to regard the connections over the divisions, at least once in a while.

Paul K. Ogden said...


Actually I would agree with that. There still is racial discrimination out there that we have to be aware of. For example, cops pulling over blacks simply for being in white neighborhoods continue to be a problem. I think we need to be measuring that.


Anonymous said...

I heard a joke one time that everyone should put "African-American." Folks should do this because:
#1: Everyone is taught by government schools that their DNA came from Africa, so therefore everyone is African-American.

#2: If enough people in the white suburbs put "African-American," the federal government will redirect more "minority" money to that area. Not only that, if you have enough minorities in a given area, you can help prevent some groups from filing lawsuits demanding government build low income minority housing in the area.

Paul K. Ogden said...


Actually the scientific conclusion that all our DNA originates from a man and woman in Africa is a fairly recent development, made possible due to the advancement of genetics. Thus I don't think it's accurate to say this is something that "government schools" are simply teaching. It probably hasn't even gotten into most textbooks yet. Nonetheless, I want our schools teaching scientific facts

Anonymous said...

The best answer is that the purpose of the census is to determine the number of constituents so that the House of reps can be fairly divided between the states.

Your obligation at census time is to inform the census taker of how many residents occupy your property. Period. Any additional questions have been added for use in other unconstitutional planning and for corporate marketing. If the census taker asks you about race, refuse to answer. It's none of their business.