Census Race Conversations

Brad M. Griffin | Apr 5, 2010

My friend had trouble filling out her Census survey. She mentioned it to me a week or two ago and I hadnt opened ours yet, so I asked why. She continued, I dont know how to answer question 9. Im not white.

As you probably noticed, this years census survey separates out all people of Hispanic/Latino/Spanish origin by themselves in question 8, then asks respondents to choose a race in question 9. But question 9 doesnt include Hispanic/Latino. My friend is Salvadoran. Shes not white. Shes not Black either, or any of the other race categories. Reluctantly, she was considering marking white.

In the Census Bureaus explanation of the race question, they say People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino or Spanish may be of any race. Granted. But then, In addition, it is recognized that the categories of the race item include both racial and national origin or socio-cultural groups. Yet the race categories dont include Hispanic/Latino, which some people of those ethnic origins ALSO consider their race. Others are upset about inclusion of the word Negro alongside African American and Black as a term we should have eradicated from the census long ago.

Ive seen some commentary on several sides of this issuesome suggesting survey respondents fill in American for race in order to post a protest against racial injustice; others suggesting the same answer in order to prevent minority groups from receiving government funding. At my kids public school, the census will impact our federal aid in coming years (the school is currently 43% Hispanic, 30% African American, 23% White, 3% Asian, 3% other). Some peoplefrom majority and minority racial groupsdont like the fact that race is part of what will factor in to the funding.

This census has been a reminder for me: I dont want to assume that I know what my non-White friends think about the census questions about race and ethnicity. And I dont want to assume that all my Hispanic friends feel the same way as one another, or my African American or Asian friends and neighbors. But Im interested in asking some of them and in listening to their different perspectives.

Several years ago for the Deep Justice in a Broken World project we interviewed Lina Thompson, a dear friend of FYI who serves with World Visions U.S. Youth Programs, to help us understand more about having conversations about race and with people of other races. Her insights are invaluable, and I recommend you listen to the interview if youre interested in having better race conversations. Ill quote Lina to close: It doesnt make any sense to try to talk about race relations if no real relationship or desire for relationships existsYou cant do it from a distance.

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.

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