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More Than Market Research - Gain The Information Advantage

Tom H. C. Anderson - Next Gen Market Research™ header image 6

Refusing to Answer Census Race Question

March 19th, 2010 · 65 Comments

In 2010 US Government Wastes Three Billion Tax Dollars On Useless Race Question!

I have to admit, as a market researcher I should probably have been paying more attention to US Census efforts so. As a taxpayer alone, the total cost of $14.7billion, should be enough to interest me.

When I picked up the form last night to answer the 10 questions I was surprised that even in 2010, the US government is still so focused on race. Out of the 10 questions, 2 or 20% of the survey ($3 billion dollars) is dedicated to race and Hispanic origin!

I will be refusing to answer this question for several reasons, both ethical and methodological. I encourage you to think about it as well.

In regard to the race question, the US Census website states that it has been “Asked since 1790. Race is key to implementing many federal laws and is needed to monitor compliance with Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act…Race data are also used to assess fairness of employment practices, to monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education and to plan and obtain funds for public services”

While I completely understand that ‘race’ may have been more important given our unfortunate history with slavery and segregation, today I feel it has become far less important. I rather prefer the approach of countries such as France where citizens are never asked ethnicity or religion in order to prevent discrimination.

As a consumer behavior researcher, I would be the first to ask race in a client survey if I believed it would help with planning/selling products. However, in reality the ethnic question has become less and less relevant in consumer/market research each year. While race/ethnicity does correlate somewhat to income and education, these latter two questions are far more important than race. Interestingly, Income and Education are missing from the census form.

The fact is that in the America of 2010 the main hindrance to social mobility is not race/ethnicity but socio economic. We are far more likely to be able to predict someone’s chances for success in life given the income and education level of their parents than their ethnicity. I think the ultimate example of course would be President Obama.

The fact of the matter is, unfortunately, if your parents are poor and uneducated, then you are very likely to also be poor and uneducated. By focusing on race instead of these socioeconomic factors we are hiding the true problems in the USA.

Beyond this the whole idea of race is racist in and of itself. And even when you ask the question, the answer is totally arbitrary. How do you think Obama would/should answer the question?

I called the US Census hotline as well as their Boston Station earlier today to ask these very questions. See summary below. Still waiting for them to call me back with a more official response. Will update you if I hear more.

CALL TO US CENSUS HOTLINE

After spending 10 minutes in the automated menu I finally got one of the 400,000+ Census employees on the phone. I’ve summarized the call as accurately as possible based on my notes.

Me: …Must I Answer the census questionnaire, what is penalty if I don’t?

Census Rep: Yes, the Census is mandatory by law… If you don’t answer you can face a jail term, fine or both

Me: But must I answer every question? I have a problem with answering the race question. What if I don’t answer it?

Census Rep: I don’t know that’s up to you

Me: Well I would like to know. I don’t want to go to jail

Census Rep: You may answer the Race question anyway you want, you can chose one option or 3 or 4 or 5.

Me: Why was this question included over other clearly more useful questions like income or education?

Census Rep: I don’t know I didn’t create the survey

Me: I’m blogging about this issue, is there anyone else you think I should talk to?

Census Rep: You can call your local census station, they should be able to get more detailed.

—-

CALL TO US CENSUS BOSTON STATION

Me: Hi yes, I have a question. Must I fill out every question on the census form?

Boston Station: Is there a certain question you have a problem with?

Me: Yes, I don’t feel comfortable with the race question

Boston: You can fill out as much as you’re comfortable with

Me: How would I answer if I’m half black half white, say? How would Obama answer that question?

Boston: uuh uuh I don’t know. I’m not sure. That would be up to him. You can answer as many selections as you like.

Me: I’m writing about this for NGMR (Next gen Market Research) and I’d like to know why this question was included instead of others like income and education.

Boston: OK I’m not allowed to take media calls. Will have someone get back to you about why we have those questions.

Curious to hear your thoughts. Are you happy that we’re spending $3billion on these two questions? Do you plan to answer them?

@TomHCAnderson

PS. One of the two Race questions below

[Post to Twitter] 

Tags: Census · Democraphics · Market Research · Marketing research · NGMR · Surveys · Tom H. C. Anderson · next gen market research

65 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nathan Gilliatt // Mar 19, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    I’ll dodge your main point, but you have to give them credit for advancements in allowing multiple answers on race. “Mark one or more boxes” is pretty clear, even if the person you talked to didn’t understand it.

    When people don’t fill out the form and the census sends a person to collect the information, they use observation to fill out the race question if the person doesn’t answer. Should be interesting to find out whether and how they follow up on your incomplete form.

  • 2 Ron Givens // Mar 19, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Wouldn’t Obama fall under the “Some Other Race” - the last option?

    Being exactly the same type of “blend” myself ( black father, white mother basically ), that’s the area I wold have filled out.

    Or not anything at all, depending.

    Or was the question in question the one that was not displayed above?

    Whatever the case…. I’m *pretty* sure you aren’t going to jail.

    Just to be safe, I wont fill mine out either, so we can get locked up and then blog about it simultaneously.

  • 3 Julie Ottaway // Mar 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    I too do not want to answer this question. The last year has taught me that there is a reason for everything they do, and the reason is usually nefarious. Since you asked for my email address, I would be curious to see their final answer. According to the Constitution, the only thing that should be requied of the Census is your names and the number of people in the household. If they do choose to fine or jail me, I suppose I would be willing to fight this in Court, as many are choosing to do this for many of the things that will be required in the H.C. bill, such as mandatory insurance. I have never seen the inside of the Supreme Court, maybe I will someday have a chance to do that.

  • 4 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I’m wondering if it isn’t politically easier/more convenient, especially for Republicans to deal with “race” differences rather than the more problematic and real ‘income’ differences. After all, what do you do about them, more socialism God forbid!?! LOL

    Sorry didn’t want to turn this into political debate as well, race and methodology are difficult enough, but hard to separate from politics sometimes.

  • 5 Robert Frolick // Mar 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    The race questions are poorly constructed, but based on historical additions/substractions. Any changes would need Congressional approval. Do you want politicians writing your survey? Do you want them as your client?

    The education and income questions will be asked later on the long form, which, by the way, is a random sample. :)

  • 6 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Robert, understand there is a long form, but how will bridging work between the two? It seems more logical to have income and education or employment.

    As for questions being added deleted, well we no longer ask how many slaves are owned do we? Surveys need to be improved immediately, no excuse to carry on with poor methodology, especially at a cost of $14billion+

    I suspect many will also be offended by “negro” still being used.

  • 7 Andrew Jeavons // Mar 19, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I think we have to cut Bob Groves a break here. Yes, there arguments that can be made about the validity of a race question. But nefarious ? Oh come on - it is the census we are talking about here. I am a citizen of the UK and the USA and to me the whole argument about “government as evil” is just deluded. I can see the point that a race question is racist. HOWEVER there is rampant oppression of racial minorities in the USA (and in all countries so far as I can see) so working out how many people are potentially being discriminated against doesn’t seem that bad to me. The census is important, it needs to be completed, I think as professionals within the MR community we should lend our support to the census process.

  • 8 Val // Mar 19, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    IMHO, we should wait 100 years from the desegregation / civil rights era, and then drop the race question. Set a deadline, and then let it go. Let’s truly be color blind.

    When it comes to deciding who needs funding where, I agree that an education and/or income question would be much more appropriate.

    I think the Hispanic question should also be dropped. I don’t see how that information is related to the needs of America any more than my Slovenian or Finnish origins. English should be the official language of the country and the government shouldn’t have to bear the expense of translating and printing everything in multiple languages.

    The BIG census is supposed to be primarily for the purpose of ensuring equal representation in Congress and consequently in programs Congress funds. Let’s let it be that and only that.

  • 9 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 19, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    @Ron,

    Actually, according to the instructions Obama should probably check both the “white” as well as the “Black, African Am., or Negro” box rather than writing something in.

    I think this is part of what I find offensive. People not understanding/knowing what neat little box they fall into, especially now that it really doesn’t matter.

    By the way, excuse my ignorance on this subject. But curious, are there still many other government forms that ask this? And if so, are you free to check/write in whatever you want as Census tried to tell me, or will the government take issue if you were to choose only black or only white?

  • 10 Kevin Jenne // Mar 19, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Lots of good points here, and I was just trying to decide how much of this to fill out. A few thoughts:

    - Nefarious? I don’t think so - but the Census IS how the Japanese were identified so they could be rounded up and sent to internment camps. It was against the law then too - until the govt decides to do it anyway.
    - Distributing benefits - as we all should know, benefits are not distributed according to race or population but according to the power of their legislators. Unless you believe that there are 80 million people living in West Virginia.
    - I would agree that asking income and education would be more useful, but also more intrusive. Census data is useful to us as market research professionals, but I do worry a little about its accuracy - and the fact that it’s assumed to be the gold standard.
    - And yes, the Census did make a big improvement in 2000 by permitting respondents to choose more than one. Unfortunately they haven’t necessarily used the data well - but it was good that they recognized the limitations of their previous question. (Wouldn’t we like to have 10 years between administrations of a survey to think about the questions?)

  • 11 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    @Kevin, Income more intrusive than race? Government has our income anyway.

    Someone in HR field just commented to me privately, that they too ask these ethnicity questions of employees so that they can control for the betterment/more balanced.

    However, if measuring balance and opportunity for equal social mobility (real freedom) is the aim, then shouldn’t we also/instead be asking employees “what was your parents income and education?”. But of course these questions would be illegal/unacceptable to collect from employees.

    I believe in fact this is what US university admissions offices are trying to do more of now, so perhaps they are ahead of the curve here. Those students applying who would be the first generation to go to college are given preference.

  • 12 Lisa Horwich // Mar 19, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I didn’t have as much of an issue about the race portion as I did in the structure of the survey.

    We received the survey on March 15, 2010 and were instructed to fill it out and return it immediately. So, why were the questions asked about April 1, 2010? A lot can happen in a household unit between March 15 and April 1.

    Or did I just read it wrong?

  • 13 Seth Grimes // Mar 20, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Tom, I believe you’re barking up the wrong tree. You should call your congressional representatives. It’s Congress that approves each question and funds the Census. It’s Congress that can change the census via amendments to Chapter 5 of Title 13 of the U.S. Code, which mandates censuses other than the population census and says how all censuses, including the pop census, should be conducted. That chapter prohibits statistical adjustment of population census findings, for better or worse, which means that we pay the maximum cost for non-response follow-up.

    You’re not going to get answers to policy questions from hot-line employees. It’s their job to help you fill out the form, to clarify the questions so that you understand them but not to defend the questions. Nonetheless, their answers regarding Obama were 100% correct: He should answer the race question however he thinks is most appropriate. As should you. Presumably you won’t answer it. So don’t, just submit your form with the other required information about members of your household.

    But how do you compute $3 billion cost for two questions? It’s as if that’s the cost of paper, ink & postage for the questions given that the census would’ve gone out even if there had been two questions more or fewer.

    Seth

    P.S. I spent 4 1/2 years working on the 2000 Census. I designed and led the programming team for the tabulation system.

  • 14 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 20, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Thanks Seth,

    Cost per question was computed by simple average, $14.7billion / 10 questions x 2 questions =~ $3 billion. Quite common in survey research. Even if total costs would not have changed significantly there is the opportunity cost of replacing them with more useful quesitons I mentioned.

    I would imagine commerce department makes recommendations, and should be able to support these in communicaiton. Afterall the “how many slaves do you own?” quesiton is no longer asked.

    Congress are filled by lawyers who seem to know very little about research, and it seems the cultural changes in the US.

    Call me overly optimistic, but I think Gen Y is more colorblind than ever before, and therefore there comes a time when these sort of quesitons become more harmful than good.

    Just my opinion. And no my family won’t be answering that quesiton.

  • 15 Agnieszka // Mar 20, 2010 at 10:25 am

    I can see one area where good data on race could be useful, and it’s health policy.

    The fact is that races DO exist, and race influences both our response to medical treatment and susceptibility to various health problems.

    In fact, current medicine is racist - many clinical trials in the US do not involve sufficient representation of non-white patients.

  • 16 K.Wong // Mar 20, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    I too have held off from turning in my census form with the uncomfortable feeling of answering the race question. I’m sure bureaus can extrapolate and infer much useful data from our population, but I can’t help but feel like the question is vague, arbitrary, and a little racist. The smartass in me wants to check “other” and write in “human race,” but I fear the consequences of such a remark.

    However, I would feel a little more comfortable answering a question regarding ethnic identity. I suppose I just want to dodge the whole issue of race. In the end, I suppose I’ll just cave and give them what they want…but I don’t think Chinese and Vietnamese are a race and they sure as hell are neither mine nor my wife’s nationality (don’t even get me started with that one).

  • 17 Valerie B // Mar 20, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Tom,

    Your comment in your blog, “While I completely understand that ‘race’ may have been more important given our unfortunate history with slavery and segregation, today I feel it has become far less important. ”

    Are you kidding me!?!? Allow me to clarify. Life is not a one size fits all, which you know as a researcher. For example, in planning for health issues, different racial groups have different needs, some based on genetics, not education.

  • 18 Binky of Brooklyn // Mar 20, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Who does your data processing?

    “Out of the 10 questions, 2 or 80% of the survey ($3 billion dollars) is dedicated to race and Hispanic origin!”

  • 19 Ilya Tetelman // Mar 20, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    To be honest, I am very disappointed with this post. Your objections as a whole are uninformed, attacking, jilted, and really slightly pathetic.

    If you don’t feel comfortable answering the race question, then don’t, but it is important for organizing policy and dispersing funding. As was stated already, the gov. already has our incomes, and education statistics from the public schools, and all of the information, just as you would in MR, is compiled and manipulated by lobby groups and other policy influencers, and not by the ‘nefarious’ government you seem to so despise.

    I really took issue with you calling the offices and attacking the service reps. You knew long before calling that you wouldn’t get any actual answers out of anyone at the office, or if you didn’t then my opinion of you lessens further. And after such a spectacle, you shouldn’t be using words like nefarious, because you acted with such intention.

    If you think race is intrusive, do you really not feel that income and education are not?

    I think what was most disappointing was a specific statement you made on the non-importance of race and ethnicity in MR. Do you really find that true or just trying to support your ridiculous objection?! I am not an MR professional, and I dont know what types of reports you compile, but ethnicity, cultural background, ethno-societal influence, and racial clustering are all EXTREMELY important in marketing relationships. In fact, there are agencies that specialize in marketing specifically to ethnic minorities. I worked for such an agency for a short time, and I can tell you how different every campaign was.

    Suffice it to say, I am disappointed with you, and I don’t know if I can continue reading your blog any longer.

    Good day,

    Ilya Tetelman

  • 20 Nicholas Tortorello // Mar 20, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I have been doing survey research for over 40 years and I can tell you that the race variable can be important not only for political reasons such as Congressional districting and needs assessment, but also in the pharmaceutical arena where sometimes people of different races may experience symptoms of disease and the onset of severe medical events differently than people of other races. This is true for heart disease as well as GERD. Also, I can assure that Bob Groves who is the Head of the Census is a very smart researcher and wouldn’t ask any question that was unnecessary or non-useful. Try to get away from conspiracy theories, nefarious suspicions and take the questions for what they are: Useful inquiries to gather and distribute valuable data for reasons of “good”.

  • 21 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 20, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    Thanks for all the comments. Most of them anyway ;)

    Check again, I never used the word “nefarious” I would be more likely to use bureaucratic and clumsy perhaps. RE race and pharma, with a few notable exceptions, income is more likely to have an effect on health including but not limited to diet and exercise than race. But more importantly none of this data will be linked to any other data especially clinical trials of any sort so it’s a moot argument,

    The real purpose if any is representation. There is a higher correlation between income and education and voting than with race and therefore I submit that these variables would be more important to track and therefore more useful in striving for equality and representation.

    More importantly race has always been an arbitrary concept used for discrimination. In the USA of 2010 which I believe is quite possibly the least prejudice nation in the world currently it is an outdated concept. This could not have been said 20, 15 or even 10 years ago, but today I think it is different and we should reconsider its importance.

  • 22 Denise // Mar 20, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    I am answering race question as X some other race and writing in AMERICAN. I guess I will check white too. Even though husband is hispanic and kids 1/2 white and 1/2 Hispanic.

  • 23 Reg Baker // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:40 am

    Looking back over the last 30 years it’s hard to imagine a more useful and sometimes critical resource for US market researchers than the Census and its affiliated surveys and data products. It’s clearly in our interest as an industry to uniformly promote full and complete cooperation with the Census and its related surveys. To do otherwise is just plain silly.

    As for the underlying assumption that the US has entered some “post racial” world, well that’s equally silly. The subtext of the current healthcare debate is a good example of how far we have to go. Our history of slavery and segregation is more than “unfortunate,” it’s a national tragedy that we have yet to recover from.

  • 24 Taking a Look Back at Cutting Edge Data Visualization // Mar 21, 2010 at 11:45 am

    [...] Refusing to Answer Census Race Question [...]

  • 25 CrisisMaven // Mar 21, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    You are right - a similar reason led to Germany’s constitutional (or supreme) court to throw out the 1983 German census law. It asked for religious denomination, again on some flimsy grounds, however, it was exactly this dataset that allowed Hitler to round up the Jews. Given that in the famous Gore/Bush election race targeting was practised by knocking convicted felons off the voter list knowing full well that would achieve a racial bias for obvious reasons, I don’t see that race should be in a census. Arent’ “all men born equal”?

  • 26 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    @Reg,

    I agree that Census data has been and will continue to be an extremely important and useful resource to us market researchers. However, I strongly disagree that this means we need to “uniformly promote full and complete cooperation” and that doing otherwise would be silly.

    I find it far sillier to accept the status quo and not think about ways of improving things.

    From a more personal perspective some day my children will be filling out the Census and forms like it. Why their “Vietnamese” heritage should somehow be more ‘special’ than their “Swedish” heritage is also somehow disturbing to me.

  • 27 Chuck Nail // Mar 21, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    There is only one purpose for a race question- to be able to discriminate based on race. The discrimination can be either for or against but it is discrimination nonetheless. Racial discrimination is illegal. Plain and simple- illegal and the question should not be in the survey. Free thinking persons should choose not to answer the questions regarding race or should submit a generic answer such as Race: Human.

    This type of question should be removed from future surveys as it is illegal and serves no purpose but to discriminate in one way or another.

  • 28 Reg Baker // Mar 22, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Let me try this again. A group of very competent and equally serious researchers have concluded that these data are essential to effective government policy formation and service delivery. You have quoted from the Census Web site as to why these data are collected and the position that Census has taken is consistent with the facts. You may “feel [race] is far less important” than in times past but your feeling does not change the fact that our government needs these data to ensure compliance with a widespread legal and policy infrastructure that is the law of the land. As a citizen you are entitled to your feeling, but as a researcher you ought to be cheering the use of fact-based evidence in government policy making and monitoring. So I don’t see the point in encouraging people to refuse or worse yet, treat it as a joke and answer incorrectly. This is a serious and important data collection program that is absolutely essential to our functioning as a democracy, not some online study to decide the color of the typeface on a cereal box. As researchers we should cheer it, not trivialize it.

  • 29 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 22, 2010 at 11:31 am

    What do other market researchers think, do you agree with Reg that we have an obligation to support the government/census and assume that they know best?

    Was I out of line in questioning the relative importance of the race question especially given limited space?

  • 30 Daphne Chandler // Mar 22, 2010 at 11:57 am

    This entire questionnaire is faulty. For example, if you own a 2nd home, you receive a questionnaire in both and are asked to complete this questionnaire twice and therefore you are counted twice. When you call the Census they have no answer for you. In 2000, 1.3 million people mostly affluent caucasians were counted twice.

  • 31 A. N. American // Mar 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I have found this thread very interesting. I am not a market researcher, so have no comment as to the implications of the census on your business or careers.

    But it should be obvious to anyone with half a brain that questions #8 and #9 on the 2010 census are absurd, and they are NOT constitutionally mandated. ALL categories of race are political constructs, this is just the latest twist. “Race” has no basis in scientific fact. I quite agree -why should someone’s Vietnamese heritage be singled out , not their Swedish? Why is “Asian Indian” separate, whereas Pakistani is lumped together with Thai and Laotian? Where is the category for the Lemba, the African tribe that claim to be the lost tribe of Isreal? These categories are scientifically arbitrary, and not “absolutely essential to our functioning as a democracy.” It’s obviously politics, and a politics based a notion of “race” is dangerous and offensive, as it has been throughout human history. The questions should be eliminated forthwith.

    The first poster is correct, if you do not answer the questions a census taker will knock on your door. If you still don’t answer, he/she makes a judgement call in order to tick off the box. You will not be arrested. A correct, legal and moral answer would be to check all the boxes. We’re all something like 99.5% the same, and the US government, no matter how well intentioned, shouldn’t try to define the last .5%

  • 32 Lincoln Garrick // Mar 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Lots of comments here so I hope folks will page down to read my 2cents.

    Asking race question is vitally important to Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Native Alaskans. The US government thru treaty and decree provides certain health, housing and educational services to Native people. The census potientially can identify where future services should be made available as groups and individuals move from villages, reservations and other historic locations.

    I understand that your point about social justice is not served by racial profiling but limiting services because they cannot be properly deployed to the people need them doesn’t seem service social justice either.

    The bottom line for me is the survey is less than half of the equation. How it is interpreted and then how that data is acted upon is of vital importance.

  • 33 Mike D // Mar 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    For the past three census tracks I have participated in, I have answered other and have written in “Human” as my race. The purpose of the census is to track population density for proper representation in congress. All they should get is a head-count. One’s race in this day and age is not relevant. As Rodney King once said, “can’t we all just get along?”

  • 34 No One // Mar 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Good work here! Thank you.

  • 35 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Note, for Next Gen Market Research (NGMR) members, this topic is also being discussed on our LinkedIn group (http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/31804)

  • 36 What is Your Market Research Identity? // Mar 25, 2010 at 7:55 am

    [...] Refusing to Answer Census Race Question [...]

  • 37 Tom De Ruyck // Mar 25, 2010 at 10:00 am

    I do not want to go in-depth on the core of the discussion, as a European I know to little about the specific context.

    The only thing I want to say is that putting questionmarks after certain things is most of the time a good thing, so why can this specific issue not be questionned. And last but not least, even a researcher has freedom of speech on his own blog, no?

  • 38 Esor // Mar 25, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Most people if they look far enough are very multiracial and many others do not know how to fit themselves into a social construct of race. And what about the sex question, there are people who have chromosomal abnormalities like three x’s and a y, or who otherwise have some gender ambiguity. Every question needs a “decline to say” box or room for an essay.

  • 39 Richard Patton // Mar 27, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    What should a person do if he/she doesn’t know what his/her race or ethnicity or ancestry is? There might not be many such people in 2010, but as the decades roll on, won’ t that number increase?

    I didn’t like the question in 2000, and I really don’t like it this year. It makes assumptions that are invalid: that every person knows what their race is and that the answer is still relevant. It is too subjective, therefore, in my opinion, worthless.

  • 40 Mara // Mar 29, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Recently, I found the 2010 Census form hanging on my door. As I began filling it out, I came across a dilemma. The U.S. government wants to know if my children are adopted or not and it wants to know what our races are. Being adopted myself, I had to put “Other” and “Don’t Know Adopted” for my race and “Other” and “Don’t Know” for my kids’ races.

    Can you imagine not knowing your ethnicity, your race? Now imagine walking into a vital records office and asking the clerk for your original birth certificate only to be told “No, you can’t have it, it’s sealed.”

    How about being presented with a “family history form” to fill out at every single doctor’s office visit and having to put “N/A Adopted” where life saving information should be?

    Imagine being asked what your nationality is and having to respond with “I don’t know”.

    It is time that the archaic practice of sealing and altering birth certificates of adopted persons stops.

    Adoption is a 5 billion dollar, unregulated industry that profits from the sale and redistribution of children. It turns children into chattel who are re-labeled and sold as “blank slates”.

    Genealogy, a modern-day fascination, cannot be enjoyed by adopted persons with sealed identities. Family trees are exclusive to the non-adopted persons in our society.

    If adoption is truly to return to what is best for a child, then the rights of children to their biological identities should NEVER be violated. Every single judge that finalizes an adoption and orders a child’s birth certificate to be sealed should be ashamed of him/herself.

    I challenge all readers: Ask the adopted persons that you know if their original birth certificates are sealed.

  • 41 Poor Software // Mar 30, 2010 at 12:18 am

    About the race questions…. If everyone wants equality, then we all MUST be treated equally. No race questions is the best. Besides, WHITE is a color KOREAN is a nationality. NATIVES are people born in certain place. I was born in the usa, so I am a NATIVE AMERICAN.

    Weakminded, illogical and stupid forms.

    THERE IS NO BLOOD TEST FOR RACE. There are WHITES that look blacker than OBAMA.

    Supposedly WE ALL ORIGINATED from AFRICA. How do most of the brown skinned afro-haired people know that their closest ancestors were from AFRICA? At the time of slavery, France, Spain, England, Italy, Portugal and China had brown skinned African immigrants. Without proof, the title is MEANINGLESS anyway.

    Enough stupididy. Burn the freakin forms.

  • 42 Siejo Rafor // Mar 30, 2010 at 1:00 am

    I too called them about it. They also told me to put whatever I feel is best. The 2010 Census is so important that we are paying people who don’t have the answers to help us. What a waste of time and money. I literally wrote on the form ” fill in whatever the hell you want because you obviously did not care about it to begin with”

  • 43 Rich // Mar 31, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    //Are you kidding me!?!? Allow me to clarify. Life is not a one size fits all, which you know as a researcher. For example, in planning for health issues, different racial groups have different needs, some based on genetics, not education.

    This the census, not medical (or any other kind of) research. Congress is authorized to do a head count for the purposes of apportionment, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing different. Any Census laws Congress writes beyond this they have no Constitutional authority to write. They can change this only by getting an amendment ratified, and that takes more than an act of congress.

    As for the rest, the government is racist and sexist in everything it does, there are no Civil Rights, the government started breaking the Civil Rights Act before the proverbial ink was dry on the law. Affirmative Racism the same as the previous racism, except it’s against white Americans, and after Carter added women as a minority (minority status has nothing whatsoever to do with representation), white American men.

  • 44 Rich // Mar 31, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    //THERE IS NO BLOOD TEST FOR RACE.

    http://www.wired.com/politics/law/magazine/16-01/ps_dna

    [...]
    In March 2003, investigators turned to Tony Frudakis, a molecular biologist who said he could determine the suspect’s race by analyzing his DNA. Uncertain about the science, the police asked Frudakis to take a blind test: They sent him DNA swabs from 20 people to see if he could identify their races. He nailed every one.

    On a conference call a few weeks later, Frudakis reported his results on their killer. “Your guy could be African-American or Afro-Caribbean, but there is no chance that this is a Caucasian.” There was a prolonged silence, followed by a flurry of questions. They all came down to this: Would Frudakis bet his life on his results? Absolutely.

    Quickly changing course, the authorities soon turned up the file of Derrick Todd Lee, a 34-year-old black man with an extensive rap sheet for domestic violence, assault, stalking, and peeping. The police got a subpoena, took a cheek swab, and a few days later had an answer: Lee’s sample matched DNA collected at the crime scenes.
    [...]

    I think some people need to do some basic research.

  • 45 Caitlin // Apr 6, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    My problem with the race question is not that it is racist, but rather that it is not an accurate determination of a person’s race. People can check off whatever race(s) they feel like. Just look at President Obama! He confirmed that he only checked off black/African American, even though he is just as much white as he is black (and the directions clearly say to check as many applicable boxes)! You would think that the President of the country would accurately fill out the census by checking off both black and white, but he chose not to. That just shows how unreliable and useless the race field is. People check off the race they would “like” to be, and not necessarily their true description of race. Because the data is so unreliable, and because there is no reason why the government would even need to know our race, the question is useless. As mentioned in the article, race has no effect on one’s poverty and education level. The family’s socioeconomic status is what should be analyzed.

  • 46 Thinker // Apr 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    @Rich… Like you really did research. Either you happened to have read that article before, or you googled it because you were curious after reading my post.

    Anyway, I had not seen that article. Everything I had read before suggested race was not detectable.

    Thanks for the news however!

  • 47 mona // Apr 9, 2010 at 12:31 am

    I agree with Caitlin. When I read that President Obama checked the black box I thought that the whole thing is a joke. Obviously everybody can check whatever they want. He could as well have checked the white box.
    I grew up in Europe and there was never any official form which asked for your race or your religion and this is how it should be.

    To me it looks like the old one drop rule is still alive in the States and I am sure that no “white” person will ever check the black or hispanic box even if there were some ancestors who were black or hispanic.

    I refused to answer the race and the hispanic origin question.

    My grandfather compiled a family tree which goes back 600 years and it looks like there were only Germans. But there is no family tree from my mother’s side, so maybe there was some hispanic or black influence way back. Who knows? Who cares?

    I have visited Africa many times and I think that the African-American is a misnomer. It is correct for President Obama because his father was from Africa and his mother from America. But to call every “black” person African-American even if their family have lived in the States for hundred of years is just wrong. I also doubt that most “African-Americans” would like it in Africa, though I personally love the continent. But a “black” American has nothing in common with an African.

    Especially amusing for me was to learn that an acquaintance of mine who was born in Egypt had a hard time to establish his status as African-American, first he was not black and second obviously people who handled his case were not aware of the fact that Egypt is in Africa.

    Obama’s decision to consider himself black is of course a political decision. And I personally find it insulting to his mother’s and his grandparents’ memory who brought him up.
    Nothing about his upbringing and education was black and his father was non-existing and had no influence but his genes.

  • 48 mona // Apr 9, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    When I heard in the news that Obama made himself black I felt sorry for his mother and his grandparents , who raised him. The black father was a total absentee.

    Obama was raised in a white environment , he got the education a white child would get , then he became a politian and decided to be black and learned to be black.

    What I learned from this little piece of news is that you can check any box you like in the census form. There is no scientific way anyway to check race , so the whole thing is so stupid and a leftover from the old one-drop-blood-rule.
    But I refused to answer both questions about race and about hispanic origin.

    And Obama may be an African-American because his mother was American and his father African, but this is certainly not true for most
    “black” people who live in the States and whose ancestors have been here for hundred of years.

    I grew up in Europe and no official form is ever allowed to ask for your race or religion. And this is the way it should be. Overemphasizing on these differences only creates division.

    It is about time that the U.S. enters into this millenium.

  • 49 Brian // Apr 14, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    If the Vietnamese race is from Vietnam, and Loatian from Loatia,why is being an American not a race in and of itself? The Census fails to give us that option.

  • 50 Luke // Apr 14, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    What would a white person from South Africa now living in the US be called?

    African American?

  • 51 Race, ethnicity and the census « Khanya // Apr 15, 2010 at 5:57 am

    [...] about race, but it seems that some people are beginning to question that — see, for example, Refusing to Answer Census Race Question: “In 2010 US Government Wastes Three Billion Tax Dollars On Useless Race [...]

  • 52 Rich // Apr 15, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Thinker>>@Rich… Like you really did research. Either you happened to have read that article before, or you googled it because you were curious after reading my post.

    Not at all, do a google search yourself. If you know what genes do you should know that they encode the characteristics of race. Race is genetically determined and can be tested genetically, this is a simple fact. We ain’t at the Gattica level of genetic testing yet, far from it, but many labs can and do test for race today.

    Thinker>>Anyway, I had not seen that article. Everything I had read before suggested race was not detectable.

    That’s because genetic testing has been very primitive up till now. Don’t confuse the sophistication of testing with what genes do, they are unrelated. Race is and has always been genetically determined, that’s why two black people have black children, two white people have white children, two asian people have asian children, etc…

    I suggest that you don’t understand genetics at all. I repeat, do some research. It’s easy today, google is your friend.

  • 53 Rich // Apr 15, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    \\mona wrote: There is no scientific way anyway to check race

    This is not true. Where do people get this stuff?

    The race of a child is determined by the race of it’s parents, this is trivial to observe. Two black parents cannot have a white or asian baby, their baby will be black.

    And today genetic testing can determine race.

    Note, I’m correcting a claim you and others are making which is false, I personally don’t see what the question is doing on the census and don’t think it belongs there anyway. I am pretty sure that the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits this kind of questioning anyway. But what the hey, the Supreme Court said it was OK to violate the clear wording and intent of the 1964 CRA, so the federal government and all state governments are doing so.

  • 54 Catherine // May 4, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    I had initially started to fill out the census form and, like others, felt that the questions were intrusive and irrelevant. I therefore chose not to send it in. If they choose to send an enumerator to my door, so be it. As an after thought, wouldn’t it be great to just check ALL of the races listed on the question….let’s just chalk it up to my family is such a mix of nationalities that I really don’t know. How could they argue with that? Or maybe we should just say that “we are all the same in the eyes of God”.

  • 55 Walter // May 7, 2010 at 3:55 am

    Here is some news. Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin is not a race. There is only one question about race on the census form. The information is useful, especially for comparing to prior census data. You may not believe this but race is useful for marketing because there are some general preferences among the various races.

  • 56 Abc // May 7, 2010 at 7:51 am

    After refusing to fill two forms, I have now been visited twice by census employees. I have told them to leave both times. I informed them to have me arrested as - oh by the way - I am a retired LEO. This ought to be interesting.

  • 57 You'reAnIdiot // May 27, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    You’re an idiot.

    Every state legislature draws boundaries for congressional districts. To meet requirements of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, they must ensure that the districts have some reasonable diversity. That’s why they ask the question.

    You’re a double idiot.

    The reason historians can tell the American story is because they have data on where people have come from, patterns of migration. I suppose that information is irrelevant to you.

  • 58 Wert // May 27, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    If Americans don’t trust their government today, wait till they see what happens if they leave census questions blank. The result won’t be smaller government. It will be government by guesswork. Faulty data will drive funding decisions about housing, education and other programs, and will be used as evidence in discrimination suits involving bank loans, employment and contracting.

  • 59 REsident Apt. 1 // Jun 8, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    There is a bill before Congress to make the American Community Survey completely voluntary.
    You can find out how to support the bill at:
    http://www.censusthis.wordpress.com
    You can also download a Refuse to Answer the Questions Notice to the Census Bureau to mail back with your unanswered form if you choose, as some people do to mail it back unanswered.

  • 60 Tom H C Anderson // Jun 10, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Indian 2010 Census is actually considering asking Caste. Sounds very similar to the issues we had with the US Census…

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20100609/wl_csm/306239

  • 61 Kathi // Jun 15, 2010 at 9:47 am

    I actually filled my census form out and mailed it in. True I was late, but I mailed it in. But is that good enough for the Census? Nope. Apparently if you mail it in late they still have to send someone to collect the information. Ummm can’t you just call the Data Capture Center in Phoenix (where mine had to be mailed) and double check the information.

  • 62 Ariel // Sep 12, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    I have two American Indian descents, and 3 white. I was lost at that. Puerto Rican, Cherokee, Spanish, Greek and Italian. Though my Italian is olive, not exactly white.

  • 63 Racist Biggot // Nov 28, 2010 at 5:30 am

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    I also did not answer the race and ethnicity questions. I somewhat resented what I felt to be personal data irrelevant to the government’s function (what the hell could it matter? I don’t need any religion/race/ethnicity related help, and don’t want any either). More importantly, I did not like the implication that it a) mattered, and b) would be used.

    I feel a more-extreme parallel in history may demonstrate even innocuous and innocent collections of data like this may be used for discriminatory and immoral purposes. In the Netherlands, the Jews had amongst the highest death rates of all the occupied countries (I believe the highest). The reason is widely attributed to the existence of a religious tax whereby the citizen would choose their local religious institution of choice which would receive a portion of their tax dollars from the government- the argument being that the Catholics can support the catholic churches, the Lutherans their own, Jews their own, et cet.

    Well, when they were occupied, this presented a nice roll-call of the Jews that needed “resettling” as the Nazi’s claimed was the purpose. This “resettling” was very effective, and as a result, a huge proportion of the jews in the Netherlands were killed by the Nazis.

    No I am not claiming this is morally relevant to this census issue, but it is a useful example of how even innocent collections of this kind of data may be put to unintended uses in the future, and that even the best of intentions don’t prevent data from being used in the future to bad ends. As I fail to see the benefit in this data being archived by the government, I refused to provide it and stated such over the question, along with my protestation. Nobody called or said anything, so I think I got away with it.

  • 64 Vincent Granville // Mar 11, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    I don’t know which race I belong to, and it does not matter to me. Quite likely, a mix of all races.

    Likewise, I can’t accurately tell what my income is: how do you define income?

  • 65 Tom H C Anderson // Mar 12, 2012 at 8:46 am

    LOL, @Vincent, the latter question is difficult for me to answer as well. I think that’s more unique to business owners ;)

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