More census data….the minority-majority issue

I was happy to see that my post from yesterday  got an excellent comment from Glenn, a former Census Bureau employee.  He let me know that it was likely the sample they used was actually a stratified cluster sample, which is not exactly what I had surmised, but close.

As I was looking up more info on some of the Census Bureau data, I ran in to a fascinating column from Matthew Yglesias over at  In it, he describes his experience filling out the census form, and how his own experience made him question some of the data being released.

In specific, he questioned the recent headline that we are quickly heading towards a minority-majority society.  He mentions that as a 25% Cuban man, he looks very white, but was not sure how to answer the question regarding whether he was “Hispanic in origin”.  If he wasn’t sure how to answer a race question, how many others were in his boat?  He further comments that as people continue to become increasingly of mixed racial background (keeping in mind that 1 out of 12 marriages is now mixed race) it is much more likely that we will have to shift our concept of what “white” is to keep up with the times.

As Elizabeth Warren can tell you, percentage of heritage matters….but where do we draw the line?  If 3% Native American isn’t enough, how much is?  I mean that quite literally.  I don’t know.

In my cultural competency class in school, we had a fascinating example of racial confusion.  One of the girls I sat next too mentioned that her grandparents were from Lebanon, had immigrated to South America, her parents were both born there, married, moved to the US, and that’s where she was born.  Her skin was fair, she was fluent in Spanish, and she felt she spent her life explaining that she was genetically Arabic, ethnically South American and culturally American.  I don’t know what she checked off on the census, but I’m sure nothing captured that particular combination accurately.

As times change, so do our ideas of race. When reading the history of census racial classification, it’s hard to disagree with Yglesias’ assertion that today’s racial breakdown will not be comparable to whatever breakdown we have in ten years.  That’s a good thing to keep in mind when analyzing racial data.

 Racial numbers are as good as the categories we have to put them in.