What Is "Your" Race?: The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans

Princeton University Press
Free sample

America is preoccupied with race statistics--perhaps more than any other nation. Do these statistics illuminate social reality and produce coherent social policy, or cloud that reality and confuse social policy? Does America still have a color line? Who is on which side? Does it have a different "race" line--the nativity line--separating the native born from the foreign born? You might expect to answer these and similar questions with the government's "statistical races." Not likely, observes Kenneth Prewitt, who shows why the way we count by race is flawed.

Prewitt calls for radical change. The nation needs to move beyond a race classification whose origins are in discredited eighteenth-century race-is-biology science, a classification that once defined Japanese and Chinese as separate races, but now combines them as a statistical "Asian race." One that once tried to divide the "white race" into "good whites" and "bad whites," and that today cannot distinguish descendants of Africans brought in chains four hundred years ago from children of Ethiopian parents who eagerly immigrated twenty years ago. Contrary to common sense, the classification says there are only two ethnicities in America--Hispanics and non-Hispanics. But if the old classification is cast aside, is there something better?



What Is Your Race? clearly lays out the steps that can take the nation from where it is to where it needs to be. It's not an overnight task--particularly the explosive step of dropping today's race question from the census--but Prewitt argues persuasively that radical change is technically and politically achievable, and morally necessary.

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About the author

Kenneth Prewitt is the Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University. His books include The Hard Count: The Political and Social Challenges of Census Mobilization. He served as director of the U.S. Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 21, 2013
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9781400846795
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / History & Theory
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Policy
Social Science / Discrimination & Race Relations
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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American democracy relies on an accurate census to fairly allocate political representation and billions of dollars in federal funds. Declining participation in previous censuses and a general waning of civic engagement in society raised the possibility that the 2000 count would miss many Americans—disproportionately ethnic and racial minorities—depriving them of their share of influence in American society and yielding an unfair distribution of federal resources. Faced with this possibility, the Census Bureau launched a massive mobilization campaign to encourage Americans to complete and return their census forms. In The Hard Count, former Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt, D. Sunshine Hillygus, Norman H. Nie, and Heili Pals present a rigorous evaluation of this campaign. Can a busy, mobile, disengaged public be motivatived to participate in this civic activity? Using a rich set of data and drawing on theories of civic mobilization, political persuasion, and media effects, the authors assess the factors that influenced participation in the 2000 census..

The Hard Count profiles a watershed moment in the history of the American census. As the mobilization campaign was underway, political opposition to the census sprang up, citing privacy issues and seeking to limit the kind of data the census could collect. Hillygus, Nie, Prewitt, and Pals analyze the competing effects of the mobilization campaign and the privacy controversy on public attitudes and cooperation with the census. Using an internet based survey, the authors tracked a representative sample of Americans over time to gauge changes in census attitudes, privacy concerns, and their eventual decision whether or not to return their census form. The study uniquely captures the public’s exposure to census advertising, community mobilization, and news stories, and was designed so people could view video clips and photos of actual campaign advertisements on their sets in their homes. The authors find that the Census Bureau campaign did in fact raise awareness of the census and census participation. The mobilization campaign was especially effective at increasing participation among groups historically undercounted by the census. They also find that census participation would have been higher if not for the privacy controversy, which discouraged many people from cooperating with the census and led others to omit information from their census form. The findings of The Hard Count have important policy implications for future census counts and offer theoretical insights regarding the influence of mobilization campaigns on civic participation.

The goal of full and equal cooperation with the decennial census and other government surveys is an important national priority. The Hard Count shows that a mobilization campaign can dramatically increase voluntary participation in the decennial headcount and identifies emerging social and political challenges that may threaten future census counts and contribute to the growing fragility of our national statistical system..

A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Census Series

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American democracy relies on an accurate census to fairly allocate political representation and billions of dollars in federal funds. Declining participation in previous censuses and a general waning of civic engagement in society raised the possibility that the 2000 count would miss many Americans—disproportionately ethnic and racial minorities—depriving them of their share of influence in American society and yielding an unfair distribution of federal resources. Faced with this possibility, the Census Bureau launched a massive mobilization campaign to encourage Americans to complete and return their census forms. In The Hard Count, former Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt, D. Sunshine Hillygus, Norman H. Nie, and Heili Pals present a rigorous evaluation of this campaign. Can a busy, mobile, disengaged public be motivatived to participate in this civic activity? Using a rich set of data and drawing on theories of civic mobilization, political persuasion, and media effects, the authors assess the factors that influenced participation in the 2000 census..

The Hard Count profiles a watershed moment in the history of the American census. As the mobilization campaign was underway, political opposition to the census sprang up, citing privacy issues and seeking to limit the kind of data the census could collect. Hillygus, Nie, Prewitt, and Pals analyze the competing effects of the mobilization campaign and the privacy controversy on public attitudes and cooperation with the census. Using an internet based survey, the authors tracked a representative sample of Americans over time to gauge changes in census attitudes, privacy concerns, and their eventual decision whether or not to return their census form. The study uniquely captures the public’s exposure to census advertising, community mobilization, and news stories, and was designed so people could view video clips and photos of actual campaign advertisements on their sets in their homes. The authors find that the Census Bureau campaign did in fact raise awareness of the census and census participation. The mobilization campaign was especially effective at increasing participation among groups historically undercounted by the census. They also find that census participation would have been higher if not for the privacy controversy, which discouraged many people from cooperating with the census and led others to omit information from their census form. The findings of The Hard Count have important policy implications for future census counts and offer theoretical insights regarding the influence of mobilization campaigns on civic participation.

The goal of full and equal cooperation with the decennial census and other government surveys is an important national priority. The Hard Count shows that a mobilization campaign can dramatically increase voluntary participation in the decennial headcount and identifies emerging social and political challenges that may threaten future census counts and contribute to the growing fragility of our national statistical system..

A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Census Series

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