Policy Memo for Masters in Public Health


Wolfe memo 2 (NAACP) page 1


To: Kweise Mfume, Director, NAACP

From: Director of Community Development, NAACP Date: 2/19/03

Re: Federal data collection on race


Included in every decennial census in U.S. history, federal estimates of African-American populations have been a flawed but important gauge of potential NAACP membership since our founding in 1909. Recent debate over whether federal categories of race are adequate to describe the increasingly diverse U.S. population, however, are threatening the inclusion of racial categories in the 2010 census and other federal research efforts. Prominent African-American researchers such as Columbia University’s Mindy Fullilove, as well as institutions including the American Anthropological Association and the Institute of Medicine, have recommended replacement of racial categories with those detailing ethnic affiliation, or called for an end to federal collection of race/ethnicity data altogether. They contend that race is a socially constructed rather than biologically significant, that racial identifications shift with social context, and that current research often fails to account for differences between racial categories assigned to subjects by interviewers and those produced when individuals classify themselves. Recent studies showing the DNA of all races to be 99.9% identical, and finding equal genetic variation between members of the same racial group as between members of different races, have raised further questions about the utility of racial distinctions. Declines in NAACP membership over the past decade, and the priority given to increased membership in the 2002-2006 strategic plan, necessitate careful consideration of the implications of this debate for NAACP membership recruitment and policy priorities. De- emphasis or elimination of racial categories from federal data collection may make it difficult to document the racial inequalities whose removal is central to our mission, and may also influence the popular sense of African-American identity to which our advocacy efforts and recruitment materials have traditionally appealed. The 2002 census—the first to allow respondents to identify as more than one race—is instructive: more than 6 million Americans described themselves as mixed race. While nominally stressing the importance of equality for all minority groups, NAACP materials include little recognition of interracial or biracial identification. Issues 1. Debate on the utility of racial categories may result in revision or elimination of protocols for federal data collection on race Options

• Endorse removal of racial/ethnic categories from federal data collection, and funding of research into factors such as geographical concentration of poverty or social networks

• Advocate for replacement of racial categories with those focusing on ethnicity, and recast the NAACP as an organization serving ethnic groups of color

Wolfe memo 2 (NAACP) page 2

• Actively support current data collection guidelines, emphasizing the need for improved precision of research and more data on the lived experience of racism


• Actively support current data collection guidelines, emphasizing the need for improved precision of research and more data on the lived experience of racism

Rationale Advantages

• Allows continuity and comparability of federal research data over time

• Continues data collection on racial disparities in allocation of health care, housing, or risk from environmental pollution

• Enables analysis linking interests of African-Americans of different socioeconomic status and in various geographical locations

• Emphasizes NAACP commitment to the lived experience of race rather than to academic deconstruction of the category

• Opens the possibility for funding or research partnerships supporting our End Racism initiative Disadvantages

• Exposes NAACP to criticism from influential institutions and researchers who contend that racial categories are irrelevant or misleading

• Facilitates misinterpretation of research findings by those assuming that racial categories are fixed, mutually exclusive, and of marked biological significance

• Risks continued NAACP emphasis on African-Americans without adequate attention to those identifying as biracial, interracial, or mixed race

Next steps

• Draft policy statement in support of federal race categories for Board approval and submission to OMB Statistical Policy Office

• Create joint declaration in support of federal race categories. Potential signatories include: - Policy directors for other race-based or pan-ethnic groups (e.g., National Council of La

Raza, Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership) - African-American researchers and social scientists - Congressional Black Caucus members

• Release joint declaration at press conference held at the 2004 national conference in Miami

• Increase emphasis on interracial African-Americans in NAACP materials. Possibilities include: - Direct mail appeal from Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean young person - Regular column on mixed-race members, “Mixing it up” in The Crisis magazine - Incentives (e.g., free membership allotments) for local chapters enlisting young, mixed-

race, opinion leaders