Ross: Census expands ethnicity classifications to 217 unique identities

Mar 14, 2023, 8:05 AM | Updated: 5:39 pm


Census 2020 employees helps New Yorker fill census form at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem during Census Drive. Census Drive was coordinated with voter registration organized by Young Black Women protest group Freedom March NYC. The 2020 Census counts every person living in the United States and five U.S. territories. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Next year, just in time for the election, the federal government – by popular demand – will be rolling out a new list of possible ethnic and racial census classifications.

The idea is to provide the kind of nuance that can’t be captured in general categories such as “White,” “Black,” “Hispanic,” and “Asian.”

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These new categories will be used for the census and, ultimately, any research about discrimination.

But get ready – because there are going to be a lot of racial and ethnic categories.

And as far as I can tell, this will all be self-reported – which means it would be wise to start finding out who you really are.

So here are the categories proposed so far, as issued by the Office of Management and Budget a few weeks ago:

“White” people could identify as German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, or French. People from the Middle East or North Africa would no longer be considered “White” as they are now– they would choose between Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, or Israeli.

The “Hispanic” category would be divided into Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Salvadorian, Dominican, and Colombian.

“Black or African American” would be divided into African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Somalian, and so on for the remaining categories of “Asian,” “American Indian,” “Middle Eastern,” and “Pacific Islander.”

In all, there are seven main categories, each with six subcategories, which means that depending on whether you check some or all of the boxes under your category, you can choose from 217 unique identities, not counting the write-in options!

And there may be more coming – including further dividing the Black category into Freedmen or Descendants of Slavery – which would be necessary in the event of a reparations program.

In my own case, I would check off Italian and German because both sets of grandparents were immigrants – although I don’t expect to see any benefits coming from that. Unless Congress passes a compensation program for descendants of the losers of World War II.

So, I have no idea how useful these categories will be, but I hope it helps.

If nothing else, maybe this will finally make the issue of identity confusing enough that we’ll just have to throw in the towel and be nice to everyone.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: Census expands ethnicity classifications to 217 unique identities