September 22, 2013

The social construction of race (and the racial construction of society)

From my VDARE review of a book by the former head of the Census Bureau on how to reform the government's racial/ethnic categories:
I’m frequently accused of being overly interested in race and ethnicity, to which I reply: “Didn’t you fill in your Census questionnaire?” 
Now, Kenneth Prewitt, whom Bill Clinton appointed head of the Census Bureau in 1998, has published an informative book, What Is Your Race?: The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans, documenting the federal government’s dysfunctional combination of near-monomania over counting by race and lack of coherent thought about the long-run effects of how racial boundaries are drawn. 
Despite his half-decade in charge of the Census, Prewitt shares with the average American a certain perplexity over his old department’s fixation upon race and ethnicity. ...
Prewitt argues that if race and ethnicity are social constructs, as all good liberals like him assume, then our democracy ought to be prudent about how we socially construct them. Prewitt takes the scientifically discredited “race does not exist” conventional wisdom seriously, but you don’t have to fully accept that to see the good sense in his advice.

Read the whole thing there.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

After their final defeat in the American War of Independence, the band of the British army struck up a tune called "The World Turned Upside Down" - sorry, I'm not actually familiar with the piece of music.
Well anyhow, "The World Turned Upside Down" always reminds me of the embyonic caste system that is developing in the USA. Here we have the ridiculous spectable of what, (still is), the dominant majority willingly and knowingly absing itself to become third class citizens and the bitch of castes it not so long ago subjugated.
It's not so much bizarre as perverse - unprecedented in the long, long itany of beast and man.'Tis rather like the lamb bossing around the lion.
Perhaps I've ruffled too many feathers here, but that's just the way it is.

Aaron Gross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dearieme said...

My guess is that "race" in the US tends to be code for The Negro Problem.

No doubt you'll all tell me if that conjecture is wrong.

Marston said...

Aaron in Tel Aviv's self-importance never ceases to amaze.

BB753 said...

For the record, I´m totally against Affirmative Action, which is just a crony jobs program and shameless clientelism at its worst, but if you´re going to have AA, you can´t have open borders. Unless you´re willing to break the buck.
As for ethnicity in census forms: is there a point at which ethnicity prescribes? That is, in what meaningful way is a New York Rican still Hispanic after 5 generations in the US? If a "Hispanic" can no longer speak Spanish and was born and raised in the USA in a generic American culture, does he still qualify as Hispanic? Of course, racially he would be classified as mixed race, or mestizo, or whatever.
I´ve met Japanese Peruvians. Which makes them Asian Hispanics. If they go on to merge into generic American culture, would they become palin Asians in a couple of generatons? Anf if not, why?
Better to stick to plain old geographic descriptions, and allow multiple choices, and leave ethnicity out, IMHO. Or if you want to keep ethnicity, allow for more ethnic definitions: Anglo-saxon, middle-eastern, european, south asian, etc.

carol said...

I work with police systems, and the FBI sure as hell keeps track of race and ethnicity for their statistics. I'd like to see the liberal race "construct" types derail that train.

Anonymous said...

The Census breakdown lists NO Americans. There are only American Indians and African Americans but that is all. Otherwise there are Italian and British and French etc. But NO Americans live in America.

Mr. Anon said...

"Marston said...

Aaron in Tel Aviv's self-importance never ceases to amaze."

What did it say? It seems to have been removed.

McGillicuddy said...

Tuned in mid-interview, and heard this guy on npr a month or so ago. He must have been hawking this book; he bashed the census for its complacent bureaucratic acceptance of Blumenbach’s racial categories, and argued that the census should allow people to identify themselves by nationality instead of race. He said that this would more accurately reflect the composition of America’s ancestral communities—yes, he sounded like a wiener.

He argued that broad racial grouping obscures important differences, citing the different experiences of the Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the Indians, whom are all classified as Asian. Moreover, Blumenbach’s system is obsolete in an America with an increasing multiracial population. He struck me as not just a wiener, but a disingenuous fool.

For one thing, as the former head of the agency, he must know that the census actually does allow people to choose ancestries, and even tabulates them by first response, second response, and sole response. But race is a another thing and we also keep track of that too.

And if Blumenbachian racialism is out-of-date in mixed race America, where does that leave ancestry? Americans are much more mixed up ethnically than racially. Oh, but wait a minute; ethnic mixing is disproportionately white, and racial mixing is disproportionately non-white. So really, the priority given race over ethnicity is another example of white privilege that must be eliminated.

If the census bureau is going to make a change, it should consider making ancestry explicitly ethnic, as in other countries. Currently, ancestry in America must be anchored to place, and this can give a misleading picture. The obvious example is that there is no Jewish option, so those who aren’t in the know are left to wonder why there are so many Russians in New York and Miami.

countenance said...

Confusing? Yes.

But the solution is easy:

Ethnostate.

Ethnically challenged said...

First, the Census really should count where people live and who are citizens (I realize it currently doesn't do the the second thing at all, and there are problems with how it does the first), and nothing else. That is the constitutional mandate behind the Census Bureau, one of the few government actions that are constitutionally required. That doesn't mean that the federal government can't keep track of all the other stuff, its just that it should be done by some other agency.

That would also settle the headcount vs sampling debate, you use a through headcount to establish where people live for apportionment purposes, and then whoever is collecting demographic or socialeconomic data can use whatever statistical method they want.

The only racial groups that arguably should be counted by the census are native americans and Puerto Ricans, since they way they became citizens is somewhat different from the way everyone else became citizens, and there are legal ramifications as to whether or not you are a member of an Indian tribe, for example. However, I don't see why the Bureau of Indian Affairs couldn't keep track of this stuff, same if there is some need to keep track of Puerto Ricans on the mainland the Puerto Rican government can do that.

If you wanted to still run affirmative action programs for African-Americans/ Blacks, the Justice Department could be charged with coming up with some way to track who is qualified.

And if you really need to track racial and ethnic categories beyond the above, the way to do it would be some variant on the grandparents question. For instance, "List the country of origin of each of your grandparents", and then "list the native language of each of your grandparents", and "list which, if any, of your grandparents were subject to legal discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity, and on what basis." In my case the answer would be "Italy/ US/ Russia/ Russia", "Italian/ English/ German/ German", and "no" in all four cases, which is enough information for a bureaucrat to construct an ethnic identity for me. Then I would receive a postcard later listing my ethnic/ racial background and what government benefits I qualify for, and later what was on the postcard itself could be a demographic question. I have no idea which legitimate public purpose this would serve.

Aaron Gross said...

@Marston, sometimes even I'm amazed. I deleted my comment soon after posting it, after you read it, I guess, but before your comment appeared.

rob said...

carol said...
I work with police systems, and the FBI sure as hell keeps track of race and ethnicity for their statistics. I'd like to see the liberal race "construct" types derail that train.


The, uh, liberals already pwned the FBI stats with not a peep from conservatives, media, or anyone else. The FBI doesn't keep track of Hispanics as perpetrators, only as victims. Worse still, they count Hispanic criminals as white, which obscures the b/w crime gap in addition to making hispanic crime disappear. Hiding hispanic crime is pretty much treason.

Anonymous said...

The annoying thing to me is when they give the following options:

Black
White non-hispanic
Hispanic
Asian
Other

What if a person is Black, White or Asian, and hispanic?

Steve has often pointed out the totally white politicians and public figures who are hispanic. So, what about those of us who have some Spanish ancestry from relatives who lived in Mexico?

Anyway, I expressed this sentiment to my son and he has decided to put hispanic on all of his stuff because he has some hispanic ancestry and wants white guys like himself to get something out of this stupid game instead of just getting stabbed in the back for being heirs of those who built western civilization.

Anonymous said...

Race is just a "social construct"?

Only in the west is such delusion possible. The rest of the race-realist world must laugh at us.

Harry Baldwin said...

The comprehensiveness of Mexican racial categories is staggering, reflecting the Spanish obsession with bloodlines. (I recently learned from a
Taki article that the term "blue blood" comes from the Spanish "sangre azul." Christian war leaders from northern Spain would roll up their sleeves to show their blue veins through their pale skin, untainted by Arab or Berber melanin.) The number of terms doubles because each is gender specific ("mestizo" and "mestiza").

Here is a basic list, garnered from the internet:

Peninsular = Spaniard born on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain).
Meztizo = One born of a Spanish father and Indian mother.
Creole (Criollo) = Child of a Peninsular but born in Mexico (New World).
Caztizo = A Meztizo and a Creole.
Cholo = An Indian and a Meztizo.
Mulatto = A Peninsular and a Black. (The term mulatto derives from “mule,” the mating of a horse and a donkey.)
Zambo or Cafuzo = A Black and an Indian.
Cuarteron (Quadroon)= a Mulatto and a White.
Terceron (Octoroon) = a Quadroon and a White.
Tentenelaire = a Terceron and a Mulatto. (translates as "up in the air.")
Euromeztizo = Indian with Spanish characteristics dominating.
Indomeztizo = A Spaniard with Indian characteristics dominating.
Pardo = Colored, can be used to refer to any mixed race person.

An interesting term is Saltapatras, meaning a genetic throwback. It usually refers to the product of a mixed-race marriage in which the offspring looks more black than the parents.

The Mexican band Maldita Vecindad’s album Baile de Máscaras (1996) includes the anti-racist song “Salta pa trás,”
which lists every racial category used in Mexico. The lyrics are below. Unfortunately, many are slang and defy computer translation.

Barzino con india - calpamulato,
meztizo con blanca - castizo,
mestiza con blanco - castizo cuatralvo,
china con lobo - jibaro,
indio con loba - tente en el aire,
indio con negra - zambo,
blanco y albina - saltapa'tras
cambujo con india - sambaigo,

CORO:
Sangre con sangre,
mujeres y hombres.
Poder necesitas de hombres,
temor, divisiones.
Colores y castas:
herencia de segregaciones.

Indio y mestiza - coyote,
mestizo con india - cholo,
negro con zamba - zambo prieto,
blanco y mulata - morisco,
blanco con negra - mulato,
lobo con negra - chino,
negro con india - jarocho,
indio con negra - lobo.

CORO
Nuestras diferencias somos,
no hay pureza.
Indios y banda - patarrajada,
tibiris, nacos, guarines,
jotos y bugas, machorras,
chilangos, oaxacos, yucas,
fresas y gruesos, jipiosos,
cholos y chulos, teporochos,
grifos y pochos,
chichifos,
zafados, pirados, dementes...
Miedo a los otros,
a costumbres distintas.
Poder, necesitas de nombres,
disfraces y reglas.

Clasificaciones:
vivir de segregaciones.
Nuestras diferencias somos,
no hay pureza.

pat said...

I've been interested in this issue for a couple months. Last week I ordered a book called 'Applied Statistical Genetics with R'. That seems to be the wrong book. In my ignorance I thought it was about population genetics.

I have been trying to understand population genetics better because the core of the "Race is a Social Construct" argument is Lewontin's argument regarding the Fst statistic. Harpending has refuted Lewontin's argument so effectively that it is now commonly called "Lewontin's Fallacy". But I want to understand the dispute mathematically.

The sociology of the argument (Race is a Construct) is so flimsy as to hardly merit a second thought. There are several liberal pundits on YouTube who explain that dressing a baby boy in blue is not a function of biology, just a social convention. They then assert that with the beginning of the African Slave Trade to America around 1619 the white man invented the idea of the Negro. That notion is too stupid to refute. But the analysis of variance argument by Lewontin, being more obscure, is less obviously wrong.

There are several population genetics books on Amazon but they tend to be very expensive.

Albertosaurus

David said...

Social construction of race and racial construction of society is a really good line.

dirk said...

You wrote:

"Whether Mexicans even like Cubans remains uninvestigated, except on VDARE.com."

I have a field report. I went to a Cuban/Puerto Rican festival over the weekend in Houston. (The Cuban bands were great, the Puerto Rican ones not so much.)Easily 10 to 20 thousand people there, many wearing either Cuban or Puerto Rican shirts. At one point I joked to my girlfriend: "At least there are no Mexicans here." But at one point the announcer on stage asked by show of applause who was from Cuba, who was from Puerto Rico and who was from Mexico. The crowd was overwhelmingly from Mexico.

So it appears pretty clear that Mexicans do in fact identify strongly with Cubans and Puerto Ricans as fellow Latinos and see themselves participating in a shared culture with them.

Anonymous said...

The only question I have ever filled out on my census questionnaire (including old long-form ones that ask about the number of commodes in my house) is the question about the number of persons resident in the house.

Never a peep out of them about the missing info.

Anonymous said...

My ancestors came from germnay but I don't identify as german at all. The history I identify with is the american story of the pilgrims, the revolution, the civil war, WWII, etc. I am a member of the ethnic group formerly known as americans, but now the ethnic group that shall not be named.

Anonymous said...

If race does not exist, than affirmative action will not exist.

If race is real, then affirmative action will have to be real.

I'll take the blank slate without affirmative action any day over the "race realism" which inevitably perpetuate affirmative action. HBD is much more destructive to society.

McGillicuddy said...



I'll take the blank slate without affirmative action any day over the "race realism" which inevitably perpetuate affirmative action. HBD is much more destructive to society.

Forget citizenism or libertarianism or whatever race-neutral idea you have in mind; countenance is right, the ethnostate is the answer.

Hepp said...

Don't Mexicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans pretty much live in different parts of the country? So the only exposure they get to one another is through the MSM narrative. How can there be latent hostility when these groups don't really interact?

Anonymous said...

Mark Teixeira is a yankee but because of his Portuguese ancestry he is also Hispanic. How crazy is that?

Svigor said...

I work with police systems, and the FBI sure as hell keeps track of race and ethnicity for their statistics. I'd like to see the liberal race "construct" types derail that train.

It would make stop, question, and frisk the law of the land, and a sharp rise in the black incarceration rate. So, I doubt they'd like to try.

The obvious example is that there is no Jewish option, so those who aren’t in the know are left to wonder why there are so many Russians in New York and Miami.

Feature, not bug. From what I hear, the Jewish lobby is the reason there are no religious questions on the Census. Jews don't like being counted by anyone but Jews.

My ancestors came from germnay but I don't identify as german at all. The history I identify with is the american story of the pilgrims, the revolution, the civil war, WWII, etc. I am a member of the ethnic group formerly known as americans, but now the ethnic group that shall not be named.

American-American.

Anonymous said...

I checked "Other" on my Census form and wrote in "American". I'm sure I'm on some list now.

Anonymous said...

How can there be latent hostility when these groups don't really interact?

Mexico and Cuba are two countries separated by a common language.

David said...

For all the blather we hear from TPTB that "there is only one race, the human race," we still don't see "human" as a choice on the census. This is fortunate because when I had a pet, I always included her as a member of the household. I included each goldfish, too.