Institutionalized Racism & Reporting on Census Data

The Census Bureau collects race and Hispanic origin information following the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) standards for collecting and tabulating data on race and ethnicity. The current standards identify five race groups: white, black or African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and the Census Bureau added "some other race." Respondents who reported only one race are shown in these six groups. Respondents could also select multiple races with which to identify.

In the 2010 Census, there were 57 different combinations of race possible. When the data are categorized by ethnicity (Hispanic or not Hispanic) as well, the combinations double to 114.

The US is in the middle of major demographic change. The Pew Research Center describes some of the aspects of this change, not the least of which is that between April 2010 and July 2011, over 90% of the nation's growth came from Hispanics of any race, plus non-Hispanic African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and American Native Hawaiians & other Pacific Islanders.

So what are the headlines for this data? Per Google News

"Whites Account for Under Half of Births in the US"
"Minority Birth Rate: Racial and Ethnic Minorities Surpass Whites..."
"Non-white Births Outnumber White Births for the First Time in US"
"Racial and Ethnic Babies Surpass US Caucasian Births"

All of these headlines share similar flaws.

  1. We are all supposed to know that "whites" mean "white, non-Hispanic". Because apparently, white Hispanics don't exist.
  2. That the rich detail on demographic differences in non-white populations of any ethnicity are of no interest.
  3. That the white, non-Hispanic population is the only one worth highlighting.
  4. That because the white, non-Hispanic population no longer exceeds 50% of all births, it is a "minority".

Or to summarize, according to the reporting,

  • There's nothing wrong with lumping together 113 race and ethnicity combinations in order to focus on what's really important: the white, non-Hispanic population, aka combination 114.
  • Nor is there anything wrong with saying that because one combination out of 114 no longer exceeds 50% of all births, then that combination is a minority, which is incorrect.

Even the Census Bureau falls into this trap. As you can see below in the screenshot of their table on population change, not only is the white, non-Hispanic population the only combination of that type displayed, but it's at the top-most level of the outline and it's bolded and in all capitals. Talk about drawing a picture with statistics.


Writing about such major demographic change - the growth of the population of every other kind of American - as if it's a story primarily about the fate of the white, non-Hispanic population only makes sense in a nation which privileges the white, non-Hispanic population as the single most important group. It's a textbook case of how institutionalized racism pervades our environment, misdirects our attention and leads to sloppy reporting.

(1) Bureau, U. C. (n.d.). 2010 Census Shows America's Diversity. Retrieved May 17, 2012, from

(2) Passel, J., Livingston, G., & Cohn, D. (n.d.). Explaining Why Minority Births Now Outnumber White Births | Pew Social & Demographic Trends. Retrieved May 17, 2012, from

(3) Tavernise, S. (2012, May 17). Whites Account for Under Half of Births in U.S. The New York Times. Retrieved from

(4) YEN, H. (2012, May 17). Minority Birth Rate: Racial and Ethnic Minorities Surpass Whites In U.S. Births For First Time, Census Reports. Huffington Post. Retrieved May 17, 2012, from

(5) Non-white births outnumber white births for the first time in US. (2012, May 17) Retrieved from

(6) Racial and ethnic babies surpass US caucasian births | (n.d.) Retrieved from

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Amy West published on May 17, 2012 1:02 PM.

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