Changes to Census Race Questions May Make Whites Less Than 50 Percent of Population Sooner

Russell Contreras, AP, November 18, 2015

The Census Bureau is considering changes to its race and ethnicity questions that would reclassify some minorities who were considered “white” in the past, a move that may speed up the date when America’s white population falls below 50 percent.

Census Director John Thompson told The Associated Press this week that the bureau is testing a number of new questions and may combine its race and ethnicity questions into one category for the 2020 census. That would allow respondents to choose multiple races.

The possible changes include allowing Latinos to give more details about their ethnic backgrounds and creating a new, distinct category for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent.

“We haven’t made any decisions yet,” Thompson said in an interview before his meeting Tuesday with American Indian leaders in New Mexico. “But I don’t think these new questions would diminish anything. It would just give us more information about our diverse populations.”

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In the past, “white” was the only racial option available to Arab-American respondents, a classification that didn’t truly reflect their social standing and hurt efforts for their political empowerment in post-Sept. 11 America, said Samer Khalaf, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

“If you are going to classify me as white, then treat (me) as white,” Khalaf said. “Especially when I go to the airport. So yeah, it’s inaccurate.”

For years, many U.S. Latinos also checked the “white” box because options were limited, said Lorenzo Cano, associate director of the Center of Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston. But many Latinos are now opting to check “American Indian” to identify with their links to indigenous populations in Latin America.

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How much the changes could speed up the moment when minorities will outnumber whites is anyone’s guess. Analysts would first have to examine the new data–some of which won’t be comparable to 2010 because of the possible new categories, Frey said.

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