OMB's Preliminary Recommendation
& an IV Commentary

By Charles Michael Byrd

The Office of Management and Budget announced last Wednesday (07-09-97) that Americans could choose more than one racial category on Census and other federal forms but would have no new "multiracial" box to check under new rules the agency proposed. OMB rejected creation of a multiracial category because "there is no general understanding of what the term means," said the federal task force that made the recommendation in a report being published in last Wednesday's Federal Register. OMB has also called for a sixty-day public comment period, during which you may voice your support or opposition for this proposal. The OMB website has detailed information concerning email and snail-mail addresses to which you may forward messages.

This is not a multiracial category per se, rather a scheme where the government requires the individual to parcel out portions of his or her identity to two or more of the established racial groups. Not only is there no consideration or understanding that the individual may not recognize these groups as valid in terms of identity and affiliation, there is no symbol or icon -- specifically a multiracial header -- representative of a self-determined, integral being who self-identifies other than monoracially.

Even for those of mixed-race who do view the current racial groups as valid, there is still no specific multiracial designation. According to OMB, "When the data are reported, counts should be provided of the number of persons who checked two races, three races or four races, and information on the combinations should also be provided." In other words, the government will effectively disperse the individual's identity in two or more directions and at day's end will have reduced it to a mere mathematical computation -- a cleverly negotiated line segment along the political color continuum.

To not be totally cynical and negative, let me add that this "check all that apply" format is a step toward a recognition of multiraciality -- albeit not a huge one.

This is certainly not what many of us wanted but, barring a sudden and terrific groundswell of support by multiracials all across the fruited plain for H.R. 830, Representative Tom Petri's bill in the House of Representatives, we're stuck with it.

The individuals and national organizations that are most intimately involved with the multiracial initiative are split over H.R. 830, and that split is reflective of a larger community-wide difference in political philosophy that is worth mentioning.

This leftist/centrist split within the mixed-race community has clearly manifested itself in the discussion of H.R. 830. Those individuals and organizations that opposed the bill did so from the beginning simply because its author is Republican and because conservative House Speaker Newt Gingrich has apparently endorsed it. Other individuals, organizations and publications -- Interracial Voice included -- did not automatically oppose it simply because of its GOP origins, and we were more than willing to give it a shot. That's a huge difference, and as A.D. Powell remarks in the Point-Counterpoint topic, Multiracials and the Republican Party:

Politics is a business of give and take. You "use" me and I "use" you. We are allies on some issues and opponents on other issues. Anyone who thinks that the Democratic Party and the civil rights establishment represent the forces of goodness and light against the Republican forces of evil and darkness is living in a dream world. Life is more complicated than that.
It has long been my hope that the multiracial community would not align itself solely with one political party and/or stale ideology right out of the gate. That the Democrats essentially take their black constituency for granted, though the latter routinely give that party 90+% of its vote, should be a warning to us. Many from the traditional civil rights organizations point to President Clinton's signing of last year's welfare reform bill as proof of their wishes being ignored. Conversely, those groups got their way on this issue, effectively torpedoing this initiative and making some of us actually feel good about it. (Could Clinton's possible guilt over welfare reform have caused his caving in on an issue that he once publicly supported?)

I'm a registered Democrat, but it's damn hard to believe that H.R. 830 was essentially ignored by a sizable block of our community so as to not offend the very organizations that offered the most resistance to the mixed-race initiative. (The argument that Rep. Petri's bill merely proposed a separate multiracial category with no sub-identifiers is a red herring, since the Congressman is on record saying that the bill could and probably would be amended accordingly.)

So, we've discovered that our community is really no different from any other relative to political affairs. Some are content with identity-politics as usual, and others are ready for bold moves that challenge convention. Some view the multiracial community as merely another "minority" group permanently situated on the "black" side of the "black/white" political color continuum, and others regard a multiracial identifier as one to which the vast majority of Americans could eventually drift, effectively neutralizing the concept of race.

Perhaps the next great initiative should be a full-blown, frontal assault on all racial categories, seeking to eliminate them forever. That, after all, would cure the disease of racial classification, instead of merely treating the symptoms!

Guest Editorial:
Leaving The Scene Of A Crime

by Nathan Douglas

The Political Color Continuum:
The multiracial community must NOT fall
into unconscious lockstep with the "black" community.


2001 all rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited without
the express written consent of Interracial Voice.