I figure, nothing is new under the sun, right? Somewhere, someone else has been thinking about this.
- A report from North Carolina Public Health entitled "Self-Reported versus Published Data on Racial Classification in North Carolina Birth Records", dated February 2004, by Paul Buescher, Ziya Gizlice and Kathleen Jones-Vessey.
Methods: Text entries of race by the mother, collected through the electronic birth registration system, are described as well as the coding rules whereby these entries are converted to standard racial categories for the reporting of birth statistics.
Results: Out of nearly 118,000 live births in North Carolina, mothers reported more than 600 different versions of race on the birth certificates. These entries are collapsed into ten standard racial categories according to federal coding rules. Approximately two-thirds of mothers of Hispanic ethnicity report their race with a label that can be categorized as “Other” race, but nearly all of these births are re-coded to “White” for the official birth statistics. (**See note at the bottom of this post)
Conclusions: This study shows that, given the opportunity to report their own race, North Carolinians describe their race with a wide variety of terms and concepts. In contrast, health statistics are usually reported using a few standardized racial categories defined by federal policy.
Interesting quote right in the introduction of the 7-page paper:
Published health data give the impression that racial categories are distinct and well-defined. However, there is a growing consensus in the scientific community that distinct human races do not exist.1 But because of the historical social stratification role of race, particularly in the United States, categorization of people by race continues."
1. Kaplan JB, Bennett T. Use of race and ethnicity in biomedical publication. JAMA 2003; 289:2709-2716.
Some other quotes:
Ultimately, “people are who they say they are. This requires a recognition that such definitions change over time, and that they may not correspond to any of the set of choices that researchers have fixed in advance.”
“Race” in the mind of an individual may be quite different from fixed statistical categories determined by governmental agencies. Some people do not understand the concept of race, and others do not want to be categorized by race. A broadly defined racial group is at best a crude marker for particular health problems, and certainly not a risk factor or cause. Racial discrimination, however, may account for part of the observed differences between racial groups in some health indicators.
You can read the paper here. It was actually an easy read.
- A similar study and report was done in California.
- A short article entitled Racial Profiling In American Healthcare, by Mandy Willingham, published in 2003, discusses whether racial classifications are valid. On the one hand, while "...the June 2000 Humane Genome Project report seemingly denounced the medical validity of race with the indisputable conclusion that 99.9% of all homo sapiens share the same genetic material..." certain ethnicities are certainly more prone to certain disease than others, or react to medications differently.
- An article entitled "DNA Validity and Capability in Ethnic Identification" published April/May 2001.
**Little Historical footnote. The government has taken it upon itself to change "racial" designations at another point in history (passage taken from the Monacan Nation website):
"Virginia passed its Racial Integrity Law in 1924, which prohibited intermarriage between those considered white and those having any mixture of colored blood more than one-sixteenth. This law was to have a disastrous effect on the Monacan people and resulted in many of their records being changed by state officials without their knowledge. Many Monacans left the state during this time, because they were no longer permitted to marry freely or to register as Indian in any official capacity. Indian children were at this time attending a first-to-seventh-grade school at Bear Mountain, and some were known to walk five miles each way to reach the school.
During this period, Monacans began challenging the official classifications of their race by state officials and census takers. The debate continued through 1942, when several Monacans led a legal challenge to the state's actions, and Dr. Walter Plecker, who headed the state Bureau of Vital Statistics, was forced to admit that he had no scientific evidence ascertaining the Monacans' race. In 1943, Monacans challenged the local draft board successfully resolving their incorrect racial classification for the World War II draft."