This column was originally published by Salon on July 18, 1997.
A Clinton task force has unanimously recommended against adding a multiracial category to census forms, which now only list four official races: white, black, American Indian and Alaskan Native, and Asian and Pacific Islander. According to the Los Angeles Times, the recommendation marks a victory for “traditional civil rights and ethnic advocacy groups — such as the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza” — because a multiracial category would dilute their numbers and decrease their benefits. The wrangling over whether to add the category pitted these older civil rights groups against newer multiracial advocacy groups. Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland world of the new American apartheid.
Begin anywhere: Asians, to pick only one of those official categories, are not a race. The NAACP is not an ethnic advocacy group — it is concerned about a race. The National Council of La Raza (“The Race”) is an ethnic advocacy group, but neither Hispanics nor Latinos — the ethnic constituencies it claims to represent — are actual ethnicities, in my opinion. They are language groups, and in the case of Latinos, not even that. Moreover, the terms Latino and Hispanic cover not only different but polarized ethnicities, nationalities and races (e.g., the Mexican Indians of Chiapas and their European-descended oppressors). Finally, neither the NAACP nor La Raza are concerned for civil rights these days, judging by their advocacy of racial and ethnic preferences generally, and the zeal with which they have opposed the civil rights claims of multiracial Americans in this case.
As the multiracial latecomers have discovered, there is no room for them at the (so-called) civil rights table. Despite creating their own advocacy institutions modeled on what has become of the civil rights struggle, (including a march on Washington to protest their under-representation), they have come up virtually empty in their quest for a census box. There is not going to be a Tiger Woods band in the American rainbow — no designation for the one-quarter white, one-eighth black, one-quarter Thai, one-quarter Chinese, one-eighth Indian American.