Unpacking RE-Center’s Racial Identity Survey Question
By: Dr. Sophia Bolt
It is a practice at RE-Center at the start of new partnerships, be it with a district, school, or another organization, to invite those who will be engaging with us to fill out a pre-survey. This pre-survey often includes identity questions of race and gender as well as questions to gauge participants’ knowledge of and comfortability in talking about issues of race and equity. We use the information gathered to inform our approach and be responsive to each partners’ positionality and needs.
Early this year, NPR published an article written by Hansi Lo Wang titled “New 'Latino' and 'Middle Eastern or North African' checkboxes proposed for U.S. forms”. It details the major changes proposed by the Biden administration to the forms for the 2030 census and federal government surveys. These changes “would transform how Latinos and people of Middle Eastern or North African descent are counted in statistics across the United States.” Currently, the standard race question does not include a response option for “Hispanic or Latino,” both of which are only recognized by the federal government as an ethnicity that can be of any race. Additionally, the current race question categorizes people with origins in Lebanon, Iran, Egypt and other countries in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region as white, though many people of MENA descent do not identify as white people. The Biden administration’s proposed change would alter the government's definition of "white" to no longer include people with MENA origins.
As Wang writes, “Research by the Census Bureau suggests both the addition of a ‘Middle Eastern or North African’ box and a combined question about race and ethnicity could decrease the number of people who identify as white for the national head count.” This would work to better reflect the diversity of the U.S.
In our own race question, RE-Center is already in the practice of listing a Hispanic or Latino option. We use the language of “Latino/a, or Latinx” and include a note (see image below) that reads “Though Latinidad is an ethnicity, Latina/o/x demographics are collected under race because its people are racialized in the context of the United States. People from Latin America and the Caribbean can be Black, white, indigenous, all three, or a combination of any other ethnic and racial groups as a result of colonization.”
While we recognize the lack of consensus around “Latinx,” we are intentional with the use of it as a gender inclusive term. We hear the concerns from invested parties, such as several Connecticut Democratic members of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus who argue “that the Americanized word disfigures the Spanish language and in doing so, is an act of cultural appropriation.” Others argue the term is “ethnically insensitive and pejorative language.” Conversely, we recognize that the term “Latinx” addresses a characteristic of the Spanish language, where words are gendered, that does not exist in the English language.
RE-Center’s executive director, Natalie McCabe Zwerger, who identifies as a white Puerto Rican offers: “It is a missed opportunity to lean into a depth of inclusive reflection to dismiss the term Latinx/e without discussion. As a Boricua, I know many of my family & friends would either not know the term or its purpose, or would react to it as an elitist linguistic move at best and an act of colonization at worst. But, I think that still misses some of the depth of discussion. I use the term Latinx/e to reflect the type of critical reflection I hold myself to embody in order to be more gender inclusive. It doesn’t mean I have an answer for all words and languages where the table and the chair have a gender, but it means I want to engage in an exploration of how powerful language is to signal openness to expansive, just dialogue, or how it can be used to shutter conversation and exclude folx along a binary we are trying to deconstruct. My hope is that we collaboratively envision new ways to combat linguistic racism and histories of colonization while also being accountable to gender inclusivity by seeking answers together.”
While already in the practice of including the “Latino/a, or Latinx” option in our race question, after reading the NPR article, we now include an option for “Middle Eastern or North African.” Though previously folx could write in unlisted racial identities with the fill in the blank option, it feels equitable and responsive to acknowledge the unique lived experiences of Middle Eastern and North African folx. RE-Center believes in growing and shaping our approach. Our frameworks and tools are seen as living documents, and as we learn new ways to be more responsive and equitable, we work to adapt and reflect those understandings.
Q: How do you identify your race(s)? (Select all that apply)
*Though Latinidad is an ethnicity, Latina/o/x demographics are collected under race because its people are racialized in the context of the United States. People from Latin America and the Caribbean can be Black, white, indigenous, all three, or a combination of any other ethnic and racial groups as a result of colonization.