Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Many embrace new racial descriptions

But some fear loss of resources

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When filling out her 2000 census form, Chris Kelley embraced the chance to identify her two children as biracial instead of black or white.

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        Ms. Kelley, who is white and whose ex-husband is African-American, once marked both black and white boxes to identify her children on school forms and used to make up boxes, labeling them with “b/w” to identify her children — Jonas, now 23, and Britten, now 19.

        The 2000 census form was a relief, she said, because she could identify her children's “rich heritage” with no confusion.

        But she understands what some of her African-American friends tell her: The census form's new categories allowed those of mixed heritage to avoid having to identify themselves as one race or another. The consequence, her friends have said, could mean diluted numbers for racial minority populations, fewer federal dollars targeting the city's poorer communities, and weakened affirmative action and civil rights legislation.

        “That's really the major concern. I do understand,” said Ms. Kelley of Bond Hill. But, “the bottom line is (my children) have to be proud of who they are.”

        On the 2000 census, 1.7 percent of Cincinnati's city population of 331,285 identified themselves as being of two or more races — a total of 5,553. The figure was 1.3 percent for all of Hamilton County, 1.1 percent for Butler County and less than 1 percent for Clermont and Warren counties.

        Local educators, politicians, health officials, policy experts and civil rights lawyers differ on how damaging the new racial categories could be.

        “The African-American count is being pulled apart. Anybody who is trying to move resources somewhere else” could take advantage of the situation, said state Sen. Mark Mallory, a Cincinnati Democrat and an African-American.

        Su Sanders, director of St. Paul's Child Care Center in Newport, worries that Title XX funds could shrink next year because she must document the school's racial makeup to receive the money.

        About a third of the school's 52 students are of mixed heritage, she said. On reports, she will identify them according to how their parents identified them on application forms, she said.

        Before the 2000 census, someone who was of both black and white ancestry could check off only one choice. This census allows them to mark one or more of 14 boxes representing six races and sub-categories or “some other race.”

        A biracial person who selected black on the 1990 census and, in 2000, chose black and white will not count as a black-only person in the new numbers. That person will be counted as a person who picked two races and will be statistically separate.

        That is why some agencies, including the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition on Black Voter Participation, urged biracial people to check “black” on their census forms.

        Karla Irvine is executive direc tor of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (H.O.M.E), a Mount Auburn agency that works to end housing discrimination. The agency could lose some of the money it receives in community block grants because the application factors in racial makeup of an area. Last year, H.O.M.E. received $265,000 in community block grants to improve low-income minority areas, she said.

        “Federal funds are often contingent on the number of people who are minority in their jurisdiction. Does that dilute minority strength or doesn't it? It's too early to tell,” she said.

        Mark Carrozza, a research associate at University of Cincinnati's Institute of Policy Research, has been involved in local efforts working for an accurate Cincinnati count.

        “This is not going to have a huge effect,” he said.

        But Mr. Carrozza, who also is director of the Southwest Ohio Regional Data Center, says the new categories will make it difficult to gauge growth of specific minority populations because the numbers won't give an apples-to-apples comparison.

        NAACP's Cincinnati chapter isn't worried it will mean fewer federal dollars.

        The local chapter president, Norma Holt Davis, said “What it will likely do is decrease the number that will be (categorized as) black.”

        But “they're still minorities.”

        Dr. Malcolm Adcock, Cincinnati's health commissioner, also doubts that federal funds for minority health initiatives will be diminished.

        “I just don't see it having an impact on people's decisions for funding,” he said. “The issue of funding is always an issue, but I don't see the issue of an emerging count of people identifying themselves as multiracial as impacting that at all.”

        Fanon Rucker, president of the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati, has faith that the Constitution will protect minorities from any group trying to take advantage of them, no matter what the new census numbers reveal.

        Any fear about the new categories “flies squarely in the face of the Constitution,” said Mr. Rucker, a civil rights lawyer.

        “It's always been a melting pot, and now we're seeing the results of the melting pot. This just shows the progression of the country.”


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