Race - Kenneth Prewitt Racial classication in America where do we go from here n its rst national census the young American republic not only

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I n its ½rst national census, the young American republic not only counted its population; it racially classi½ed it. 1 From 1790 to 1990, the nation’s demographic base changed from one decennial census to the next, and so too did the racial cat- egories on offer. Always, however, the government held fast to two premises: First, it makes policy sense to put every American into one and only one of a lim- ited number of discrete race groups, with the decennial census being the pri- mary vehicle by which the counting and classifying should take place. Second, when policy treats Americans differently depending on what race they belong to, it should make use of this government classi½cation. The second premise depends on the ½rst. Without a limited number of bounded groups, it is dif½cult to fashion policy with race as a criterion. This is easily seen in comparison. Since 1790 there have been policies based on age– who can vote, own property, be drafted, buy alcohol, and claim social security. These policies use a small number of age groupings with ½xed and knowable boundaries. Though policy can draw the age boundaries differently as conditions change (eligible to vote at eighteen rath- er than twenty-one) there is no dispute about who is in a given age group. Using race as a criterion to de½ne groups was never this straightforward, a fact implic- Dædalus Winter 2005 5 Kenneth Prewitt Racial classi½cation in America: where do we go from here? Kenneth Prewitt is the Carnegie Professor of Pub- lic Affairs in the School of International and Pub- lic Affairs at Columbia University. A Fellow of the American Academy since 1979 and past Acad- emy vice president, Prewitt was director of the U.S. Census Bureau from 1998 to 2000. He re- cently published “Politics and Science in Census Taking” (2003) and is preparing a book-length treatment of issues discussed in this essay. Among the other books he has authored or coauthored are “Institutional Racism in America” (1969), “The Recruitment of Political Leaders” (1970), and a textbook on American government. © 2005 by the American Academy of Arts 1 This essay has been prepared with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which provided a grant for a work- ing group on issues of racial measurement and classi½cation. The group includes six of the au- thors represented in this issue of Dædalus –Ian Haney López, Victoria Hattam, Jennifer Hoch- schild, David Hollinger, Melissa Nobles, and Kim Williams–all of whom critiqued this pa- per and, more generally, substantially shaped my thinking on the issues here discussed. Kath- erine Wallman and Susan Schechter, both of the Of½ce of Management and Budget, com- mented on earlier versions of this essay, but have no responsibility for the recommenda- tions advanced here.
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itly acknowledged by the government as its census added and subtracted cate- gories from one decennial to the next and as different federal agencies used
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This note was uploaded on 01/19/2011 for the course IB 35AC taught by Professor Hlusko during the Spring '08 term at University of California, Berkeley.

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Race - Kenneth Prewitt Racial classication in America where do we go from here n its rst national census the young American republic not only

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