Constructing "Race" and "Ethnicity" in America: Category-making in public policy and administration.

By Dvora Yanow.

2003, M.E. Sharpe Inc.

ISBN 0-7656-0800-6

A Public Administration professor at California State University, the author also grows herbs and tomatoes, and poses all the questions you’ve always wanted to, but were afraid to ask questions about race and ethnicity. This new 252-page work is organized into four inter-related parts, where the first lays down the groundwork: Yanow uses United States Census statistics to show how the classification of Americans and immigrants has changed over time. Labels and the objectives of classification, she argues, are often far more important to the administrators and form-drafters than meets the eye.

In Part 2, Yanow explains how policies, and administrative choice have further defined "race" where no scientific, or even political basis existed for the concepts and categories ultimately created. In Part 3, Yanow introduces "ethnogenesis": where classification was done in part by "eyeballing" and the more controversial trends of "managing workplace diversity.’ In the final section of this eye-opening book, the author provides some of her own meditations and personal stories on the subject of race and ethnic discourse.

Yanow also examines the word ethnic in American dictionary definitions: in 1975, physical characteristics was part of the definition; in 1984, physical attributes have disappeared to make way for history, nationality and geographic distribution.

The researcher buttresses her case with pages of United State Census data and label classifications, employment applications forms demanding ethnic or racial origins, and each chapter is introduced with a few mind-smiling quotations like this one: Question: You’ve seen the evolution from Negro to black to African-American ? What is the best thing for blacks to call themselves?

Answer: White.

Other excerpts:

Let us begin with the first of two though experiments. How many races are there in the United States? Name them. If you answered five, you would be following common administrative practices between 1980 and 2000. … […] The second though experiment is this. Imagine an employment questionnaire that begins by asking "What is your race?" or "What is your cultural heritage?" and that for answers provides the following possibilities:

    • Northeastern
    • Midwestern
    • Southern

West Coast

[More] …evidence comes the field of espionage. According to Philip B. Heymann, deputy attorney general in the early Clinton administration: "using a suspect’s heritage… is also often a lazy form of stereotyping that can do more to hamper a counter-intelligence investigation than help it…Motivation and opportunity are two things you look for. Ethnicity…can serve as misleading surrogate for those factors…"
p. 220

That language mixes with more customarily noted race-ethnic criteria (skin tone physiognomy, hair) is evident in the Canadian case. Three language terms are used in Quebec to denote the Quebecois equivalent of race-ethnic groups: Anglophone, Francophone and Allophone. The latter term is used, apparently, with two possible meanings: someone whose mother tongue is neither English nor French; or someone whose ethnicity cannot be traced to either Great Britain or France. Sometimes it is used to mean both. However "allophone" is not used in reference to the eleven different First Nations peoples, some of whom speak English, some French.
p. 50

Might it be possible to stop counting ourselves in race-ethnic terms and yet retain the storytelling features of these categories? Can we lose the sense that we are saying anything meaningful about race-ethnicity, and yet retain the sense that we are narrating something of importance about family and community histories ?
p. 225.

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