"Two or More Races" or Just Another Category?

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The Department of Education’s “two or more races” category may appeal to some people but this is a slippery slope towards ignoring race altogether. Race still matters. Combating racism still matters. Acknowledging multiracial identities or agreeing to be placed in a “two or more races” category does not remove our responsibility to fight against the ways race – and racism – have impacted our lives in many, and sometimes violent, ways.

The recent debate about the Department of Education's "two or more races" category demonstrates both the importance of race today and the absurdity of racial categories. As Rainier Spencer rightly reminds us, racism is alive and well in the 21st century. The only way we have found to combat institutional racism is through the accurate reporting of racial data and our ability to make connections between race, class, gender and other factors such as employment and housing. Without this information we will not be able to measure discrimination or make policies that help create equality for all Americans.

By placing students (whether they agree or not) into the “two or more races” category, the Department of Education does two things. First, it removes choice from individuals. This is no better than the days when census takers (and others) would assign race based on how they thought people looked or based solely on the race of one parent. Second, it puts all multiracial people into one category which makes the category completely useless for any statistical purposes. How can we measure educational successes (or failures) between different racial groups if we do not name those racial groups?

Perhaps none of us has the answer to the racial dilemma in which we have been stuck for nearly 400 years. However, creating a meaningless, empty category such as "two or more races" will only allow old racial hatreds and current racial problems to fester, unacknowledged and unseen. Instead of opening much-needed dialogue, it ends the conversation because we cannot discuss what we refuse to see. That will help no one – particularly not the multiracial people who are struggling to create self-identities and public acceptance.