American Anthropological Association
Response to OMB Directive 15:

Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics
and Administrative Reporting

(Sept 1997)

Executive Summary

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has considered the proposed changes to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Directive 15, the Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting, and counsels OMB to implement the following recommendations.

These recommendations are based on the following findings. Although OMB Directive 15 states that the race and ethnicity standards are not "scientific or anthropological," the standards are used in scientific research and the race and ethnic categories, designated in the standards, are interpreted often as "variables" in research findings.

Race and ethnicity both represent social or cultural constructs for categorizing people based on perceived differences in biology (physical appearance) and behavior. Although the popular connotations of race tend to be associated with biology and those of ethnicity with culture, the two concepts are not clearly distinct from one another. Recent research by the US Bureau of the Census and other federal agencies has demonstrated that for many respondents, the concepts of race, ethnicity and ancestry are not clearly distinguished. Rather, respondents view race, ethnicity and ancestry as one and the same.

The concept of race in the United States is associated, historically, with an early European folk taxonomy that linked perceived biological and behavioral differences with a ranking, in terms of superiority, of races. Unfortunately, remnants of that ranking system and negative stereotypes of different "races" persist today, despite the fact that "race" has no scientific justification in human biology.

Modern humans (Homo sapiens) are a fairly recent and homogeneous species, and genetic data indicate that there is as much genetic variability between two people from the same "racial" group as there are between two people from any two different "racial" groups. Because of the biological connotations and misunderstandings associated with the term "race," the American Anthropological Association recommends eliminating "race" and replacing the term with a more correct term, such as "ethnic origins."

Eliminating the term "race" presents an opportunity and dilemma. It is important to recognize the categories to which individuals have been assigned historically in order to be vigilant about the elimination of discrimination. Yet ultimately, the effective elimination of discrimination will require an end to such categorization, and a transition toward social and cultural categories that will prove more scientifically useful and personally resonant for the public than are categories of "race." Redress of the past and transition for the future can be simultaneously effected.

The American Anthropological Association recognizes that elimination of the term "race" in government parlance will take time to accomplish. However, the combination of the terms "race/ethnicity" in OMB Directive 15 and the Census 2000 will assist in this effort, serving as a "bridge" to the elimination of the term "race" by the Census 2010.

Go to AAA Response to OMB Directive 15

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