Would you rather... [Government Race Data Edition]?

Would you rather:

  • Be required to provide your “race/ethnicity” to your national/federal government?
  • Have it be illegal for your national/federal government to collect “race/ethnicity” data?

0 voters

As usual our Would You Rather series gives us two extreme options intended to spark an important conversation. There are a lot of different approaches to this all over the world. For example, in France, it is illegal for the national statistics ministry to collect ethnicity or race data. The OECD has compiled a report on the ways in which their member countries collect some of this data. At the time, our of 41 countries, 8 countries collected “race” data, 17 collected “ethnicity” data and 7 collected data on indigenous identity. The Afrobarometer survey collects data from 39 countries and asks respondents about their home language and uses that as a proxy for ethnicity in analysis. The national Census of New Zealand and Australia each collect ethnicity data.

After picking from these two options (I know this one is tough!), please reply to let us know why you are more inclined to one extreme than the other!

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“Required” is of course super extreme. However, it’s important to ask about people’s experiences and race/ethnicity. Before the 1980s, the Brazilian Census did not ask about race. When the gov’t did begin to ask about race, there was so much more public awareness about racial inequities. See The Demography of Inequality in Brazil by Charles Wood (2009).


I’d be interested in these responses disaggregated by race and ethnicity! Obviously collecting race/ethnicity data can be vital tools for understanding and describing the impacts of racism, but as a Jewish person I can’t pick the extreme of being required to provide race/ethnicity data to any federal government. This does tie into some thoughts I’ve had about the ethics of filling in “missing” race/ethnicity data from other sources in research and surveillance, which brings to mind some work I’ve seen on “ethnographic refusal:” Refusal as Research Method in Discard Studies | Discard Studies.

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Thank you so much @llkerber and @shawkins for sharing such valuable resources.

Yes, the question is designed to be extreme - in order to make the two ends of the continuum visible. However, there’s also a lot of pros and cons to the more “middle of the road” style options such as collecting race data in a suggested but optional way. The missing values in these datasets is pretty much never missing at random and it is extremely hard to figure out who is missing. The piece shared by @shawkins illustrates this nicely.

I like the idea of doing some research on the iterative causes and effects in a specific place between collecting race/ethnicity data and making changes to improve inequities for these socially constructed groups. I’m gong to look into the book on Brazil suggested by @llkerber and see.

If anyone else knows about research looking into these, let me know!