Why does the U.S. census refer to countries in Asia as separate races?

In question 9, the U.S. census asks “What is Person 1’s race?” If you’re white, you’re not asked for your national ancestry. However, Asians must give their national ancestry (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.) and furthermore refers to these as separate races! Why the different treatment?

Why would it not be that way?

There are some 3 billion persons in Asia. To the limited extent that the word “race” has any meaning, why would you think Chinese persons and Japanese persons more like than Japanese and “blacks”?

Chinese do not look all that much like Thais, who don’t look all that much like Indians, who don’t look at all like Japanese, who don’t terribly resemble Afghanis, who are quite different than Iraqis…and so on.

Why would that not also apply to “whites”? Italians look distinctly different than Norwegians, for example.

That’s not really true, there are lots of blond and blue-eyed people in Italy. You see, “we” (germanic peoples) invaded parts of Italy in the 400s, the 500s, and again in the 1200s, and left our mark - so to say.

  • Karl, a Norwegian.

Hence the famous herring lasagna. :slight_smile:

maybe because there are sincerely interested in the numbers of the three East Asian communities whereas they sincerely don’t care about the numbers of European descent groups? All the more so given that American whites are much more mixed than East Asians.

In general, you have to look at the way American government conducts its ethnic/national policy. Nowadays they treat whites essentially as a monolithic ethnicity. That was not always the case (e.g. once upon a time they were concerned about the German community and so forth) but that’s how it is now.

Most Asian-Americans are fairly recent immigrants, as until the 50’s fairly strict quotas were imposed to limit their numbers (and during and after WWII we started fighting wars in Asia and accepting more refugees from the releveant countries). As a result I’d say far more Asians identify strongly with their countries of origin then most European descended Americans, most of whom have had at least part of their family tree here for several generations and are more often then not have a mix of descendants from various countries.

If you are white, then you are American enough and no additional info is needed :rolleyes:
The census form is so wrong in so many way it’s not even funny.

This blog sums up my feelings on this matter:


You’re looking at it backwards. It’s not that mankind is normally classed “white,” “Asian,” & “black,” & that marking national origins is excessively precise. It’s that race has always really been the same thing as nationality, & the Big Three (or Four, or Six) Races of Man never really existed in a clearly definable sense. So it’s not that they “split up” Asians, it’s that they clumped together Europeans, who are so admixed that they become one ethnic group.

And hey, you are free to mark your race as “Irish,” “Hungarian,” or “Eldar” :wink: in the “Other” box.

(Ten years ago I put “human.”)

Because whites tend to be “mutts” while Asians are not.

I have never worked for, been connected with the census. But, to me, the reason is obvious. It all comes down to what data is useful. The constitutionally mandated information is just numbers and locations of persons. The rest of the questions are simply to gather the most useful data in the simplest and shortest form possible.

In the U.S. today, knowing the country of origin of the ancestors of those who could be identified as “white” is much less useful than knowing the country of origin of those who could be identified as Asian. White people are less likely to live in enclaves based on country of origin and more likely to speak English. They are also more likely to have been born here and for their parents to have been born here. Even recent immigrants from Europe are more likely to meld into the general “white” population.

If, in fifty years, Asian immigration has been low for twenty years and the majority of new immigrants have been coming from Africa, we might see a different break down. But right now, the questions on there yield more useful information.

Remember, this is not contest, or an effort to be PC, it is a effort to gather useful information.

The US Census Bureau asks more detailed information about race, country of origin, primary language spoken, etc. in the American Community Survey (which has replaced the long form), and there is specifically a question about ancestry/ethnic origin where you can proudly proclaim your Italianness or Irishness or any other whiteness you want to.

I suspect the reasoning for not including the question on the “short” form has something to do with the intersection between government policy and sampling methodologies, but I’m not a statistician, so I don’t know the answer to that.

Asia consists of some very diverse countries. Think Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Korea, Philippines. That’s a lot more phenotypic variation than you see in people of European descent.

If you think white = Caucasian, then it’s even more confusing since Indians would be considered Caucasian, but some have skin as black as you’ll see in Africa.

Please, can we try to stick to factual answers rather than ignorant nonsense?

It was partially humourous but it’s relatively true most whites are mixed German/Anglo-Saxon/Scottish/Scotch-Irish/Irish/French/Dutch/Italian/ etc.

Maybe it used to be so but I am getting a feeling (please don’t flame me or ask me for a cite) that a new wave of eastern Europeans are beginning to buck that trend.

Asian Americans have successfully lobbied for a more inclusive wording in the census. This iteration of different Asian ethnicities is a relatively recent addition to the census, and has little to do with anything beyond politics. For instance, Africa is by far the most diverse continent in the world, and when you add that to the diversity added by African Americans decended from slaves and West Indians, it’s a little absurd that they only get one box to check. South Asians were classified as white until 1980. Middle Eastern Americans are still classified as white, I believe.

Asian Americans wanted better representation and they fought for it and they got it. It’s only striking in comparison to the other race categories. The census has less to do with social science and more to do with fair representation.

Relatively it’s no more true than it is for Asians. So your comment is nonsense.