WASHINGTON — To keep pace with rapidly changing notions of race, the Census Bureau wants to make broad changes to its surveys that would treat "Hispanic" as a distinct category regardless of race, end use of the term "Negro" and offer new ways to identify Middle Easterners.
The recommendations released Wednesday stem from new government research on the best ways to count the nation's demographic groups. Still the effort could face stiff resistance from some racial and ethnic groups who worry that any kind of wording change in the high-stakes government count could yield a lower tally for them.
"This is a hot-button issue," said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy in New York City and a community adviser to the census. "The burden will be on the Census Bureau to come up with evidence that wording changes will not undermine the Latino numbers."
The other changes add write-in categories that would allow Middle Easterners and Arabs to specifically identify themselves, as well as drop use of "Negro," leaving a choice of "black" or African-American.
Arab-Americans said they strongly support the change. "The Census Bureau's current method for determining Arab ancestry yields a significant under-count of the actual size of the community, and we're optimistic that the new form should be significantly better at capturing ancestry data," the Arab American Institute said in a statement.
The issue isn't just semantic. Some African-Americans in 2010, for instance, criticized a question asking if a person was "black, African-American or Negro," saying the government's continued use of the term "Negro" was demeaning and offensive.
"We believe the proposed changes are consistent with the way most people do choose to self-identify and will enable census to more accurately capture the growing racial/ethnic diversity in the U.S.," the National Urban League said Wednesday in a statement.