What's in a racial group?

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Meet Michelle López-Mullins, a student of
Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee, and Cherokee descent. Under new Department
of Education requirements that take effect this year, Ms. López-Mullins—who
acknowledges partial Hispanic ethnicity—will, regardless of her rainbow-hued
heritage, be reported to federal officials only as Hispanic. Multiracial
students with no Latino blood will be labeled with the vague catchall “two or
more races.” As the Times notes,
these new designations for K-12 students will probably “increase the nationwide
student population of Hispanics, and could erase some ‘black’ students who will
now be counted as Hispanic or as multiracial.” This sort of racial
classification, we are told, is necessary: It’s the only way the nation can
judge how a certain race is doing academically, and whether or not its members are
being “left behind.” But in a society where one in seven couplings are now
interracial or interethnic, where these types of categorizations can
whimsically change from year to year, maybe it is time to move away from
outdated classifications and toward a post-racial society.

Counting
by Race Can Throw Off Some Numbers
,” by Susan Saulny, New York Times, February 9, 2011.

Take
the Politics out of Race
,” by Shelby Steele, New York Times Room for Debate, February 14, 2011.