View Full Version : Race Label Research

11-16-2013, 03:44 AM
Hey everyone,

I'm doing some research [for academic writing] and gearing up for a more quantitative side of my project, investigating satisfaction people have with race labels, and what those race labels actually mean. I'm hoping this research will give perspective to folks behind private and public census decisions [by which I mean, bean-counters in charge of identifying demographics in both government and private sectors] on the impact of having people self-define their race with unsatisfactory labels.

What impact? I... I honestly don't know. That's part of the research. What I've done so far (and what I've read) suggests to me that people are dis-satisfied of the way we talk about race, and since I have a love affair with words, I'm sort of invested in figuring out what our language can do to improve the situation.

My own view is fairly myopic; I don't spend tons of time thinking about race, but I do get annoyed at certain race labels for my specific racial group. I can only imagine that this annoyance is compounded greatly for folks who invest significant parts of their lives in ideas concerning racial power structures, especially for people who do not directly benefit from the racial power structure, for whatever reason.

My goal is to get a survey of about 400 students at my university [or, if I can pull it off, a large enough semi-random sample to derive useful statistics for the U.S. population in general, but that's a pipe dream] and measure their sentiment toward various race terms.

I've got two problems that I hope you guys can help me with.

One--I'm at a genuine loss for what to ask in the survey, or how to ask it meaningfully. In seven interviews I conducted with black students, two wanted to be identified as Haitian or Haitain American, two wanted to be identified as brown, and the other three wanted either black and African American with two of those holding the terms to be interchangeable. I can't derive anything statistical from that, of course, except that this was all an organic response derived from the simple question, "Do you identify as black?" This is what makes me want to do this study. If such a simple-seeming question could elicit the passionate and thoughtful responses I got, it seems that demographic questions that give people no room to expand on their answers, that may very well be creating bad categories for people, could cause undue stress to the people answering questions and give the people asking questions data that ultimately paints a too-simple picture of an institution, user baser, population, etc.

What sorts of questions, suitable for a survey, could I ask that help narrow down race labels? Or is there an approach to this [that I could tackle quantifiably--I'm interested in more qualitative data, but sort of want to stop transcribing interviews for a while.] that I am missing?

My second problem is a technical one. I need to ascertain some sort of valid information about the user's race before I can narrow down a term that they may like better.

The approach I'm thinking of would first ask people to identify according to the race labels available on the registration forms at my university. Then ask them how satisfied they are with that label. And then ask them what label they would be most satisfied with.

I... I feel hemmed into distributing some sort of electronic survey, but I'm not sure how I'd go about building it. And if I did it on paper [Eeek], I have no idea how useful or practical it would be asking people to fill in.

I'm also not sure what other kinds of information I could gather that would be useful.

I'd appreciate any help from you guys narrowing my thoughts down a bit; either helping me form new or better research questions [mine are fuzzy and vague right now, because my interviews sort of blasted my research questions apart], helping me form survey questions, or just giving me some perspective on race labels in general.

Thanks for your time!

Kim Fierce
11-16-2013, 03:54 AM
So far it seems that from the questions you've asked, what we need is not a narrowing down of race labels but an expansion.

11-16-2013, 06:22 AM
Right. I guess what I meant was that I need to narrow the focus of my study, which I want to do by exploring what sorts of race labels people prefer. If I don't make sense, it's because I'm sort of figuring this out as I go. And I have the strange problem of phrasing the question asking participants by what race label they prefer to identify in such a way as to provoke an honest consideration of the topic.

Rachel Udin
11-16-2013, 07:52 PM
I would say this: How would you define your skin color: Fill in the black.
What ethnicity would you identify with: Fill in the blank.

Have you encountered blatant racism recently? Yes or no.
How would you rank it?

Also give a space for people to give you information. Also ask other groups, such as Asians, Mexicans, etc. You can also ask them what questions they wish people would discuss about race relations.

Also you can ask about priviledge.

11-17-2013, 03:41 AM
People are usually asked how they want to be "categorized," for lack of a better term. What would interest me is how much they go along—from a scale of 1 to 5—with what most people call them.

I'm bringing this up because Spanish-speaking people are relatively new to the area (Durham NC), and I've noticed that most people refer to them as Mexicans. However, a great number of them are actually Honduran and Salvadoran, and I can imagine that they don't appreciate being misidentified.

When I was in Paris, I noticed that people usually referred to the black musicians at the Pompidou Centre as Africans. However, when I hung out with them, I realized that many were from the Caribbean—Martinique, Guadeloupe, etc.

Is it possible that such things are happening where you live, and if so, would you want to know about it? If so, add it to your questionnaire.

11-18-2013, 12:06 PM
People are usually asked how they want to be "categorized," for lack of a better term. What would interest me is how much they go along—from a scale of 1 to 5—with what most people call them.

This interests me, too. It'll definitely be present in some form or another on my surveys.

Is it possible that such things are happening where you live, and if so, would you want to know about it? If so, add it to your questionnaire.

Thanks! That's an interesting example, and it wouldn't have occurred to me.

11-22-2013, 12:41 AM
Here's something that might inspire some ideas. It's about mixed race, mixed cultural people and how they fill out census forms. Don't know, might be helpful to you. I certainly related to it, in that some people check only one box on the census but identify in life as more than one box. http://proof.nationalgeographic.com/2013/09/17/visualizing-change/

12-04-2013, 07:14 PM
Thanks! That's exactly the sort of stuff I'm looking into. :-)

12-07-2013, 10:39 AM
Being middle eastern, I get forced to mark the white or Asian box when the 'other' box isn't there. What I'd really prefer is my own Middle Eastern box but no one will ever ask me what I want. They barely want to even admit I exist.

However, you can ask *your* participants what they want *their* box to be called. I think it would be so empowering to finally be able to label your own box. And don't forget to ask the follow-up question "why?"