“I can’t ask that; it’s racist.”
“It doesn’t matter what ethnic background someone is from — our organization treats everyone equally.”
“When I look at a person, I don’t see race.”
All perfectly reasonable sentiments, and possibly ones you yourself have uttered. But what if I told you that it’s more discriminatory to not collect data about ethnicity, race, or aboriginal status than it is to just ask the question?
Questions that ask people to identify or categorize their ethnicity, race, or aboriginal status can be very tricky. There are many different schools of thought on how a person’s identity gets formed around these things. Are they physical traits? Social constructs? Some combination of the two?
Why Collect Data About Ethnicity?
Because knowing is half the battle.
Because without it, you risk being ignorant of gaps in your programming or challenges your community faces that you could be helping address.
No matter how much we like to believe that things are different where we are, we can’t ignore these facts:
- Racism (conscious or subconscious) is alive and well today around the world (yes, even in Canada and the US
- Members of different races and ethnic groups face different challenges
The clear facts are that members of ethnic and racial minorities are more likely to face high stress levels, a disproportionate number of health challenges, increased poverty, lower education and employment levels, and any number of disadvantages and challenges that majority groups simply don’t have to face.
When you collect data about ethnicity, race, and aboriginal status, you’re arming your organization with new insights on how you can help the people you serve. The more you know about who you’re trying to help, the better you can understand what would help them most.
Countries Collecting Race and Ethnicity Data
Just because it’s right to collect data on ethnicity, race, and aboriginal status, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Many countries are struggling with the process to provide their citizens with adequate ways to express their identities.
The Australian government faces huge challenges in classifying who is (or isn’t) aboriginal in their national census and is still developing methods that allow aboriginal peoples to self-identify.
“Stop insulting Aboriginal people or we may have to consider calling white Australians half-caste convicts.”
— Uncle Chicka Dixon, Aboriginal activist
Closer to home, American lawmakers are working on changes to the way the US Census collects data on ethnicity after research demonstrated that the majority of Hispanics didn’t see themselves fitting into the standard race categories offered by the Census Bureau.
Canada offers a multi-level approach to collecting data on ethnicity and aboriginal status:
Now that you understand the importance of collecting data on ethnicity, race and aboriginal status (and know that it’s not discriminatory to do so!), it’s time to get started. But how do you start?
But what are the right questions? That will depend on your organization’s goals.
Our recent post on collecting gender and sexual orientation data includes a checklist that can also be used to help you organize, develop a strategy, collect, and analyze ethnic and racial data.
Have more specific questions or concerns on how to collect data on ethnicity, race, or aboriginal status? Datassist is here to help. Get in touch with our experts to learn more about how collecting social identity data can benefit your organization — and the people you serve.