The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


Racial Classification at Birth


For decades, the CDC has collaborated with the states to collect data on births in the United States. Among the data collected is "race."

Let's see if you can figure out what the rule was before 1989. If a child had an Asian father and and a black mother, the child was tabulated as being Asian. So let's say a child had a white father and a black mother. Well, the rule must be it goes by the father's race, right? Wrong.

Until 1989, it did go by the father's race, but only if both parents were not white. If one parent was white and the other non-white, the child was tabulated by the race of the non-white parent. I can't think of any good reason for this rule other than the racist assumption that the product of interracial marriage may not be deemed white, but is automatically a member of his non-white parent's group.

Since 1989, the rule has been that a baby's race is tabulated according to the mother's race, regardless of the father's race. This information is retained by the government, but modern birth certificates do not list the child's race. A proposal to do so was shot down a while back, primarily on the theory that the parents may tell authorities that their child is race "X", but as an adult the child might choose to identify otherwise.