Asking Better Questions in Race Surveys

Dawn Turner TriceDawn Turner Trice wrote a piece in the Chicago Tribune that echoed some of my reservations about the recent Pew Research Center survey with respect to the types of questions asked. Her particular issue had to do with the question about whether blacks can be considered a single race.

Say you were contacted for a national survey and this was one of the questions: Which of these statements comes closer to your view — even if neither is exactly right: Blacks today can no longer be thought of as a single race because the black community is so diverse OR blacks can still be thought of as a single race because they have so much in common.

How would you answer? Could you answer?

She goes on to say…

I’m a fan of the Pew Center, but I found the question quite disturbing. First off, it’s a bad question because you have no clue what is meant by a “single race.”

Race is such a loaded term whose meaning is both based on genetics and a social construct. Either way, you’d have to believe that it’s possible for some people, based on their values (or, I guess, anything else), to splinter off. Impossible, right? So, what’s the point?

To ask whether blacks can be a single race, implies there’s an alternative. Is there?

Taylor [executive vice president of the center] said that researchers try not to direct people being surveyed, so they didn’t attempt to clarify any of this.

It all seems ludicrous actually.

There’s always been diversity within every racial group. There have always been people with questionable values up and down the economic scale. This is what sent entertainer Bill Cosby scurrying a few years ago to clean up his comments about poor people not holding up their end of the bargain in terms of racial progress. He was forced to stress that he meant some poor people, so that he wouldn’t unfairly paint all poor people with the same brush. [source: CT]

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1 Response to “Asking Better Questions in Race Surveys”


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