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Managing an Identity Crisis: Forum Guide to Implementing New Federal Race and Ethnicity Categories
NFES 2008-802
October 2008

Exhibit 4.1 Suggestions for Conducting Observer Identification

The OMB Guidance requires the use of observer identification at the elementary and secondary school level as a last resort, if racial and ethnic data are not self-identified—by the student or more typically the student's parents or guardians.  If you are the individual assigned by your school or district as an observer, these are some suggestions to help you perform this duty.  First of all, remember that:

  • Observer identification is used as “a last resort,” after other efforts to increase the chance of having a parent identify the student or a student to identify himself or herself have failed.  Check your district's policies for such procedures.  Typically, they will include following up with parents, through e-mail or phone communication, to determine whether the parent or student is refusing to self-identify rather than simply overlooking the question.
  • Self-identification is based on how people define themselves and their children.  Assigning a race and ethnicity to an individual is a somewhat arbitrary exercise because these are not scientific or anthropological categories.  While assigning race and ethnicity to another person is a difficult task, given the emotionally charged feelings and deep beliefs that many people have concerning the issue, your job as an observer for federal reporting purposes is simply to assign race and ethnicity categories to the best of your ability. It is important that you are consistent in your observation, and make your judgments objectively. 

Definition of Race and Ethnic Categories Used for Federal Reporting

Ethnicity: 
Hispanic/Latino
A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.

Race Categories:
American Indian or Alaska Native
A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.

Asian
A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Black or African American
A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.

White
A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

In addition to visual observation there are ways to help you determine an individual's race and ethnicity. Rely first on existing information before you actually “observe” the race or ethnicity of the student, but check your information source to the best of your ability. For example:

  • Check the student's prior record to determine whether a racial category was selected in the past.   This can narrow down the possibilities, but you may still need to determine whether the student is multiracial or has selected one of the “old” categories that has been separated (e.g., Asian and Pacific Islander, or Hispanic with no race identified).
  • Check whether a student's sibling in the school has re-identified a race and ethnicity during the re-identification.  There is, however, a possibility of different race and ethnicity among siblings as a result of adoption and blended families.

If sufficient existing information is lacking, you may look for clues from other sources such as:

  • first-hand knowledge about the student or his/her family (check with a teacher or counselor);
  • the student's and parent's country of birth or country of origin;
  • the student's home language or parent's language of preference; and
  • knowledge about the community to which the school belongs

Selecting an Ethnicity

If, in prior records, an individual has indicated that he or she was Hispanic, then the ethnicity question is answered.  Your job is to observe and select a racial category.  Many Hispanic individuals consider “Hispanic” as their race (partly due to past experience of using this as if it were a racial category).  They may look for “Hispanic” or “some other race” in the race question.  When they do not find it, they leave it blank.  Following up might be all that is needed to collect the information directly from the student or parent. 

A student may volunteer his or her ancestry rather than answering “yes” to the Hispanic/Latino ethnicity question. The following is a list of Hispanic ancestry groups to which Hispanic individuals may refer themselves:

Spaniard
Balearic Islander
Mexican American
Mexican State Panamanian
Bolivian
Peruvian
Latin American
Spanish
Catalonian
Argentinean
Spanish American
Andalusian
Gallego
Mexicano
Costa Rican
Salvadoran
Chilean
Uruguayan
Latino
Californio
Mexican
Paraguayan
Asturian
Valencian
Chicano
Guatemalan
Central American
Colombian
Venezuelan
Puerto Rican
Tejano
American Indian
South American
Castillian
Canary Islander
La Raza
Honduran
Canal Zone
Ecuadorian
Criollo
Dominican
Nuevo Mexicano
Nicaraguan
Hispanic

Selecting a Race

In general, the new federal requirements conflate race and geographic/national origin.  For example, “White” is defined to include people who originate from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.  Though not an exhaustive list, the following chart may help in connecting geographic/national origin with a race, as defined in the Guidance:

If an individual considers him- or herself to be:
…or comes from one of the following countries or regions:
…and assuming single-race, the individual may be identified as:

European American

Northern Europe such as: Britain (Scotland, Ireland, Wales) Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden
Western Europe such as: Belgium, France, Holland, Luxembourg
Central Europe such as: Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland
Eastern Europe such as: Belarus, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Ukraine
Southern Europe such as: Bosnia, Catalonia, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain
Other such as: Caucasus, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan

White

Middle Eastern American

Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria. Turkey, Yemen

White

North African American

Algeria, Egypt, Morocco

White

Black, African American, Afro-American

Bahamas, Barbados, Botswana, Ethiopia, Haiti, Jamaica, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Nigriti, South Africa, Sudan, Tobago, Trinidad, West Indies, Zaire

Black

Asian American

Asian Indian, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Okinawa, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lankan, Thailand, Vietnam; or ancestry groups such as Hmongs, Mongolians, Iwo Jiman, Maldivian

Asian

Pacific Islander

Caroline Islands, Fiji, Guam, Hawaiian Islands, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tarawa Islands, Tonga

Pacific Islander

Australian or New Zealander – not an indigenous person

Australia, New Zealand

White

Aborigine, Indigenous Australian, Torres Straits Islander, Melanesian

Australia, New Zealand, Torres Straits Islands

Pacific Islander

 

Though not exhaustive, the following is a list of American Indian and Alaskan Native tribes or self-descriptions that may help in your observation:

American Indian Tribes
Abenaki
Assiniboine
Burt Lake Band
Catawba
Cherokee
Chickasaw
Choctaw
Coharie
Coos
Cree
Cupeno
Fort Belknap
Grand Ronde
Hoopa
Kalispel
S'Klallam
Long Island
Makah
Metrolina
Miwok
Miwok
Mono
Nez Perce
Oneida Tribe
Pamunkey
Pequot
Pomo
Puget Sound Salish
Round Valley
Schaghticoke
Shinnecock
Paiute-Shoshone
Tohono O'Odham
Umatilla
Warm Springs
Winnebago
Yakama Cowlitz
Yuman
Algonquian
Assiniboine Sioux
Caddo
Cayuse
Cherokee Shawnee
Chinook
Choctaw-Apache
Colorado River Indian
Coquille
Creek
Delaware
Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota
Guilford
Hoopa Extension
Karuk
Klamath
Luiseno
Maliseet
Miami
Me-Wuk
Me-Wuk
Nanticoke
Nipmuc
Oregon Athabaskan
Passamaquoddy
Pima
Ponca
Quapaw
Sac and Fox
Seminole
Shoalwater Bay
Siletz
Tolowa
Umpqua
Wascopum
Wintun
Yaqui
Yurok
Apache
Bannock
Cahuilla
Chehalis
Cheyenne
Chippewa
Chumash
Colville
Costanoan
Croatan
Diegueno
Fort McDowell
Gros Ventres
Indians of Person County
Kaw
Konkow
Lumbee
Mandan
Miccosukee
Modoc
Modoc
Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape
Nomlaki
Otoe-Missouria
Pawnee
Piscataway
Potawatomi
Quinault
Salinan
Serrano
Shoshone
Siuslaw
Tonkawa
Wailaki
Washoe
Wintun-Wailaki
Yavapai Apache
 
Arapahoe
Blackfeet
California Tribes
Chemakuan
Cheyenne-Arapaho
Chippewa Cree
Clear Lake
Comanche
Coushatta
Crow
Eastern Tribes
Fort Hall
Haliwa-Saponi
Iroquois
Kickapoo apoo
Kootenai
Lummi
Mattaponi
Micmac
Mohegan
Mohegan
Narragansett
Northwest Tribes
Ottawa
Penobscot
Pit River
Powhatan
Rappahannock
Salish
Shasta
Te-Moak Tribes of Western
Spokane
Trinidad
Walla-Walla
Wichita
Wiyot
Yokuts
 
Arikara
Brotherton
Canadian and Latin American
Chemehuevi
Chickahominy
Chitimacha
Coeur D'Alene
Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw
Cowlitz
Cumberland
Esselen
Gabrieleno
Hidatsa
Juaneno (Acjachemem)
Kiowa
Lassik
Maidu
Menominee
Mission Indians
Monacan
Monacan
Navajo
Omaha
Paiute
Peoria
Pomo and Pit River Indians
Pueblo
Reno-Sparks
Salish and Kootenai
Shawnee
Shoshone Indians of Nevada
Stockbridge-Munsee
Tygh
Wampanoag
Wind River
Yakama
Yuchi
 

Alaskan Native Tribes
Alaska Native
Tlingit-Haida
Greenland Eskimo
Yup'ik
Chugach Aleut
Unangan Aleut
Alaska Indian Tribes
Tsimshian
Inuit
Aleut Tribes
Eyak
 
Alaska Indian
Sealaska
Inupiat Eskimo
Aleut
Koniag Aleut
 
Alaska Native
Southeast Alaska
Siberian Eskimo
Alutiiq Aleut
Sugpiaq
 
Alaskan Athabascans
Eskimo Tribes
Cupiks Eskimo
Bristol Bay Aleut
Suqpigaq
 

Languages can be an indication of an individual's race and ethnicity.  Of the more than 5,000 languages and dialects spoken in the world, these are the ten most common ones and their probable “race/ethnicity” designations:

If an individual's native or home language is:
He/she is likely:
Therefore…
Chinese Asian  
Hindi(India) Asian  
English White Check “country of birth or origin” (as the language is also used in U.S. Virgin Islands)
Spanish Hispanic, with one or more of any racial categories Check “country of birth or origin”
Bengali (India and Bangladesh) Asian  
Portuguese White, Black, or Asian. Note that Portuguese-speaking groups are not considered Hispanic. Check “country of birth or origin” (as the language is used in South American countries such as Brazil, Asian countries such as Macao, or the Caribbean)
Russian White  
Japanese Asian  
German White, some could be Hispanic in ethnicity Check “country of birth or origin” (as the language is spoken by a few in South America and South Africa)
Korean Asian  


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