Behind the Numbers: Asian Americans and Social Institutions

As part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the Census provides a fact sheet of the latest numbers on this particular collection of ethnic groups that are bundled under this racial term. Ever wonder why the Census Bureau knows about racial characteristics of the US? Believe it or not, it’s in our Constitution!

Article I. Section 2 reads:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

As you can see, in order to figure out how many seats a given state should have in the House of Representatives, we had to count households. But counting people and households is a complicated and in some ways a political statement. As you can see, Native Americans weren’t counted and non-free persons were not counted as fully a person. For the most part these were African American slaves. After the Civil War and Emancipation, the 13th Amendment nullified the Three-Fifths Compromise and all citizens were by law to be counted as persons. So while we have a more equal system of counting in place, we still continue to count people by their racial and ethnic backgrounds to this day. We do this because American society continues to have fairly unequal outcomes in proportion to the racial groups identified in the Census. [Read more...]