New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Wall Street Journal Proposal for NYC Forms: Option to Identify as Multiracial by Mara Gay

Proposal for NYC Forms: Option to Identify as Multiracial

New Yorkers would be able to identify as more than one race on city documents under legislation set to be introduced in the City Council on Tuesday.

“We just wanted to bring New York City into the 21st century,” said Councilwoman Margaret Chin, a Manhattan Democrat and the lead sponsor of the measure. “This will allow New Yorkers to identify their heritage and be proud of it. They shouldn’t have to only check one box.”

The city has the highest multiracial population in the country, with 325,901 people identifying as more than one race on the 2010 U.S. Census.

Right now, city forms that ask for information about race or ethnicity have five options: “white, not of Hispanic origin”; “black, not of Hispanic origin”; “Hispanic”; “Asian or Pacific Islander”; and “American Indian or Alaskan Native.”

The legislation could mean changes for dozens of city forms. Complaint forms with the New York City Commission on Human Rights would be changed under the bill, for example, as would applications at the Department of Small Business Services and at the New York City Housing Authority. Documents required of New York’s more than 300,000 city employees would also be affected.

Supporters say allowing New Yorkers to identify as more than one race will lead to more accurate demographic data, which can be used for policy making and can sometimes affect funding from the state and federal governments.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Councilman Ben Kallos and Councilman Corey Johnson, both Democrats, would require city agencies to have the capacity to maintain the new demographic information within three years of the bill becoming law.

A spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he looked forward to reviewing the legislation. The changes outlined in the bill would be administered through the Mayor’s Office of Operations.

Ms. Chin said she hadn’t spoken with the mayor about the bill yet but was hopeful he would back it fully.

“Even his kids would be affected,” she noted.

William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, called the legislation, “a late step in the right direction.”

“It gives us information about which groups are underserved,” Mr. Frey said. “And it helps us to be specific about it.”

Mike Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party, said City Hall should tackle more pressing problems.

“It’s amazing that with all the challenges we face...we’re focused on allowing people to check off three or four different races on a form,” Mr. Long said.

The U.S. Census has allowed people to mark more than one box since 2000. Its form includes 14 categories of race or ethnicity, as well as an additional space for individuals to write in their ancestry if it isn’t listed.


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