Why the US Census Bureau's Racial Categories Are Outdated and Inaccurate


Dr. Kay


Why the US Census Bureau's Racial Categories Are Outdated and Inaccurate

For many years, the United States Census Bureau has been tasked with collecting data on the race of the American population. The U.S. Census Bureau collects race data by guidelines provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and these data are based on self-identification. According to U.S. Census Bureau (n.d.), these racial categories, including White, Black, Asian, and Native American, have remained unchanged for decades. However, with the growing awareness of systemic racism and the importance of representation, many people are questioning the relevancy and accuracy of these classifications. In this blog post, we will explore why the US Census Bureau's racial categories need an overhaul and what changes could be made to better reflect the diversity of the American population.

As a social worker scholar, I have argued that no one is genuinely the color "black or white" and that people should be indicated by nation rather than race. Others say we should move beyond racial categories and instead focus on ethnicity, nationality, or cultural identity.

Other theorists, such as the renowned American writer and activist James Baldwin, stance on race was that racialization was no more than a mere social construct, which mirrors other social groups, in that they are “constructed and reconstructed” through political polarization (Brown, 2021, p.3).

Whatever the alternative, it is clear that the current system is no longer adequate for a modern, diverse America. With changing demographics and shifting cultural identities, we need a more inclusive and accurate way of classifying America's citizens.

Science scholars (Flanagin et al., 2021) have widely accepted that race and ethnicity are social constructs; moreover, their recent guidance and studies suggest no scientific or biological correlation to race or ethnicity. Instead, geography, ancestry, and cultural identity should be indicated by nation, not race. This would allow for a more nuanced understanding of America's diverse population and avoid the harmful effects of labeling individuals based on their skin color.

In April 2018, the National Geographic (NG) Magazines position on this matter was that “There’s No Scientific Basis for Race – It’s a Made-up Label” (Nyborg, 2019, p. 140). Studies show these labels are arbitrary and reinforce harmful stereotypes and systemic inequalities. We can move towards a more just and fair society by adopting a more inclusive and thoughtful approach to racial classification. Furthermore, using culture or nationality as an alternative classification would also acknowledge the complex social and cultural factors that shape an individual's identity. Again, Nyberg’s’ published journal article (2019) concluded National Geographics’ strong stance, asserting that this historical polarization on race “deliberately harms minority identity” (Nyborg, 2019, p. 160). Therefore, equitable data collection is essential in shaping policies and addressing systemic inequalities.

For example, an individual who identifies as Nigerian-American or Chinese-American would have a more accurate representation of their identity if they were classified by their nation rather than their skin color. This approach would also recognize the contributions and histories of different immigrant groups that have shaped America's cultural landscape.

We are not a by-product of crayons. Society must cease categorizing some by ethnicity or nationality while categorizing others for one of only two colors, black or white. Theoretically speaking, the assigned color coding requires a paradigm shift. I believe many shades of humans match that of beige, brown, peach, cream, coffee, cinnamon, and mocha; you name it. No one's pigmentation matches that of the colors white or black, so this categorization is null and void when yielding the utility of colorized categorizations.

America, the country must work as a working committee to bring life to a more nuanced and scientific, aligning persons to that of nationality and halting a marginalized color categorization that has long been erroneous and polarized.


Brown, M. (2021). James Baldwin and the Politics of white identity. Contemporary Political Theory, 20(1), 1-2

Flanagin, A., Frey, T., Christiansen, S. L., & AMA Manual of Style Committee (2021). Updated Guidance

On the Reporting of Race and Ethnicity in Medical and Science Journals. JAMA, 326(7), 621–627.


Nyborg, H. (2019). Race as Social Construct. Psych, 1(1), 139-165.


U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.) About the Topic of Race. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from