Why Census Race Is Struggling To Define Multicultural America

While multiculturalism continues to define America, census race categories are finding it more and more challenging to pinpoint a person’s origin or identity. As marketers, this kind of data has helped define patterns in behavior, but as multicultural Millennials grow their presence, will we be able to continue to rely on the same data?

Where are you from?

Having spent these past 10 formative years working on the multicultural side of marketing, I can honestly say hearing the question is equally as casual as inquiring what your peer is having for lunch that day. And if we are being honest, I think it’s fair to say the multicultural marketing gold rush that created the places we work at today can be traced back to that simple question; where are you from? Multicultural Marketing even has its very own Wikipedia page.

What are you?

‘Where you are from?’ became ‘what are you?’, and if what you are is not what everyone else is then you deserved your own marketing campaign. And along came separate strategies, research companies, unique media properties, dedicated agencies, marketing departments, consultants and question number 8 on the 2010 United States Census form. While I am referencing Hispanic Marketing specifically, I think the same applies to any group susceptible to categorization and with enough critical mass to matter on its own.

2010 Census – Question #8

But back in 2010, question number 8 of the 2010 Census separated the Hispanic denomination from race for the first time. That year in the census race polls you could be Latino Samoan, Hispanic Japanese, Black Chicano, White Cuban or any of the many newly possible combinations; technically 56 possible choices.

Being Hispanic became as unique as being male or female—meaning it was not unique at all. And the preamble of multiculturalism played louder than ever. Here we are halfway through the decade and the vast majority of Hispanic marketing players have re-branded themselves under the multicultural label. And I think census race question #8 deserves a little credit.

American Born, Multicultural Raised

Say what you want about the Millennial rave of the 2000’s, one thing is true: while being one of the largest U.S. born generations, they are historically also the most diverse. Just among Hispanic Millennials, 60% are U.S. born; add the rise of LGBT acceptance; Asians and Hispanics leading the numbers for marriages outside of their ethnicity; and you got yourself an unprecedented convergence of “what are you?”

As more people continue to be born here, it’s hard to say how much longer the meaning of ‘where are you from?” will hold for marketers. And with ‘what are you?’ becoming borderline offensive these days in the census race categories, maybe it’s time to take a cue from Facebook and ask our increasingly powerful Multicultural Millennial: What’s on your mind?

See how Dieste Inc., a multicultural advertising agency located in Dallas, Texas, is observing behavior among the new generation of multicultural Americans by signing for our newsletter below!

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jorgelo@thehangar.cr