Who Counts in Official Statistics?

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Submission Summary
Debates about racism and calls for racial equality have recently surged. This shift is reflected in the EU’s expansion of its anti-discriminatory policies to include race and ethnicity as categories. To determine the extent of racial/ethnic discrimination and the success of ‘positive action’ measures, the EU recommends the collection of statistical data. Unlike the systematic investigation of racial disparities in the UK and the US, in most European countries, ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are not used as statistical categories in comprehensive data collection. In Germany, reservations towards gathering racial/ethnic data and even the very term ‘Rasse’ are deep-seated due to the history of National Socialism. Instead, categories such as ‘migration background’ are used. We argued in previous research that collecting racial/ethnic data is crucial to map patterns of multi-layered disparities and discrimination, inequalities and vulnerability and identify effective mitigation strategies. Building on this work, we argue that the category of “migration background” is both ethically and epistemically unsuited for this task and explore alternative approaches. First, we draw on accounts of ethical-epistemic analysis (Tuana, 2010, 2013; Katekireddi & Valles 2015; Valles forthcoming), as well as social-scientific research to argue that the category of 'migration background' is both epistemically and ethically problematic. As Aikins et al. (2020) point out, it does not capture the putative racial discrimination of some racialised groups. For example, black Germans whose parents both have German citizenship by birth have no ‘migration background’ (https://afrozensus.de/reports/2020/). This suggests that demographic categories such as ‘migration background’ can render certain social groups invisible (Will, 2019). The stakes are high as the current demographic categories disallow investigating to which extent structural racism is a causal factor explaining racial disparities related to, e.g., health outcomes in the context of COVID-19 (Plümecke et al., 2021). Second, we draw on debates on the metaphysics of race and ethnicity to examine alternatives to ‘migration background’. Drawing on an ongoing experiment study (James et al., in progress), we provide a comparative analysis of race talk in the US and Germany. We address concerns raised by the use of racial/ethnic categories related to, e.g., privacy, and reflect on the controversy regarding the meaning of the German term for race (‘Rasse’). One metaphysical worry is whether adopting racial categories in official statistics commits us to the view that races are biologically real, a view widely held to be refuted. However, we argue that, while talk of ‘racialised groups’ may be preferable in most (including social-scientific) contexts, cautious talk of ‘Rasse’ is permissible in others. In particular, the latter may be suited to publicly communicate how racial discrimination shapes material and (physical and mental) health conditions, socioeconomic positions and overall well-being in racialised people (Hendl, Chung and Wild, 2020). Thus, we explore how conceptual ethics can inform the social-scientific and public debate over racial/ethnic classification and thereby facilitate racial/ethnic data collection that is both ethically and epistemically sound.
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Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
The University of Augsburg and Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

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