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Bill Recognizing ‘Multiracial’ People Advances In California

Bill Recognizing ‘Multiracial’ People Advances In California


A bill that would allow Californians to identify themselves with one or more racial or ethnic backgrounds on government forms passed its first hurdle this week, passing the California State Senate Judiciary.

The bill, The Ethnic Heritage Respect and Recognition Act, is the first bill of its kind in the nation. It would only apply to forms that already ask for racial identity.

“This state is the largest and most diverse in the nation, and Californians strongly value that diversity,” says state Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who authored the bill. “But that value is illusory if it’s not made real and if the state continues to force its citizens to ‘choose just one’ on a daily basis. This is a matter of accuracy, respect and even life or death with respect to certain medical conditions.”

The bill, called “SB 1615,” still faces a long road to passage, as it must be approved by the entire Senate, the State Assembly and signed by the governor.

Proponents of the bill say California’s large and rapidly growing demographic of individuals who identify with two or more racial or ethnic backgrounds has long been ignored despite the challenges faced by multiracial people. The measure would help California agencies identify and address these needs by ensuring that information about multiracial Californians is collected and publicly reported.

“It’s time for state government to catch up with the demographic reality of today’s California,” says Attorney General Bill Lockyer. “I know firsthand that our communities are more diverse than ever, as my son is proud of his Caucasian, Native American and Hispanic roots. SB 1615 will allow us to properly recognize and celebrate our ethnic and cultural history.”

Simitian’s bill brings California law into conformity with federal guidelines for the collection and presentation of data on race and ethnicity that were adopted in 1997. Those guidelines, which are used within the federal government, were first developed in response to concerns that a “check only one” system was unmindful of the multiracial population and was producing increasingly inaccurate data about the national demographic.

In addition to misunderstanding and prejudice, multiracial individuals face many special medical needs, such as increased difficulty in finding a bone marrow donor or in getting accurate cancer screenings. A 2003 study by researchers at the University of California and the National Institute of Health also found that multiracial teens were more likely to suffer from depression and substance abuse. The measure now moves to the State Senate Appropriations Committee.

— Diverse staff reports

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