Skip to content Skip to footer

Okay. So, I received a lot of blank stares when I told the story of how I never thought about my husband being white until I had to fill out his official government paperwork when we were applying for his US green card. I’d always thought of him as just Latino and then, of course, specifically, Argentine.

People, of course, would always look at me surprised with a, but, Sonia, we’ve seen your husband. What are you talking about? They were always just really focused on his skin color. But race and ethnicity can sometimes be complicated topics.

And for many, they aren’t well understood. Some people are very firm in their own identity, But when it comes time to fill out forms, government, job-based, or in some other capacity, the options given to them often force them into a box, and that often means boxes that don’t quite fit their personal view of themselves.

I’m bringing this up today because recently, the US government announced that as of the 2030 census, they are making changes to how we classify and measure race and ethnicity.

So after this short break, I’m gonna walk you through what is changing. You’ll get some consumer reactions, and then we’ll spend some time chatting about what those changes mean for your brand because these changes will have an impact that goes well beyond government data.

Okay. So here are the two primary changes that the US Office of Management and Budget or OMB announced that are gonna be changing with the 2030 Census and how the government will classify and collect data moving forward. 1st change, instead of having 2 separate questions for race and ethnicity, they will now be combined into one single question.

So previously, we’d have one question that asks you for your ethnicity and you’d have to check Hispanic Latino or non-Hispanic Latino and then there would be a separate question that would ask you what is your race and the usual responses would be something like American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, black or African American, Native American, or Pacific Islander, and white. I’m gonna walk you through what the new question will look like, but first, I wanna tell you about another big change.

Historically, people of Middle Eastern and North African descent have been classified as white on census and government data collection. Now there will be a new category MENA, MENA, which stands for Middle Eastern and North African descent.

Here’s what the OMB had to say about these changes. Our findings over the past decade resonate with many of the SPD 15 dedicated we know a combined race-ethnicity question with a dedicated Middle Eastern or North African response category and an emphasis on the collection of detailed identities for all communities will produce more accurate race-ethnicity data for our nation’s population.

To give you some additional context as to these changes for the 2020 census, 43% of Hispanics either didn’t respond to the question asking them to select their race or chose some other race. Just a quick note, whenever I was filling out Jonathan’s paperwork, some other race I didn’t even know was an option.

The OMB referenced this as one of their reasons for making the change to collapse the question. Here’s what they said.

For the past several decades, the other race, the SOR, population has increased largely driven by the increase in the Hispanic population, which could not easily report its Hispanic identity in the separate race question.

From 2010 to 2020, the other race alone or in combination population which is 49,900,000 increased by 129%, surpassing the black or African American population, which is 46,900,000, as the nation’s 2nd largest race alone or in the combination group. So some other race was bigger than the black population. Super fascinating and why the OMB pushed to make these changes.

They went on to add, that this is consistent with our previous research, which found that a combined race-ethnicity question resulted in significantly lower percentages of respondents reporting as SOR as well as a significantly lower percentage of missing responses than the separate race and ethnicity questions and higher reporting in OMB race ethnicity categories.

Notably, a combined race-ethnicity question allows Hispanic respondents to identify as Hispanic alone at higher rates than in the separate questions format. Okay. So now, let’s walk through what this revised question would look like on the census.

So the official question is, what is your race and or ethnicity? Then there is a subsequent instruction to select all that apply and enter additional details in the spaces provided below the options.

The additional details are for people or respondents to add in specific questions related to their nationality or which countries or groups they identify with.

So here are what the new options will be. There’s American Indian or Alaska Native, and there’s a space below for someone to write in the specifics of how they identify.

So the instructions for that say, enter, for example, Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana, Native Village of Barrow Inupia, traditional government, Nome Escalow community, Aztec, Maya, etcetera.

Then below that, the next option is Asian. Again, there’s a request for additional details. There are check boxes for Chinese, Vietnamese, Asian, Indian, Korean, Filipino, and Japanese.

Below that is a write-in box where it says, enter, for example, Pakistani, among Afghan, etcetera, in case how you identify wasn’t included in the check boxes listed.

Next, there’s black or African American, and the options for people to check are African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Somali.

Then there’s that write-in box where it says enter, for example, Trinidadian and Tobogonian, Ghanaian, Congolese, etcetera. Then we get to the new box, Hispanic or Latino.

Below that are the checkboxes Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and then the right end box would include Colombian, Honduran, Spaniard, etcetera. Then there’s the next new box, Middle Eastern or North African, and the checkboxes include Lebanese, Syrian, Iranian, Iraqi, Egyptian, and Israeli.

And then the right box includes the examples Moroccan, Yemeni, Kurdish, etcetera. Then we get to the category for Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander with a checkbox below showcasing native Hawaiian, Tongan, Samoan, Frisian, Chamorro, or Marshallese. I hope I’m saying this right.

The last box is white, and the checkboxes below it include English, Italian, German, Polish, Irish, and Scottish.

And then the right inbox provides the examples of French, Swedish, Norwegian, etcetera.

Okay. So let’s get a response from a consumer who this impacts. You’re about to hear from doctor Suzanne Wertheim who has a PhD in linguistics.

You’re gonna hear more from her in an upcoming episode all about inclusive language. But here she is talking about how these census changes impact her based on her own lived experiences.

Sonia: What’s your initial reaction?

Suzanne Wertheim: Delight.

Sonia: What has it right? Okay. What has it meant to you to have to check the white box all these years?

Suzanne Wertheim: I’ve disliked checking the white box. And whenever possible, I have checked others and filled in Middle Eastern. Right? So this is a thing that I’ve been doing on my own for decades now.

One reason is that when my family came to the US, they were not considered white. So there’s whiteness is such a slippery category. Another is that I popped out darker than my family. And so people treat me differently.

They’ve I’ve sat next to my father and been addressed in a different language than him. Some people will talk to him in English and talk to me in Italian, Spanish, and usually Spanish, and Turkish.

So people perceive me as not white. I have lived a life of both white middle-class privilege growing up, but also being welcomed in and by being welcomed by people of color as one of them and being, racially and ethnically othered by white people.

Sonia: Right.

Suzanne Wertheim: In addition, I have felt so much anger on behalf of people who have Arab names, in particular in this country.

People have Arab names and who look Arab, who look very  Semitic or Middle Eastern, who are or wear a hijab or some other religious gear that marks them as Muslim.

And to pretend that they are encompassed in whiteness and treated the way that a quote, unquote regular American an American where you don’t have to put another word before American. Right? Like, there’s no way that Arab American is a thing. So why are we pretending that they’re white?

So much hate and anger and bias and violence that in solidarity, I’m like, we gotta show that this is not whiteness. So I’m I’m I’m so excited.

Sonia: Yeah. What do you wish that I mean, this is gonna be like the 20, and 30 censuses. So we’re still a little ways away.

Suzanne Wertheim: Yeah. Sure.

Sonia: What do you wish that other organizations, marketers, and brands do in the interim while we’re waiting as a result of, you know, this change that’s coming?

Suzanne Wertheim: So I think it’s always dangerous to use ethnonyms as the word for, the name of an ethnic group because they change so quickly. That’s a very easy way to be dated.

So I’m always recommending that you go for a specific nationality or ethnicity instead of an overarching thing anytime you can. So say Mexican American person or say Iranian American person or whatever.

But also in terms of, like, when you’re doing UX research or you’re creating personas, you know, like, break them out. Right? So disaggregate MENA people from your socio-demographics, your discussions, your research, all of it.

It’s time to disaggregate. It’s it’s past time to disaggregate, but now is a great time.

Sonia: Absolutely. Okay.

After this short break, we’re gonna talk about the marketing implications of all these changes for your brand.

Okay. These census changes are going to change some things in terms of how you think about the people you serve, and I imagine even the way you classify and capture data about them.

So I turned to a market research expert who was thinking about these things right now with her clients to help us identify how we need to be thinking about these changes. Renita Bryant, who’s been on this show before, she’s the CEO of SiteSet Consulting, a market research consultancy.

Sonia: Alright. Lots to cover today. I wanted to get your expert thoughts on this whole announcement about changes that are coming to the census. So they’re now collapsing the data with regards to race and ethnicity, and as well, they’re now breaking out a category for MENA, Middle Eastern, and North Africa.

And when I said they’re collapsing, race and ethnicity, so Hispanic and Latino will be a checkbox onto that one question versus, like, 2 different ones. What are your thoughts from a researcher’s standpoint? How are these changes that they’ve announced impacting the way you’re doing research for your clients?

Renita Bryant: Yeah. I think, you know, for those of us who have been working in this industry for some years and we have an understanding about misrepresentation, We have an understanding about the fact that groups are being undercounted and underrepresented.

This is a positive change. It’s it’s good to see the government moving in this direction. I believe this has been several years in the making, so it’s it’s a great announcement for us.

For those of us who have been working in this, we’ve already made a lot of the changes, right, in terms of making sure that we’re trying to have our consumers or customers count it when we’re doing research studies.

So, yeah, it’s just great to see them implement the changes that so many folks within these communities have been advocating for, right, and then requesting and talking about and saying, hey. We feel as though you’re not seeing us.

We feel as though we’re not being properly counted and represented, and so it’s a great change.

Sonia: Yeah. I was excited whenever I saw that, and I know that this is something that’s happening in 2030, but I started to get, like, to think through this. Okay. How does this impact the way brands are operating today? So I wanted to find out if you had any specific thoughts on whether or not you felt like should brands be waiting until 2030.

Renita Bryant: I hope not. I hope not. I’ll tell you from a so first researcher standpoint, this is helpful because to get into the details a little bit. Right? When we think about recruiting, where we’re trying to screen for research, we’re asking certain questions.

We’re asking age questions, gender questions, depending on the research, if age matters, if, you know, if gender matters. Right? We’re asking questions around race, and we’re asking questions maybe around household income.

Like, there are different demo questions that we’re demographic questions that we’re asking. And so now being able to say, let’s properly separate these groups and not just lump them in.

Right? Let’s not make assumptions about them from a market research standpoint in step 1. But also, when you think about the analysis of data. So, yeah, that’s great to have them.

Now you’ve broken that out and had them count it, you’re making sure that when you recruit people, you can identify them properly. But what happens when you’re thinking about developing a questionnaire? Asking questions, you know, depending on the product or service or brand you’re working with, you wanna make sure you’re asking questions that are gonna properly give you rich and refined data that makes sense for these different groups that you’re talking to.

It helps you with targeting and making sure that you’re targeting properly, and right, and helping the brand understand who are you serving or underserving. Right? Where is the opportunity to win? Where is your white space opportunity? But also with the analysis. Now you can break out data because you’ve recruited. Right?

So you can ask questions and do what we call, like, different cross tabs and all to get in kinda like the nerdy parts of it. But you can kinda take data and overlay it with other pieces of data or other questions and be able to understand how groups compare to each other, how they contrast with each other, you know, what their needs are.

And so just from a market research standpoint, it just gives you richer, more refined data. And from a brand standpoint, they definitely shouldn’t wait until 2030. Market research companies, brands, like, it’s an investment that needs to be made now.

And, of course, I’m an advocate for doing that. You know, I think brands should invest because one of the things I thought about reading the article is that a lot of times just human nature wants to minimize. We wanna put things or people or whatever it is into as many, excuse me, as few boxes as possible.

Right? Like, we wanna take the many and make it as few as possible because it’s easy to manage. And so a lot of times, we like grouping, you know, people together, these populations together because then we can just kinda say, oh, let’s just, you know, call it, you know, EMEA. Right?

And just and we’ll but we assume that when you say EMEA, it’s like, okay. So Europe, the Middle East, Africa. So all of these people are the same because a lot of corporations use that acronym. That’s how they group. And so we group, and we don’t stop and think about the nuances that exist. Right?

Like, cultural differences, language barriers, norms, like, just the way of life, the way of being, how they may see some of these different products and services, how you speak to them.

And so and I know you know this work. Right? You’re act you’re active in this. But I think brands have an opportunity to take a step back and think about this where when it comes to how they’re targeting, who they’re targeting, how they’re asking questions, what questions are being posed to different groups, how different groups may answer those questions, you know, in specific ways that make more sense and align with who they are and how they see themselves and how they want to be communicated to and with.

But, yeah, I think brands are the investment. They’re gonna have to make more of an investment and again, instead of trying to get to the few, right, and say, okay, we’re only gonna talk to these group peep to groups of people. Right? And a lot of times that’s we’re gonna talk to what they call general market or total market, which you laughed and I I would like, it’s okay.

General market, total market? Okay. Sure. And then, like, there’s so many questions about that that that needs to be talked about. But then, you know, they’ll say, okay. Well, we’ll talk to AA or Black depending on how different companies try to define these groups.

And then that’s maybe it. And maybe they say, oh, we’ll talk to what they call US h US Hispanic. They’ll group them. Those are the 3 groups. Those are the 3 populations that they may talk to without considering any nuances that exist within those groups at all.

So I think this is a great change. I know that was a lot, but, you know, I’m kinda passionate about this. I think it’s a great change and it’s it’s it’s quite delayed, but at least it’s happening.

Sonia: Better late than never. Right? Like, we’ll we’ll take it. Thank you. And I love the passion that you talked about this because I think it is really helpful, especially for people who aren’t part of any of these groups.

If you’ve never had to, like, look at a checkbox of these options and were like, actually, none of these fit who I am or my identity.

But then I started to think a lot about brands and the data that they’ve been capturing, and you kind of alluded to it for some time. Now that’s all going to change.

So do you have any advice for people as they’re thinking about, like, historical data versus how we’re gonna be moving forward in the future, thinking about these different identities, just gonna help ground them in terms of, like, it’s different? It’s not gonna be, you know it’s changing. Right? And so this is just an evolution in the way we need to look at this.

Renita Bryant: Yeah. I think, you know, there’s a there’s I have a couple of different thoughts on it because at first, my initial thought was just, of course, the data is gonna change. It’s, you know, the in the because the inputs are changing. Right?

So what we’re capturing at the beginning when we’re doing the recruiting or the screening is changing who may be the target or, you know, when people are doing segmentation and doing analysis, that’s gonna kind of that may change depending on the brand or the or the service, the product, the company.

And so initially, it was that you know, data before just think about it as though, you know, I’m someone that naturally wears glasses. And so if you’re if you if you’re someone who’s never worn glasses, this may make no sense to you.

But for somebody who has and you understand wearing glasses, right, it’s almost like if you had your glasses on, they have all kinds of fingerprints on them and, you know, maybe you haven’t been to the optometrist in some years and so your prescription’s old. It’s starting to get a little bit blurry.

And so that was kind of the old data. Right? And now, the new data is you just went to the doctor. You just got your new prescription. They cleaned them up nicely for you, whereas you can never clean them up that well after you buy them.

And now you just have, you know, your perfect vision back and everything is clear and everything looks brighter. Right? It’s Or, you know, I could’ve used a microscope example, I guess that would’ve been better, or even a telescope.

But, you know, I think it’s still the same thing. Right? It’s just about refinement and clarity and being able to have better guidance to make better decisions.

And so we you know, every time we learn a little bit, or a lot, every time we can make progress and move forward, we’re just able to do better, make better choices, make better decisions, and I think that’s what’s, ultimately happening with these brands.

Now on the other side, one thing that I did think about was, some years ago when the conversation started becoming more pronounced around majority, minority, majority, and the fact that different groups of different populations within the US were changing, and we were seeing a decrease in decline in the birth rates of white Americans, and we were seeing some increases in, some of the other populations.

And so it started kind of there there became a lot of conversation around what this meant. Right? And you we started to see responses to that in addition to other political things that were happening.

And so one of the things also that I’m aware of is not that who’s necessarily taking the survey may be changing, but how they’re how they may be identifying themselves is changing because of the choices that they’re being given.

But now if you have a reduction in those in the folks that are in that white population, right, that because if you were someone who wants to check the box and say I’m Hispanic or Latino, but the choice that you were given was either white, black, Asian, you know, like, whatever the other options were, now you may be you’re less likely to check that box. Right? And you’re more likely to check a box that you identify with, which is now going to reduce the numbers.

And that’s what the government knows. It probably is gonna reduce that number of the white population. I just wonder from a political standpoint, from just a cultural standpoint, have people thought about the impact that has because people start to feel like, now it just becomes a bigger conversation around what’s happening in our country, and I think we just have to be prepared for the people who don’t want to embrace diversity and inclusion and belonging and adapt to the change that’s happening, or that’s already here. Right?

They wanna keep they want to hold fast to the past. So this also is something that we need to think about in terms of how this gonna affect thinking and how people are gonna use that to try to incite people to act in ways that may not be for the betterment of us all.

Sonia: No. I get it. I was thinking about this whenever I first read it in terms of, like, what the impact was gonna be because I remember whenever the 2020 census data started getting publicized, there was a lot of talk about, wow.

The white population has dropped to the lowest point ever since in more than 200 years since the census has been recorded. And so now with this next one, the hypothesis is it will drop even more, not because there have been such drastic changes.

It’s because we’re calculating and giving people more options that are doing a more accurate they’re giving us a more accurate representation of the example that you’re using. We’re we’re cleaning the glasses, but the lens and the glass a little bit more, so we’re seeing the picture a little bit more clearly.

And I just love that, you know, from a government standpoint, that will help give us a better picture so we can put the right programming in place.

But, from a business standpoint, I think that will help us in a lot of ways. Renita, this has been super helpful. Thank you for stopping by.

Do you have any parting words of wisdom for marketers and business leaders who want to just start, like, lean in and be proactive about incorporating these new changes that are coming down from the Census into the way they do business?

Renita Bryant: Yeah. I would just say do it. Like, invest. I think, you know, don’t delay. It’s one of those taglines, like, don’t delay. Do it today, I think.

And that sounds corny, but it’s the fact that the government is a slow-moving entity, we all kind of know that we understand that there’s a process to everything.

So the fact that the government is now on board and starting to implement these changes said and it’s still gonna take time for them, we’re not as slow moving.Right?

A lot of the market research companies out there, a lot of the, of all different sizes, a lot of the brands out there that are working with research teams or research vendors, we can make change faster and start implementing these things.

So I would say invest and make the updates to your screeners. I mean, that takes probably 10 minutes. Right? So They can make the necessary updates to screeners. One of the biggest things I think most people may overlook is also hiring diverse talent.

If you’re hiring talent that looks like, right, and has the experience, that aligns with the groups of people that you’re trying to speak to and you’re trying to understand and you’re trying to develop questionnaires for, that’s going to make the work a lot easier because they’re gonna ask questions.

They’re gonna think about things in a way that maybe other members of your team or organization will not.So I think another part that people don’t talk about is also the talent that you have in the room that’s gonna help you be able to make these implementations and also just get you to a better outcome.

As I mentioned, Renita was a previous guest on Episode number 50, how to get better consumer insights for underserved communities. I’ll drop a link to it in the show notes in case you’d like to go back and have a listen.

Alright. That’s it for today’s episode. We covered a lot of ground, And at the end of the day, here’s what I’d like you to do with all this information.

1st, look at your current data collection and ask yourself, how do these coming changes impact the way you’re collecting data on your customers?

Then ask, how do these coming changes impact the way you’re talking about the different identities of the people you serve?

And lastly, ask yourself, how do these coming changes impact the insights and deeper degree of intimacy that you have as you start to degroup some of these communities? If you let it, this table will enable you to deliver more authentic and personalized experiences to the people you serve.

So here’s an example of how that plays out in practice.

Instead of just having data on Hispanics and Latinos in your area, because the census data also gets broken out by the state, you’ll have insight into the nationalities associated. For instance, in Florida, where I live, you will find more Latinos of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent.

So when I went to a Nike store a few months back, it made total sense that there were shirts that said Puerto Rico on them because that local store knew who their audience was and they were able to deliver products that spoke specifically to that particular community rather than staying at the higher, more general Hispanic Latino community label.

Food for thought for you. Okay.

I imagine that you want to explore all these changes further and to look at a sample question that’s, of all the questions that I read.

Actually, to look at it, especially if you’re a visual person like I am. So I will drop links to the things that I covered into the show notes so you can go ahead and have a look.

Okay. So if you like the show, do share it with a friend, colleague, and your network, and leave a rating and review for it in your podcast player of choice. It does go a long way toward helping more people discover the show.

One other quick question for you. Are you getting the inclusion in the marketing newsletter? Each week, I send news, tips, insights, commentary, and stories, all to help you attract and retain a bigger, more diverse customer base.

Go to inclusion in to get signed up. I will also drop a link to it in the show notes for you so you can access it easily.

Until next time, remember, everyone deserves to have a place where they belong. Let’s use our individual and collective power to ensure more people feel like they do.

Thanks so much for listening.

Talk to you soon.