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Should we say Black or African-American? Latino or Hispanic?

Friday, August 9, 2013
posted by Douglas Keene

label-jars-not-peopleThere’s been a progression of labels applied to the two main ethnic minority groups in the United States. Since we cover a lot of applied research here at The Jury Room, we tend to use the label the researchers chose in their research. But Gallup Polls has recently released a survey showing that

“the vast majority of US blacks and Hispanics have no preference when it comes to labels commonly used to describe their racial or ethnic group. Sixty-five percent of blacks say it doesn’t matter to them whether they are called “African-American” or “black”, and 70% of Hispanics say it doesn’t matter to them whether they are referred to as “Latino” or “Hispanic”.

The Gallup poll was conducted between June 13th and July 5, 2013 and included interviews with “1,010 blacks and 1,000 Hispanics”. Gallup reports that blacks with a label preference are evenly divided between preferring either the label “African-American” (17%) or the label “black” (17%). Hispanics with a preference, according to Gallup, show a preference for the “Hispanic” (19%) label over the “Latino” (10%) label.

Gallup tells us the history of preferences and even their own history with labels. From 1930 until 1971, for example, Gallup used the term “Negro” when asking questions about blacks.

In fact, a 1969 Gallup poll of blacks found “Negro” to be the most widely preferred term among blacks — at 38%, compared with 19% for “black” and 10% for “Afro-American”.”

Since 1971, Gallup has used the term “black” for questions about blacks living in the United States. Gallup did not include questions about Hispanics until 1980 and has always used the term “Hispanic” in their polling questions.

It’s an intriguing quandary for us as pretrial researchers (and for anyone on a quest to keep up with political and social correctness). We want to let people self-identify as whatever they choose. So our pretrial research questionnaire asks them what they consider their racial identity to be and gives them multiple labels from which to choose. We are seeing an increasing use of the “multiracial” designation as our mock jurors identify themselves more precisely. In a recent mock trial, we had jurors self-describing as “Asian and Black”, “Hispanic and Chinese”, “Hispanic and Black”, and “Chinese and Japanese”–in addition to the more traditional single ethnic identity labels.

Most of us don’t like being put into boxes. We want to be unique and individual. The increasing trend toward multiracial identification (also described as “being bigger than one box”) allows individuals to claim all their identities. And that’s a good thing when your goal is to get the most honest and direct feedback about your case as possible. Let even your initial questionnaire interactions elicit the truth. And if you are stuck with a court-designed questionnaire, know that it is inadequate. Know that it doesn’t really capture the identities of a good number of jurors, either personally or ethnically.


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