Nielsen Survey Forces Dual Race Children to “Choose One Ethnicity”

This open letter to Nielsen came to us via Twitter from Leslie V. Ryan, author of I am Flippish!, a picture book inspired by her own children’s experience growing up both Filipino and Irish.  In the letter she writes about her children’s interaction with a surveyor from Nielsen who, due to company policy, was unable to legitimize all aspects of their background.

The surveyor asked what Flippish meant and I told her they are half Filipino and half Irish. Another long pause. I repeated that they are fifty percent Filipino and fifty percent Caucasian. I thought that a well regarded survey company such as Nielsen would have thought of the growing number of multiracial families all over America and changed their survey. I never expected the answer we got.

“Ma’am, you can only choose one ethnicity,” replied the surveyor.

It’s an issue we’ve written about before, and as soon as we saw Leslie’s letter we knew we had to bring it to your attention.  Her experience is a reminder that these issues aren’t just abstractions, and that mixed race children are more than just an ever-increasing number on the census.  They’re real people, and policies like Nielsen’s affect actual children.  That’s why it’s unfortunate that even in 2013, when nine million Americans identify as being of two or more races, many organizations refuse to recognize that fact, forcing respondents to choose one aspect of their heritage over another, or to mark themselves as “Other.” Some groups, including the United States Census, have updated their policies to reflect America’s changing face, acknowledging the existence of people like Leslie’s children and this author by allowing us to mark more than one race when filling out forms or responding to surveys. Still, the experience Leslie’s Flippish children had with Nielsen shows that there’s a long way to go before everyone is ready to make that jump. She puts it best:

So Nielsen, why did you make my children choose one ethnic background when you were told they have two? Is this what you do when you call up multicultural families and make them choose one category? Your website states “Nielsen Knows People” — do you really? Don’t you know that there are millions of multicultural families in the US? A company like Nielsen should be aware of this and change with the times.

We want to thank Leslie for sharing her and her children’s experience.  It’s a story that’s going to be more and more familiar, and more and more important as the number of mixed race children in the United States grows. At MMXLII we believe that those children deserve to have their heritage acknowledged in its entirety, and their existence recognized by everyone – from Nielsen to the Standardized Tests given in public schools. Read Leslie’s letter and let us, and Nielsen, know what you think.

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