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U.S. guidelines bring new look to ethnicity

America's racial complexion will have a slightly different look under new federal guidelines. A proposed "multiracial" category was rejected, but people of mixed background will be allowed to list all categories that apply.

And Asians and Hawaiians will get separate listings on government forms instead of being combined into a single group.Traditionally, Americans have been asked to choose one of four racial categories listed on the census. In recent years the growth in the number of people of mixed race led to calls for a new, multiracial category. The number of children in mixed-race families jumped from fewer than 500,000 to 2 million between 1970 and 1990.

"There will be no multiracial category," Franklin Raines, director of the Office of Management and Budget, announced Wednesday. The decision came after four years of analysis, hearings and debate on the issue.

The decision affects statistics used to redistrict seats in Congress and state legislatures and to enforce civil rights laws. Also covered are statistics used in the study of economic and social trends.

Sally Katzen, head of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said allowing people to choose more than one racial category will provide a more detailed and accurate picture of the pop-u-lation.

For example, some might check white and American Indian, others Asian and Native Hawaiian or black and Asian. Some will check just one category, others two or more.

Tiger Woods, the charismatic young golfer who won the Masters Tournament, could check four categories since his background combines Asian, black, American Indian and white ancestry.

The first official use of the new categories will be in next year's test census, and they will be required for all federal statistical programs by 2003. The decision was made by OMB because that agency is in charge of making sure all federal agencies use common statistical definitions.

Raines stressed that the government prefers for individuals to make their own decisions as to which race or races they belong. "We have rejected the notion that there is some biological difference between races," he said.

The division of the Asian and Pacific Islander category, in effect, adds a new racial choice for Americans.

Hawaiians had petitioned the OMB to be switched from the "Asian or Pacific Islander" category to the "American Indian or Alaska Native" category, but that was rejected.

Instead, the agency decided to have two separate categories, "Asians" and "Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders."

Hawaiians had been swamped in the old category, making up just 3 percent of that total, Katzen said. Now they will be 60 percent of the new category.

The OMB ruling also said:

- "Alaska Native" will replace the term "Alaskan Native" and will be used instead of Eskimo or Aleut.

- The term "American Indian" will not be changed to "Native American."

- Separate ethnic categories will not be established for "Cape Verdeans" or "Arabs or Middle Easterners." However, the Middle Eastern possibility will continue to be studied.

- The name of the black category will be changed to "Black or African American."

- The name of the Hispanic category will be changed to "Hispanic or Latino."