Graphic Novelist Sues US Government To Change Its Race Laws

Michael Van Cleve is the author of the recently-published graphic novel El Paso, about a woman being pursued by a prison gang. He also wrote the graphic novel Titan and comic book series Child Of The Sun. But it's another project that his attention right now, as he wants to change US law regarding the way it differences races in the statistics it gathers.

Graphic Novelist Sues US Government To Change Its Race Laws
Screencap: lawsuit PDF

He is suing Wynn Coggins in her official capacity as the acting director for the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Ron Jarmin, in his official capacity as the acting director for the U.S. Census Bureau, Rob Fairweather, in his official capacity as the acting director for the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget.

Addressing race and ethnicity data collection in the US, the suit states "at the very minimum, Defendants are required to periodically update the race system for accuracy to produce relevant and reliable statistical information". That the current race system "includes races which are overbroad, subjective, and imprecise, such as the White and Black races". And that "the current race system includes definitional criteria for the five races that are confusing to Americans and the definitional criteria is factually inaccurate" while "the current race system does not account for the growing multiracial
population in the United States and excludes, as a race, certain population groups living in the United States, like the Middle Eastern and North African population" or MENA, who are categorised as "White". And that "the current race system treats Hispanics as a subclass under race, i.e., an ethnicity, without legally distinguishing between race and ethnicity." And that as a result, many people don't know how to complete the US census accurately. quoting Nicholas A. Jones, the U.S. Census Bureau's Director and Senior Advisor of Race and Ethnic Research, saying, "our research acknowledges that a growing number of people find the current race and ethnic categories confusing, or wish to see their own specific group reflected on the census."

He states that "the OMB race categories have remained unchanged since 1997 and are still mandatory on
every federal statistical agency and the 1997 rule has not been revoked, revised, or updated." Van Cleve proposes as a solution combining race and ethnicity into one Census question and including "MENA as a Race".

The suit also looks at previous changes to designations, from original categories in 1790 of  "Free White males'', ''Free White females'', ''All Other Free Persons'' and ''Slaves." That  "Free Colored Persons" was added in 1830,  "Mulatto" added in 1850, "Chinese" added in 1860 in California, and nationally in 1870 containing all people of Asian descent, as well 1890's addition of  "Quadroons" and "Octoroons" to try and measure levels of "black blood" which they seemed obsessed with back then. Changes continued through the twentieth century, reflecting the times and the prejudices along the way, and it states that a change is overdue since the last time, 1997.

The suit emphasises that while race data obtained by the Census was often abused to the detriment of non-White populations in the US after the Civil Rights Movement and civil rights laws of the 1960s and 70s, "race data started being used to enforce civil rights violations."

The suit also states that "President Joe Biden has openly acknowledged, by executive order, that the federal race system needs improvement and has appointed the directors of the OMB, Census Bureau, and the Department of Commerce to improve it through an "equitable data working group." It was also a Biden/Harris campaign commitment to " support the creation of a new Middle East North Africa (MENA) category, which was recommended by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017 so that Arab Americans can be more fairly counted and their needs studied and considered alongside other minorities" stating that "The Trump Administration politicized the 2020 Census, putting marginalised communities at risk of a drastic undercount, and abandoned the addition of a MENA category on the Census."

Van Cleve states that he "has the desire to help underprivileged communities through legal assistance. That he "represented and/or assisted persons that would be included within the MENA race or the Hispanic race/ethnicity, and where their cultural identities were an issue." And that "Congress depends on accurate census data to legislate effectively. Census data guides many of the most significant federal programs, including Medicaid assistance, Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the National School Lunch Program, and the Children's Health Insurance Program."

The suit requests that "this court should utilize 5 U.S.C. § 706(1) to compel the Defendants to update, revise, or reform their race collection system (the 1997 OMB Rule), by promulgating a new rule, to come into compliance with the PRA and the Evidence Act and Policy Directive #1." That it should "enjoin Defendants from using the 1997 OMB Rule to any future statistical surveys, to include the 2030 Census and the 2021 ACS, without some new supplemental policy modifying the current race and ethnicity data standards."

And if nothing else, Van Cleve should be able to get a graphic novel out of it. The full suit can be read here.

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.