Between now and the first of the year anybody working for Uncle Sam will have a chance to legally change his or her race/national origin -- on paper.
Although federal officials hope and pray it will not happen, new rules will make it possible for a blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned U.S. employe to force Uncle Sam to list him as a Black, Hispanic or American-Indian.
By the same token, the new rules will permit a person who is obviously Black to demand that the government list him/her as white, Asian, or as an Eskimo -- although that definition itself will be changed to Alaska Native.
The new racial/ethnic system was developed by the Office of Personnel Management ot standardize current federal race-ethnic data in line with "race and ethnic standards" developed in mid-1978 by the Commerce Department. Those guidelines, called Directive 15, are aimed at having al U.S. racial/ethnic cataloging and information collecting conform to the same guidelines.
Although many of them are unaware of it, most of the government's 2.6 million workers have a racial or ethnic designation -- by Social Security number. In many cases supervisors designated the race or ethnic background of employes by "eyeballing" them, that is looking at them and listing them racially or ethnically by their appearance.
New OPM rules require that every employe in government over the next few months be advised as to the racial/ethnic designation he or she has been given, either by self-designation or by a supervisor. Employes will have the option of changing their race/ethnic listing if they choose.
In an advisory that will go out this week to federal agency heads, OPM deputy director Jule Sugarman explains:
". . .Agencies must provide each employe the opportunity to voluntarily provide his/her race and national origin data" as correct. In cases where the agency feels the employe has clearly mislabeled himself "(e.g., employe identifies self as Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Black, when it seems obvious to an untrained observer that said individual is clearly white, or vice versa) the employe should be cunselled as to the purpose for which the data are being collected" and the need for accuracy.
If, however, the employe sticks to his or her new racial/ethnic identity, the new rules say "the agency must accent the categorization provided by the employe."
Currently the government lists employe race/ethnicity by a number code. For example zero (0) is for employes in Guam or Hawaii; 1 is for Negro; 2, Spanish-surnamed; 3, American Indian; 4, Oriental; 5 and 6 for Aleuts and Eskimos in Alaska; 7 for "none of these" or white and 8 for "Not Hispanic in Puerto Rico."
New designations to be used are alphabet codes: Z will indicate an employe in Guam or Hawaii, C a "Black not of Hispanic origin"; D for Hispanic; A in three subgroups for American Indians or Alaskan Native; B for Asian or Pacific Islander (except Guam and Hawaii); E for White not of Hispanic origin and Y will be for "Not Hispanic in Puerto Rico."
So if you don't like the official listing of your race or ethnic background, wait a few months until somebody hands you a Standard Form 181 change it!