Recent research in population genetics has shown that only 50,000 years ago the entire population of Homo sapiens was 2,000 (see “The Human Family”). We are just one large extended family.
What does it mean to be African-American for example? As I wrote in an article about Barack Obama in the summer of 2008, why is someone like Obama considered black? He is as much white as he is black. As Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post, it’s the one-percent rule: “…American society enforced the ‘one-drop’ rule: If you had any African blood at all, you were black.”
What is the purpose of dividing Americans by race in the Census anyway? Certainly there is still a need for affirmative action—I am not arguing against that by any means—but why do we need to know how many “Alaskan Natives” live in Buncombe County North Carolina?
I googled “racial categories us census” and found an interesting New York Times article from 2007, "On Race and the Census: Struggling With Categories That No Longer Apply," by Brent Staples :
Imagine the Census Bureau announcing that it would end the practice of asking people to identify themselves by race beginning in 2010. Black elected officials and their allies in the civil rights community would fight the proposal tooth and nail by arguing that racial statistics were necessary for enforcing civil rights laws — especially the Voting Rights Act —and that dropping race from the census would dilute black political strength. Enemies of affirmative action would jump for joy, believing that they had finally won.
But these antagonists aren’t the only factions in the fight. A growing number of demographers and historians who are fully sympathetic to the civil rights struggle would probably be happy to see the word “race” disappear from the census as well. There seems to be an emerging consensus that the system of racial classification that has dominated national politics and the census for nearly two centuries is so fraught with imprecision — and so tainted by racist ideas that have been disproved by science — that it should eventually be dropped altogether...
[T]he historian Margo Anderson writes that official statistics on “race” or “color” were inaugurated into the federal statistical system in the early 19th century. By then the government had embraced the view that people of African descent were from genetically inferior ancestral groups and could never escape subordinate status...
This period marked the rise of the so-called “one-drop rule” — which defined as black anyone with any African heritage at all. That often meant banishment from jobs, housing and public schools set aside for whites...
Indeed, the seemingly innocuous act of assigning people to “races” still sets them sociologically and biologically apart in a way that scientists and anthropologists have long since rejected.
The government Census website says it collects racial data because: “Information on race is required for many federal programs and is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights. States use these data to meet legislative redistricting principles. Race data also are used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks.”
I could argue that using race for legislative redistricting principles has hurt the country as a whole and has hurt the minorities it's supposed to help.