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Boston University Center for Antiracist Research




The study of data concerning racial and ethnic inequities and disparities allows us to better understand experiences of racism, and to see more clearly how and where racism manifests. Studying the effects of racism, in turn, allows us to more easily identify racist policies, so that we can craft antiracist interventions.

Existing race and ethnicity data collection efforts are riddled with gaps and errors, including missing and incomplete data, insufficiently disaggregated data, lack of meaningful longitudinal data, infrequently updated data, non-standardized methodologies, and other problems. These deficiencies significantly hinder evidence-based antiracist policymaking.

This policy report examines the state of racial and ethnic demographic data collection and reporting in the U.S., and offers policy recommendations to improve such systems. In particular, this report demonstrates the need for a standardized and nation-wide system of racial data collection and reporting.

This report is based on the experiences of two teams of researchers that collected racial and ethnic data between March 2020 and August 2021: The COVID Racial Data Tracker (CRDT) and the Racial Data Tracker (RDT). The CRDT, a collaboration between The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project and the BU Center for Antiracist Research (the Center), was the first public database containing racial demographic data about COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the U.S. The RDT, a Center initiative, collects racial and ethnic data in several other policy areas, including houselessness, criminal arrests, and police violence. The CRDT and RDT teams’ experiences, described in this Report, demonstrate the current challenges of obtaining racial and ethnic data across different jurisdictions, levels of government, and policy areas, and offer critical insight as to how to reform racial and ethnic data collection and reporting practices in the U.S.

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