An Open Letter to Nielsen Company

Dear Nielsen,

On behalf of our nation’s multicultural families, I would like for you to start evolving into the twenty-first century.

A while ago you called our home and asked to speak to my children about the types of movies they like to watch.  I was kind enough to let you speak to them instead of telling you to take us off your list.  The survey was going very well until the end when your surveyor asked my children what ethnic demographics they fall in.  Are they Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Black, Pacific Islander?  They both answered that they are Flippish.  Long pause.  The surveyor asked what Flippish meant and I told her they are half Filipino and half Irish.  Another long pause.  I repeated that they are fifty percent Filipino and fifty percent Caucasian.  I thought that a well regarded survey company such as Nielsen would have thought of the growing number of multiracial families all over America and changed their survey.  I never expected the answer we got.

“Ma’am, you can only choose one ethnicity,” replied the surveyor.

Really, Nielsen?  My children had to choose one ethnicity.  So if they are an even 50/50 why do they have to make a choice?  I told her again, that they are half, biracial, and it is unfair to make them choose an ethnicity.

“Ma’am, I don’t make the rules. Your children have to choose one ethnicity,” replied the exasperated surveyor.

During this time my children were looking at me, amused at what was taking place.  I don’t think they understood the significance of this situation.  However, they didn’t look upset as I was.

I could have done one of two things: I could have delivered some expletives to the poor surveyor who was only doing her job or hang up.  I chose neither. I let my children answer the surveyor.

Both of my children answered at the same time, “Filipino!”

The surveyor was satisfied, and put them down as Asian.  After we hung up the phone, my eleven year old son mischievously told me that the next time Nielsen calls, he will say he is Caucasian just to be fair with the Irish side of the family.

I explained to the kids that by calling themselves Caucasian the next time you guys call us, it will screw up your statistic.  Then my son told me that it is their fault and they should have let him put down he was both Caucasian and Asian.  My eight year old daughter asked me why did they have to choose?  They are Flippish!

So Nielsen, why did you make my children choose one ethnic background when you were told they have two?  Is this what you do when you call up multicultural families and make them choose one category?  Your website states “Nielsen Knows People” — do you really?  Don’t you know that there are millions of multicultural families in the US?  A company like Nielsen should be aware of this and change with the times.  Before you call my home again to ask to speak to my children, make sure you change the way your survey is set up and allow your surveyors to check all that applies.  Please get with the program or don’t ever call us again.


Leslie V. Ryan

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Nielsen Company

  1. Hi Leslie

    Though incidents like this may seem benign on some level, they do signify a larger societal problem. While many proudly wave the multiracial flag as an end to racism, the truth is we are still very influenced by our long history of race and racism. Being asked to “choose” is deeply symptomatic of our continuing need to view the world through a racial lense. In fact multiracial people, rather than being immune to racism, are often subject to their own specific brand of racial stress. For example, multiracial people are often touted as cultural ambassadors but then are simultaneously denied full membership in those cultures. In another common example, the multiracial body becomes a platform for race conversations and deconstruction while its voice and experiences go largely ignored (e.g. Cheerios commerical). Though the 2010 Census included a multiracial category and was meant to be a role model, the nation has still mostly not followed suit. As a country we still have not made a full commitment to taking the multiracial community seriously. In fact the most recent survey by the US Census Bureau, hypocritally, did NOT include a multiracial category. Sigh. In my research and contact with multiracial Asian families, I still hear many stories like the one you share hear. Folks are still being forced to choose. The bottom line is, it’s not okay. It’s racial (and racist?). It’s serious. And we need to keep talking about it.

    Multiracial Asian Families

  2. Dear Sharon,
    I agree with you. It is not okay to have to choose 1 category. It is also not okay to be considered “Other” or “None of the above” or “Prefer not to say.” I have heard so many stories like ours that I don’t want my children to grow up resenting the system and having to choose one.
    A lot of multiracial adult grew up to be resigned to the fact that the system won’t change and their voices not recognized. I feel that this is the right time to make a change. We can no longer feel resigned and accept what we are given. This is the time to foster change and pave the way for our children. We have the tools to be able to make our voices heard. We can complain amongst ourselves or we can come together to actively make a change. Which one do we choose?

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