I was explaining to Ms. Conspiracy about “African” on the President’s birth certificate, and thought a short article would be helpful for my readers.
In a birth registration, the record is in two parts: the legal portion and the statistical portion. They have different purposes and are treated differently.
The legal portion is governed by law. It contains the facts of birth for legal purposes. It is prima facie evidence of the facts it contains. There are strict laws and regulations about what can change and how it can change (legal name changes, adoptions, paternity, etc.)
The Statistical portion (which is rarely disclosed to the public) contains medical information about the birth: complications of pregnancy, method of delivery, risk factors, congenital abnormalities, etc. The statistical record does not have the same legal constraints on how it can be changed. It includes “coded” information. Coded information is information where text is quantified: an example is a “place code”. The legal record may say that the place of birth is Honolulu, Hawaii, but the place is coded according to a FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) system. FIPS codes are assigned and changed all the time, and a Vital Statistics agency may re-code a record after changes to the coding system, or they may fix wrong codes. So long as the text in the legal record doesn’t change, the vital statistics agency can tinker with the statistical information all they want (following internal policies).
When the Vital Statistics of the United States – 1961 talks about the classification of race “for vital statistics”, they mean exactly the process of coding the raw information received in to standard reporting categories.
This is why the self-reported value of African is on Barack Obama’s birth certificate as his father’s race from the legal record, but the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (the former agency in charge) does not include African among its statistical categories.
Births in the United States in 1961 are classified for vital statistics into white, Negro, American Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Aleut, Eskimo, Hawaiian and Part-Hawaiian (combined), and “other nonwhite.”