Testimony on "Germanic" as an OMB 15 category

Date: Fri, 25 Nov 1994 08:45:59 -0600

[Co-moderator's note: This is the second in a series of postings of public testimony on the revision of OMB 15, a directive which sets standards for the classification of federal data on race and ethnicity. Like the immediately preceeding posting (under the subject heading "Testimony on a "multiracial" OMB category") this posting is the text of public testimony delivered before a U. S. government agency, in this case the the Office of Management and Budget. T. G. Holford, the witness in these public hearings,

is the co-moderator of the Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage. He is also a member of H-Ethnic.]


"Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting"

Presented at Office of Management and Budget Public Hearings,

San Francisco, California, July 14,1994

Thank you for this opportunity to address these hearings. My name is Gerhard Holford. I am Co-Moderator of the Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage. We are a community of ethnically and culturally aware persons who are contemporary descendants of the many indigenous peoples from the historical lands of Europe. I am here representing The Germanic Conference to respectfully request that Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 be revised to eliminate the category of "white" as a racial or ethnic designation, to eliminate the designation of any race as "the majority race", and to include the category "Germanic" as both a racial and an ethnic identification.

The reasons for seeking these changes are to achieve appropriate and dignified identification of American citizens and non-citizen residents, and to facilitate the government's fair and unbiased safeguarding of the civil rights of all Americans.



The term "white" is commonly and most often applied to persons of European origin as a racial or ethnic designation. It cannot be defended as either.

"White" is a color. It is not a racial designation. As a consequence of the genetic condition of albinism, a person of any "race" can be "white".

White is also not an "ethnicity". An ethnic group is defined by culture, language, and history. In American society today, almost none of the people categorized by their government as "white" would consider their culture to be "white" culture, or their language to be "white" language, or their history to be "white" history.

If anything, the notion of "whiteness" is a political idea or a state of mind. From time to time, "whiteness" has been a factor in a variety of political movements, both "pro-white" as well as "anti-white." But times change. And because of the inherent subjectivity and changeableness of political ideas and states of mind, the number of persons identifying themselves as "white"-either as a matter of racial identity or of ethnic identity-changes as well.

In fact, the Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage as well as other ethnically and culturally aware European American groups have noted a significant trend among Americans of Germanic and other European heritages to reject and disavow the term "white" as a part of their identity. We believe this trend may in part be due to the common stereotype that anyone who does identify him or herself as "white" is latently or potentially a "white supremacist."

If the objective of the Office of Management and Budget is to establish an unambiguous and durable measurement framework for defining and guiding government policies, then any categorization system that relies on the term "white" as an ethnic or racial definition will be inherently politicized, ambiguous, and result in ever changing results and interpretations.


Statistical Policy Directive 15, as well as all other official writings and communications of the government should eliminate and prohibit all references that characterize, state, or imply that a race is "dominant", "superior", or "more powerful" than other races. In a system where governmental decision making is based on majoritarian practices, the implicit or explicit characterization of the "white" race as "the majority" race carries the clear implication that the "white" race is "more powerful" than other races that are not "white". This suggests that "white" people are a monolithic group, think, act, and vote alike, and lack diversity. This is a defamatory stereotype of European Americans and is not acceptable to the Germanic or European American communities.



The term "Germanic" has been in use at least since Roman times and is valid and useful both as a racial and as an ethnic designator.

Based on anthropological and physiological distinctions, the indigenous peoples of Europe can be broadly divided into four main racial categories: Germanic, Celtic, Mediterranean, and Slavic. Although all categories are typified by pale (not "white") skin, each has characteristic racial attributes.

Each of the racial categories is historically associated with a group of tribes and with geographical regions. The Germanic peoples originated in and populated much of northern and central Europe.

The tribes that comprised the Germanic category are well known to historians and are linked to contemporary regions and ethnic groups. This linkage allows a straightforward, factual and practical basis for ascribing ethnicity. Among the principal ethnic groups that can be identified as "Germanic" are: Austrian, Dutch, German, Swiss, Scandinavian (Nordic), English (Anglo-Saxon), Russian (Rus), French (Burgundian, Frankish, and Normand), and northern Italian (Lombardic). National boundaries have changed randomly and chaotically over history, but underlying tribal association provides a fundamental, valid, and durable basis for ethnic identity.

The racial and ethnic category of "Germanic" is also important and necessary to reestablish societal equity for a large and neglected segment of our society.

The Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage is primarily concerned with the identity issues faced by persons of Germanic descent. It is not widely appreciated today, but the twentieth century has been a period of extreme cultural stress for Germanic Americans. And the root cause of so much of this pain has been the tragic confusion of Germanic race and ethnicity with German nationality.

As this century began, people of Germanic origins were the model immigrants and nation builders: eager, industrious, skilled, hardworking, patriotic.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson took a bitterly divided America to war against a German nation. The American press and political leadership adopted a vehemently anti-German tone. Persons of German ancestry were demeaned, ridiculed, harassed, assaulted, assassinated, and even lynched. Homes and businesses were burned. In 1918, the charter of the three million member German-American National Alliance was revoked by the US Congress. Five hundred thousand persons of Germanic origin were required by the US government to register as enemy aliens. Six thousand persons of German descent were interned in camps in the United States.

Nonetheless, one third of the military forces the United States sent against Germany were soldiers and sailors of Germanic heritage, asked to fight, in many instances, against their brothers, cousins, or uncles.

In 1941, America was again brought into conflict with a German nation-state; Americans of Germanic ancestry were again vilified; and again an army with a third of its soldiers of Germanic descent was sent to war against a German nation. And in the United States, 10,908 persons of Germanic ethnicity were interned in camps established by the United States government.

In the years subsequent to World War II, Americans witnessed the Nuremberg trials where criminality was broadly ascribed to "the German character." Americans were also bombarded with images of the Berlin Wall, goose-stepping border guards, and over 400 motion pictures produced in Hollywood portraying Germans as fanatical dictators, sadistic martinets, or soulless cannon fodder.

Over more than eighty years, an enormous amount of public hostility against German nation-states was transferred to persons of Germanic ancestry. Germanic social and cultural institutions were suppressed; street names were changed; speaking or teaching the German language was banned.

Many Americans of Germanic heritage abandoned their Germanic identities as completely as they could. German Americans claimed to be Austrians, Dutch or Swiss. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, changed or anglicized their names: Schmitz became Smith; Mueller became Miller; Burg became Burke. What occurred in the United States over most of this century was an "ethnic cleansing" of persons of Germanic heritage. As a consequence of this wholesale identity transformation, the apparent number of people of German descent in the United States has been substantially diminished. The magnitude of current undercounting of persons of Germanic heritage may be in the millions.

United States government policies as well as official indifference toward the injustices visited upon Americans of Germanic heritage were important factors in the suppression of Germanic culture and identity. The standards for classification of persons as they exist in OMB Directive 15, will perpetuate this suppression of Germanic identity and will do nothing to discover or reveal the extent of this "ethnic cleansing". Moreover, the existing standards will not provide any basis for policy makers to develop and implement programs to remediate the injustice.

The government will be unable to measure the scope of the injustices that have been done to Germanic Americans if it does not identify Germanic Americans. Likewise , it will be unable to design programs to rectify the injustices and assess the effectiveness of programs without being able to ascertain who is a Germanic American. For reasons of equity and justice, we urge the Office of Management and Budget, the Executive Branch, and the United States Congress, to establish racial and ethnic identification categories of "Germanic".


With minor exception, The Germanic Conference agrees with and endorses the proposal made by Joseph Fallon on behalf of the National European American Society and the Society for German-American Studies. That proposal was presented to the OMB on July 7, 1994 at the public hearings in Boston.

The principle change we would make to the Fallon proposal is to establish a category named "Germanic" instead of "German-American". Our reasoning for this is that both the terms "German" and "American" are nationality terms, as is the combined term "German-American", whereas the term "Germanic" is descriptive of an ethnicity, and is conceptually similar and analogous to the currently sanctioned term "Hispanic".

The category "Germanic" would also be substantially more encompassing than the category "German-American".

The Germanic Conference also agrees with and endorses the proposal that the "Germanic" ethnic category include at least nine "Germanic" ethnic sub-categories: Alsatian, Austrian, German, Liechtensteiner, Luxemburger, Germans from Russia, Pennsylvania German, Silesian, and Swiss. We believe that additional Germanic ethnic sub-categories may also be warranted.

In conclusion, I respectfully request that my statement be made part of the official record.

Thank you for your courtesy and consideration. I hope the Office of Management and Budget will accept these proposals for improved identification submitted today on behalf of the Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage.


Gerhard Holford


Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage