This article critically examines a common premise of racial discourse in contemporary multiracial societies: that ethnic data collection, in the form of population statistics, is necessary for the apprehension and eradication of discrimination. Drawing on ethnographic data from the conduct of the 1991 National Census of the United Kingdom—the first ever to include a direct question on ethnicity—I analyze the myriad dimensions of racialized power and subjectivity at work in demographic knowledge production. In the process, I suggest that the 1991 census reveals less about people's racial or ethnic identity, per se, than it does about the contradictory racial identities of the British state itself. These become visible both in terms of state practices with regard to race and in terms of the myriad ways that black people represent the state, appeal to it, resist it, or embody it.

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