So, this week the Census forms came in the mail. I did not open mine, of course, since I have don’t even have time to open my mail until I am forced to find my kitchen table again, but evidently Sophia opened hers and was angered by the race choices she found on this form that was, indeed, created for the year 2010.
As soon as I arrived at work the day after the Census delivery, Sophia explained that on the section where she was to check race, she found that one of the choices [the one she would usually check] was listed as, and this is one choice as if these terms were analogous, mind you: Black, African-American, or Negro. And, why yes, you did read that correctly: Negro. Sophia wondered if it was just her, or did this term sort of go out in the 40’s or 50’s? I replied, that, well, yes, I thought it did. I even wondered aloud why the first category did not read, White, Caucasian, or Cracker. Seriously, it does not even read ‘Caucasian,’ just ‘white.’ We had to laugh, but only at the absurdity of the situation. So, I did a quick google search of this issue and found that, not surprisingly, Sophie was not the first to find this choice offensive. Many people are questioning this choice of language, by the amount of hits I got from this query [more than 16,000].
What does the Census have to say about including this random and archaic race term on the current form? Well, they say that in the year 2000, more than 50,000 respondents voluntarily wrote in Negro as a race identifier. I personally, find this difficult to believe, but stranger things have happened. Maybe these people were cued by the word listed as one of the race choices, maybe these people were really, really old. The Census also contends that there is a test embedded in the form this year that will determine how they will classify race on future forms, but just how this test works is not shared on their website and even an inkling of how it might work escapes me.
Some people, including me, question why race is even a factor for the census– why in 2010 we need to sort people into categories by the color of their skin. Many Americans today are of mixed race, including our President. I wonder which box or boxes he will check, and if he, like Sophie, will be offended by having to identify himself with a term with such derogatory connotations that harken back to Jim Crow and slavery.
Note that race and ethnicity are separate entities, however, on this form they sort of blend into one confusing phenomenon where race is sort of interchangeable with ancestry and ethnicity. Another interesting observation that can be made if you study the race/ethnicity choices on the form is that the Census seems to offer a lot of separate choices as it corresponds to you being non-white but not black and less interested in differentiation if you are white or black. For example, you will find the choices: Hispanic, Latino, Spanish, Chicano [where do Chicanos come from, anyway?], American Indian, Alaska Native, Japanese, Filipino, Samoan, Chinese, Native Hawaiian, among others etc…, however you will not find categories like Finn, Celtic, Swede, German, Bantu, Tutsi, Ugandan. Another weird omission is any categories for Middle Eastern or Arab peoples. Now we have been profiling the hell out of these folks since 911 from the airports to people just paddling around trying to help out after Katrina and you would think that the folks from the US Census would be wanting to know where these people live, but in fact, there is no box for them to check.. they could write it in or accept what the US Census has determined– that Arab is not a race.. they are Caucasian. This seems to tick off some Arab and middle eastern folks too according to some blogs I have perused since beginning to dig into this subject.
Sophia said reading the word ‘negro’ made her so angry she did not want to finish filling out the form and put it down. So, if you’re offended by this form or you just don’t want to share your race because you don’t think the US Government needs to know it, can you just omit this question or not fill out the form? Well, no, because this is a crime. In fact, you could be fined or imprisoned for up to one year for this. So, I encouraged Sophia to write her race in.
There is so much about this form that is strange and ridiculous that it could keep bloggers in material until the next Census. Like why did the US government pay ungodly amounts of money to print and mail me a form that told me that I was going to get a form in another week? And, why don’t they want to know what my education level and income is? Pretty much, regardless of my race, if I am born today in America to a poor family who does not value education, that is where I will stay. So, I would like to see us identify women and children living in poverty in this country and spend some money trying to find out why immigrants can come to this country with nothing and very often rise with relative ease in social status, but we continue to have populations so marginalized that they are seemingly ‘stuck’ in their socio-economic status generation after generation.