Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Rant on the 2010 US Census

So what is this with the census? First of all, all they care about is name, age, and race. I guess that's the usual government nosiness. But when I got to filling out race, their idea of race seemed truly skewed:

First of all, they apparently think I want to be in one big bucket called "white", with the rest of the hoi polloi. Then they move on to the race category of "Black, African Am., or Negro". So far as I know, in common usage, they mean the same thing, so Uncle Sam is just worried about giving offense to folks with an agenda.

From there, we go on to American Indian or Alaska Native. -- Hoy! Not the same thing!!!

Asian Indian? Guess Uncle Sam just wants to point out that, though you may be Caucasian or East Asian (under current scientific definitions of race), you are most definitely not White. If your name is Ramesh Krishnamurty (caught here musing, not picking his nose!) it doesn't matter that you're a dead ringer for Gandalf/Ian McKellan (with a slight tan) and probably have more Scottish ancestors than Ian does.

Chinese? Filipino? Japanesse? Korean? Vietnamese? Native Hawaiian? Guamanian or Chamorro? Samoan? You each get your own check box. Wouldn't want to offend by lumping you together, would we?

Still not good enough? You get a fill-in box for "Other Asian" if your self-definition is "Hmong, Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, Cambodian, and so on". I kid you not -- the quotes are verbatim from the census document.

Or, if you are "Fijian, Tongan, and so on", there's a fill-in box for "Other Pacific Islander".

Well, we *do* have a liberal government... If you can't cram yourself into one of the above, there's a fill-in box for "Some other race -- Print race."

Oh, but wait, I forgot the whole other category of race in question 8, preceding question 9 that I've been referring to. Question 8 goes like this: "Is [this person] of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?"

And here are the options:
Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano
Yes, Puerto Rican
Yes, Cuban
Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin -- Print origin, for example Argentinean, Colombian, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Spaniard, and so on.

I guess having question 8 makes sense. After all, there are black Puerto Ricans, and I suppose a Cuban Samoan isn't beyond the pale of possibility.

I'm just having trouble with where I fit. Uncle Sam, who has so much interest in counting how many Japanese Peruvians live in this countryjust isn't interested in anything except the color of my skin. (Which is not white, but pinkish tan with a few age spots, by the way.)

I can't quite figure out if this census strategy is designed to preserve a white hegemony --- assuming such a thing exists in USA --- or to create a whole lot of minorities for the politicians to cater to. My guess is it's the latter. Next census will no doubt be asking about sexual orientation, with options parsed down to the level of "transgendered presurgical homosexual".

What I do know is that, for all of Uncle Sam's disinterest, my heritage is every bit as interesting and valuable as the next guy's, thank-you-very-much! I appreciate and respect the Italian, English, Irish, Suid Afrikaner, Russian, German, and countable-but-sadly-uncounted other "races" who have lent their strength and culture to this country. I don't really care to be lumped with them based on the tinge (or lack thereof) of my skin, and I would encourage their members to stand up and be counted separately, too!

Or, if Uncle Sam wants to be fair, he can go back to counting Caucasians (which includes Indian, Iranian, and Lapp), Oceanian (only Australian aborigine and New Guinean), East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Polynesian, etc.), African, and Native American (which includes Brazil Indian and Eskimo). What is not fair is starting with one boring skin color (white) and then giving everyone else the opportunity to be counted in more interesting ways.

It takes a whole Wikipedia entry to explain the US Census theory of race, but I've chosen to display as much interest toward that as Uncle Sam has showed toward my race ... aside, that is, from noticing that the 1850 census allowed one to be "White", "Black", or "Mulatto". Maybe we should go back to that. It is, at least, marginally self-consistent.

For my part, though I'm sure I've broken some law or other, I chose to write in "Dutch" under "Some other race".
I would have written in "Thai Malaysian Dutch American", but there wasn't enough space. And besides, I'm turning in the census form late, which is an infraction of federal law. (The crime apparently carries no penalty, but no point in attracting too much attention.)

Pregnant Jolene, after listening patiently to my rant (bless her), declared her desire to be listed as "White", though I offered to write her in as "German". I should have expected nothing else. After all, there isn't space on the form for "98% German by blood, but 5th Generation Californian and proud of it" either.
[OK, that's it for me. Gotta fly! -- Case]


gkw said...

LOL!!! Clearly I filled ours out this afternoon too hastily, without quality of thought, and quite vanilla-y. I should have waited for your rant to guide me aright. I'm contemplating hiking out to the mailbox, ripping open the envelope, and changing my answers. But, nah. I'm in bed already, and that's all there is to that. Now if Jim, as a precise and record-conscious German, had filled it out instead of me....

Lisa McGann said...

Too hilarious!! Imagine my predicament every time I had to fill out an app. in the U.S.? "DutchAnglo-IndianJamaican" was never an option, either. Mom told me to put "Eurasian" on my application for PUC, and the computer translated it into "Oriental". Whenever I filled in "Other" for an employer, I was always asked if I could fit myself into another category - one of the "visible minorities" I presumed. And whenever someone would meet me for the 1st time (only w/ straightened hair, mind you), I'd usually be asked "So what are you?", which would be followed by "So you're black" when they'd hear the "...Jamaican" part of the shpiel. So I learned to cut to the chase and just answer, "I'm black", which would then be followed by something like, "(gasp!) You know, you COULD pass for white!" A couple of people went so far as to feel my hair, then retort "YOU'RE not black!!" Needless to say, I'm glad to live in Canada where race is so rarely questioned - perhaps ONLY on a census!

Charles Green said...

What about the old catch-all, All of the Above? Or maybe even a "check all that don't apply" option? As we've researched the family history, the list of "races" not in the mix gets smaller and smaller. Sadly, at a time the race category should be disappearing from our paperwork, instead we get this mess. Lisa, thanks for the DutchAnglo-IndianJamaican view on race, lol!