Paul R. Lehman, Ignorance, Inconsistency and Bigotry in U.S. Census

March 4, 2011 at 3:33 am | Posted in American Bigotry, Ethnicity in America, Race in America | 7 Comments
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All the confusion and complexity over race and ethnicity we find in America today is not an accident. For the most part, the U.S. Government, and more specifically, the U.S. Census Bureau, is the primary contributor to this long- lasting and troublesome problem. Since its beginning, the Census Bureau has displayed ignorance, inconsistency, and bigotry regarding race, and has been a major player in the problems of ethnicity in America.

The primary charge of ignorance of the bureau can be seen in its decision to accept early on the social categories and labels of race. The Bureau recognizes only two primary races, one white and superior, and one Negro (African American) and inferior. We are told in an article entitled “History of the U.S. Census” (www.1930 census.com) that “instructions to census enumerators explained that a person who had both ‘White and Negro blood was to be returned as a Negro, no matter how small the percentage of Negro blood. This categorization of mixed race individuals as ‘Negro’ based on the existence of any black ancestry reflected the bureau’s continued reliance on nineteenth-century racial categories.”This policy came to be known as the one drop rule.

In essence, the bureau did not question the existence of actual races, but simply accepted the established so-called racial categories that had been created by European Americans after Reconstruction who considered themselves as normal whites. When the bureau recorded the identity of each individual, that identity became part of the official record, so today when we look up a census report the only information we can be certain of is the fact that the person in question did exist. What we do not know with certainty is their ethnicity. During and after Reconstruction, many southern courts employed individuals known as “race experts.” In their infamous ignorance these individuals would eyeball an individual and tell the court if that person was white or black. Many times the individual identified as white was a sibling of African Americans of the same parents. So ignorance has been a mainstay of the census bureau for a long time.

If matters of race had been established and standardized to a certainty, the problems of inconsistency would be at a minimum. However, that is not the case. The so-called racial identity of other ethnic groups was totally confusing. For example, in the early 1900’s someone of Mexican heritage living in Texas would be listed a Negro; however, if that person moved to California, he would be listed as white. States had their own policies and definitions for race. Again, in 1930 the “Enumerators were instructed that all persons born in Mexico, or whose parents were born in Mexico, should be listed as Mexicans, and not under any other racial category. However, this was an anomaly of the 1930 census.  In prior censuses, and in 1940, enumerators were instructed to list Mexicans as white.”So much for consistency.

To add to this confusion “Enumerators were told that someone part Native American and part African American should be listed as ‘Negro’ unless the Indian blood predominated and the person was generally accepted as an Indian in the community.” The blood reference is a code for looks; that is if the person looked like a Native American, then list him as such. The conditions changed however, when “Someone with both white and Native American ancestry was to be listed as ‘Indian,’ unless the percentage of Indian blood was very small and the person was ‘regarded as White in the community.” How does one extract the percentage of ancestry if the ancestry is based on how one looks? This system of identity resembles some kid’s game of tag, that is, if I (the bureau) say you are it, then you are it. Absolutely no consistency can be created or maintained in a system that relies on non scientific data and other unreliable information to make serious life-changing decisions. The information collected by the bureau then, for all intent and purpose is bogus.

To the list of inequities committed by the census bureau we must add the charge of bigotry. In my book, America’s Race Problem, the chapter “Totem Pole,” addresses the problem of ethnic priority in America. The picture this chapter presented of society shows the European American at the very top, and the African American at the very bottom. As stated earlier, the bureau regarded only two so-called races as significant—the Negro race and the white race. Apparently, what determines the race of any person is the percentage of Negro or white ancestry. That approach might seem fair except for the fact that in the case of Native Americans, for example, “…the bureau decreed that Native American ancestry did not preclude an individual from being ‘White,” while African American ancestry did. The instructions to enumerators thus reflected an acceptance of a racial hierarchy, with white at the top, black at the bottom, and Native Americans occupying a hazy area in the middle.”

Americans have suffered long enough under the illusions, delusions, misinformation, lies, and myths regarding race. We have witnessed time and time again how the misuse of information can and does create unnecessary problems and hardships. We citizens should expect the government and especially the census bureau to make themselves aware of and conversant with the latest information regarding a person’s identity. This writer cannot fathom why we must still deal with the unacceptable word race as a reference to a person’s identity. We have men on the moon, satellites in space that can pinpoint objects from hundreds of miles in the sky; yet, we are still this day dealing with nineteenth century terms to describe ourselves. The monster created by the word race has seemingly been domesticated here in America and made itself at home. That monster feeds on ignorance, inconsistency, and bigotry. If we do not take steps to eradicate it, we can expect the worse. As Pogo so honestly stated some years ago, we have found the enemy, it is us.

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  1. This problem continues because the race configuration or construct is still very much intact. American’s of European descent are indoctrinated into the manufactured “White” race and enjoy the privileges of membership wanted or unwanted. Most will not openly acknowledge the benefits they automatically receive and many are oblivious to it, because as you’ve pointed out many times, it’s just normal. Today you’ve done an excellent job of demonstrating once again why all members of the so called “White” race are indeed racist no matter how liberal, unbiased, or even anti-racist they are personally. The race construct is sanctioned and enforced by the Federal Government. Racism is about power.

  2. Racism has always been about power, James, you are right. Given the breakup of “races” in the global population though, white is outnumbered way more than 2 to 1 by asian, which is interesting. A belief in superiority clearly isn’t reflected in the numbers! I am still a supporter of the work of Dr Stephen Oppenheimer of Oxford University. His findings were unveiled in a television documentary titled “The Real Eve”. His version of the real Eve looks remarkably like my step-daughter (although my step-daughter is prettier!).

  3. Ah, but the good doctor’s work was flawed from inception. The idea that there has been a division in the races is the very basis of racism. The key word is division! We are all unique, just like everyone else. But it’s what we have in common that always ultimately prevails as it did with slavery and apartheid, the membership we all share in the “human” race.

    • I wasn’t aware he was of any opinion there was a division in the human species at all. Perhaps I have just not come across that part of his work. I did not see the documentary (I do not believe it was shown here), I just read of his work. I apologise if I missed something.

      Certainly we have changed due to environmental conditions, which was my understanding of his words that I read.

      Irrespective, we can all be traced back to the one source, a concept most racists would abhor! 🙂

      I will say this – my husband and I got many curious looks in Qatar. Not that I noticed them, John did. I am not totally convinced it was because they thought us an “odd” couple: I think it was more because to them I was exotic in that environment. We all tend to look at those who are “different”. A co-worker said she experienced that when visiting India. As you say, we are all unique – sometimes one individual can look more unique than usual depending on where they are!

      I have long thought the day we realise we are all one will be the day we are invaded from outer space. Suddenly instead of squabbling over our local tribal allegiances, we will come together as one.

  4. Sometimes we use a term simply because it is mandated in some arbitrary fashion. For example, the Associated Press Stylebook, used by most newspapers, says use “black” instead of “African American.” The purpose of a stylebook, of course, is to ensure consistency. One must write “American Indian” instead of “Native American.” The stylebook requires putting the state after cities in all except large ones. For example, one would not write “Chicago, Ill.,” or “Boston, Mass.” On the other hand, La., is not used after “New Orleans.” However, the style calls for “Tenn.,” after Nashville. Makes no sense to me because Nashville is larger and equally as well known. Ask someone why, and the answer is “It’s the style.”

    • Wondering if there is some mandated arbitrary term for “White” in the Associated Press Stylebook as there is for “Black” or “Latino”? Just wondering.

      • Good question. I’m guessing the answer is “No”, but waiting to see. 🙂


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