Problems with race continue to plague the Census Department

May 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Posted in African American, American Indian, American Racism, DNA, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, Human Genome, identity, Media and Race, mixed-marriage, Non-Hispanic white, skin color, Slavery, socioeconomics, The Oklahoman,, U. S. Census | Leave a comment
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Confusion caused by the Census Bureau’s use of the term race along with color has been brought to public scrutiny again. This time in an article by national columnist, Clarence Page, entitled “Census race questions could stand an update.” (The Oklahoman 5/8/13) The problems associated with the Census and ethnic identity derives from the fact that the terms race and ethnicity are never defined with any accuracy and consistency. The problem Page presents was taken from an incident he read in where a woman who had lived her life as a European American (white) discovered she had “an African American ancestor who long ago had passed for white. Now faced with census forms, among other documents that ask us Americans for our race, she was wondering which box to check.”
Her problem was not just the choice of a box, but went further:”’Do I check both, and come across as a liar to those who don’t know my history?’ she asked. ‘Or do I check just white, and feel like a self-loathing racist?’” Page stated that he “…sympathize with the suddenly mixed-race woman’s confusion. In changing times, government forms are often the last to catch up.” Unfortunately, Page’s comments did not help because he was still in the race box like many in America. The problem the woman experienced was created long ago, back during American slavery when society decided to create two races, one black, one white. Again, society created these races, not nature, not God, or some cosmic phenomena. Over the years, this concept of race was not challenged but underscored and offered as fact by individuals from science, religion, politics, education, and any possible arena that was accepted as valid. None of that changed the fact that these so-called races were created for the economic and social benefit of the ruling European American class.
One reason given for the Census Bureau’s use of the word race is for data collection which requires information about all Americans based on their ethnicity. The problem noted by Page that appeared on the last census form was “On question number 9 in the 2010 form, for example, there are check boxes for ‘White,’ ‘Black, African American or Negro,’ American Indian or Alaska Native,’ as well as 11 other choices that actually are ethnic nationalities from Asia and the Pacific islands.” He noted that Hispanics are listed as a separate ethnic group. He also noted that “…the new form left out mention of the entire Middle East, among other regions, leaving their ethnic groups to check ‘White’ or fill in the catchall box for ‘Some other race.’”
These problems could easily be eliminated by the Census Bureau removing the reference to race by color and allow people to use their ethnic, cultural or geographical identity. If that was to happen, people would not be confused about who they are or what box to check. The woman at the beginning of this blog was confused because she defined herself according to a race that does not exist, although it was believed to exist at one time. That time was when American recognized only those two races. People who were not recognized as black or white was simply called immigrants and denied rights. These current problems are presently being looked at, according to Page. He noted that “More extensive questions of ethnicity and ancestry have been asked since 2000 by another set of longer forms, the American Community Survey.” He added that “Unlike the 10-year census, the longer ACS is conducted among a sample of 250,000 people every month. That’s a good model, some experts say, for how the 10-year census could give a more complete and realistic picture of America’s changing demographic landscape.”
Page referred to the former Census Director, Kenneth Prewitt, who admitted that, the present system really effective. Prewitt, we were told has a book entitled “What is Your Race? The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans,” that “lays out a bold plan for the phasing out the current questions about race while phasing in a new set aimed at measuring differences in income, education and upward mobility and social assimilation—key questions in determining how well our fabled American ‘melting pot’ is still working.”
Prewitt’s plan will produce some interesting information about Americans, but unless the subject of race is cleared, the problem of identity will still remain. Most people know by now and have known for some time that the concept of America as a melting pot did not reflect the reality of American society because some Americans did not melt. Had they melted, we would not be faced with the problems created by race today. The Census Bureau should realize that nothing would be loss as for as ethnic data is concerned if the reference to identity by race and color were eliminated. The fact is that the data collected would be more accurate and factual than presently recorded.
That fact that many Americans see themselves as belonging to a race other than the human race is a sign that relevant information necessary to debunk the fallacy of multiple biological races has not been sufficiently disseminated to society. When we talk in terms of bi-racial or mixed-race people we show our ignorance of information that should change our self-perception as well as our perception of our society. According to Page, “Whether Prewitt’s scheme is widely embraced or not, it’s worth talking about. Americans are changing too much for us to squeeze ourselves into the old boxes.” With respect to the European American woman selecting a box, she could choose the one she feels best reflects her life currently based on her culture. As far as her race is concerned, she could simply cross out the “Some other” and write in Human.


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