Census part deux

I would like to re-address some of the issues I discussed in a previous post regarding racial data collection on the 2010 US census. The census(.gov) attempts to answer my questions about why “race” doesn’t seem to be an appropriate heading. If you look at the categories, or the check-box options for your answer, the boxes are inconsistent with one another and with “race”.

The census FAQ explains that,

The racial categories included in the census form generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country, and are not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically or genetically. People may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture, such as “American Indian and White.” People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino or Spanish may be of any race. In addition, it is recognized that the categories of the race item include both racial and national origin or socio-cultural groups. You may choose more than one race category.

a social definition of race? What does that mean? is it what most Americans see as a distinct race? That seems morally reprehensible to me… (I visited a friend in Tennessee when I was in high school. His grandmother was over for breakfast and could not, bless her efforts, understand my name. My friend’s mother was irritated – as anyone would be after repeating themselves multiple times to their mother in law, exclaimed “SHE’S JEWISH!” I’m sorry, but I think that’s a social definition of something cultural. Tamar is a biblical name and a Hebrew word… but for the sake of pronunciation, it’s tomorrow without the “ow”)

I recently got offered a new job for which I had to be finger printed/background checked/questioned (and probably drug tested but no one has explicitly said so). When I initially spoke to the recruiter on the phone she asked me what my race was. She read me the options once, twice, and before asking her to repeat again what my options were a third time I just said “Caucasian?”. I couldn’t even remember if Caucasian was the default word she used for white. Later that day my roommate called me to say he was going to send back our census form and I had the exact same experience I had had with the recruiter.
When I went to get finger printed I guess the forms used by the security department in my new building were not updated… and as such gave me familiar options. The options were simple. I had no problem checking off “other” because the other options listed were Caucasian, African American or Black, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, or other. The Caucasian option itemized which ethnic, or regional backgrounds fall under the broader Caucasian category. As I checked off the box for Other I had no internal conflict. It was incredible. Then I remembered what I told the recruiter, and had to cross it out and check off Caucasian… I signed so many documents saying that I did not lie in my application process, it was not worth the risk.

That aside- It was so refreshing to be able to answer a question about who I am without getting stuck; finding myself wondering if I had ever met a “Samoan” and what a “Samoan” person looks like (which frankly makes me feel uncomfortably racist and ignorant – why would it matter what a “Samoan” individual looks like? I was just curious…). I was able to read the damn thing one time and know the answer. I don’t think that I feel left out of the census so much as I feel horribly confused by why it is necessary to segregate people according to such specific and bounded/ fickle geographic lines.

In this respect, I think my primary concern lies with Asian Americans. The census provides check boxes for Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese and Korean and other Asian “(For example, Hmong, Laotian, Thia, Pakistani, Cambodian, and so on)” What about Taiwanese people? why no shout out for them? are they supposed to call themselves Chinese? Or are there more Laotians in the US than there are Taiwanese Americans? Is that fair? I honestly don’t know. What’s worse is that I think it would be more offensive and damaging if the census did include a specific Taiwanese box. The 2000 census resulted in “some other race” being the 3rd largest race in the country. Why not just let everyone write in what they consider themselves to be, without any categories?

Personally I think the number of people that actually fill out the census would be much higher. The additional personnel the government plans to hire to knock on non-responders’ doors could be used to in-put the non-check-box information. I got paid $12/hr for doing data entry while I was in college. On average, census takers earn $18/hr.

Shutter… the GS

The MTV reality show, The Jersey Shore, was viewed by many as an affront to Italian culture. They kids on the show advertise their Italian-ness in unflattering ways using unflattering terms. They like to eat lasagna, take steroids and be merry with one another… I’m not positive what Italian stereotype they pander to, but they have wild tempers and love to fight. No one wants their culture represented this way.

Members of the cast flaunt Italian flags on everything and scream about being Italian and how they are Guido’s and Guidette’s and blah blah blah… it is difficult to ignore the implied association between their proud Italian heritage and their behavior.

What is interesting is the way these individuals used the Italian flags everywhere and excessive references to Italian culture and upbringing to cloak the fact that they lack Italian heritage. Many of the cast-members are half Italian, and a few are not Italian at all.

It is highly unlikely that any self-respecting Italian American would flaunt symbols that evoke their heritage so flippantly. But the cast members on the Jersey Shore, for whatever reason, felt compelled to advertise it.

The more removed someone is from a particular culture or heritage the more they pride themselves in identifying with it, even if their identification is somehow inaccurate. I have another example, but it is so extreme it will seem made up.

When I first started working at my job, I was a temp, and next to me sat a certain fully employed paralegal. My cube-mate, Gerald, claimed to be Syrian. A Syrian political science major from California. With the last name Ellis. Odd, but whatever. I have never met anyone with less middle eastern blood than this kid. He was all California. He had no convictions, no passion, no knowledge of the Middle East that did not come directly from a textbook… (no offense to California..) (he was from Southern California…)

He would readily volunteer his ethnic background to anybody. If people asked him what his background was, he’d quickly respond, “I’m Syrian!” but the question was usually unprovoked. I went on a campaign to prove him wrong – the phony!! long story short, His great, great grandfather may have come from Syria, or Lebanon, but something about ELLIS Island where they changed his last name…

Every other member of his family was Mexican. Not once did I ever hear him refer to himself as Mexican. Why the hell not?!?! Who would choose to call themselves Syrian when it is totally unbelievable, and cannot be backed up at all- if they have an equally interesting cultural heritage to which they are actually connected?!


census question 9

Twice in one day I was asked to provide someone with my “race”. Dictionary.com defines race as:
a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.
a population so related.

Without going into further detail (the list goes down to #10, and #3, Anthropology has 3 subcategories) race is what it is. It is ethnicity, I guess. But if it really is a group of persons related somehow to one another, why does the census choose to list out some countries and territories and leave out other regional or ethnic groups on its checklist?

At the risk of sounding redundant like the census, why is question #8 specific to Hispanic people? “Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin?”
From there it gives you the options: Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban or other Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin.

And then why are hispanic people not given a box to check under race? Is hispanic not a race? And lastly, why is there no check box for Middle Eastern? Now, in all honesty, this should not apply to someone like me who has really never been accurately profiled… but what about those individuals of Middle Eastern descent that have been? The same rules should apply… if they are to apply at all.

This exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of Middle Eastern culture that I think explains very well why the US and other Western European countries have no business in the Middle East. It’s like they acknowledge everyone’s differences but those of Middle Easterners who are a very distinct group of people united by very distinct characteristics and attitudes towards themselves and others. There is a specific middle eastern culture that I may not be a part of but I have witnessed enough to identify and understand. The absence of a check-box for this group on the census form is an aberration; a society so culturally diverse as to have separate questions for those of Hispanic origin should certainly not exclude a group that is distinct in any way.

I live in an apartment with three other people. One other of my roommates and I opted for “other” and filled in the boxes with “other”. He is half Moroccan and half Italian.

Generation Gap – Once Removed?

Only one set of cousins on my father’s side are full-breed Iraqis, and first generation Americans. There are three boys and a girl and they grew up in Roslyn Long Island, which you would never guess from meeting them. Roslyn is a very showy and flashy suburb where all the girls straighten their hair and dress in Abercrombie and Fitch (or equivalent) uniforms. Needless to say I don’t want to imagine what it was like growing up in their shoes.

That being said, for the past 8 or so years my oldest cousin and my father have engaged in political debates over American politics. My father is proud conservative (one of maybe five Jews in New York with that political affiliation) and my cousin is very liberal. This Passover the debate was over the popular health care/taxes discussion. For my father, social programs in the government represent constraints. He does not trust the government and because of various experiences he has had, I do not blame him.

My cousin is very, very liberal. He supports health care and government stimuli. I won’t get into detail about this (cough, my cousin worked for WaMu, cough cough) but my father remarked in the car ride back (which included my grandmother and another uncle who lives in England) how astonishing it was that my cousin saw himself foremost as an American. My cousin is very different from other American kids his age (30). He has not moved out of his parent’s house, he dresses like he learned about American culture from watching Michael Jackson music videos and the Jersey Shore. He is almost defensive about his cultural heritage.

There is an interesting contrast between my sister and my cousin. My sister is so proud of her heritage. She finds my cousin creepy because she says that every time she looks at him she thinks about how, if they lived in Iraq back in the day, they would have been married. I think she is just jealous. And I think my cousin suffers from the same thing that many first generation kids do: they are defensive of their Americanism. Many that I know say they are or were embarrassed growing up. One of my friends whose parents moved here from Israel right before he was born says that he learned everything he knows about American culture from the television. He is proud of being Israeli but he is one of the most patriotic Americans I know. First generation Americans are the most patriotic people I have ever met other than a group of kids from Texas, who attended Baylor University, and with whom I spent a summer in Italy during high school… but they may have been a little too publicly patriotic… I don’t think that first generation American kids have the same problem.