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.

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