This day marks the occasion when every person living in the United States must be counted. We in Southport, North Carolina, have recently received several letters from the US Census Bureau emphasizing the importance of this activity, for example to ensure fair distribution of federal funds to our district, when everyone knows that a) such funds may have been taken unfairly from us in the first place, b) funds are in fact distributed by the unfair system of ‘earmarks’, driven by ranking of senators and congressmen/women on governmental committees, and c) that the federal government does not actually have any money to hand out anyway, as it is deeply and atrociously in debt. Some of these communications, dated in March, state ‘if you have already provided your census information, please accept our sincere thanks’, when the Census in truth ‘must count every person living in the United States on April 1, 2010’. How have some citizens dared to assume prematurely that they will still be around on this Blessed Plot on that date, and thus make possibly untruthful claims about their existence that could result in inequitable fund distribution? Shocking!
Moreover, the census comes with the traditional absurd and infuriating questions on origins and races. The major one is about ‘Hispanic origin’, although we are reminded that ‘for this census, Hispanic origins are not races’. So what is Hispanicity? Does it mean a heritage from Hispaniola? Ah, the question goes on to state: ‘Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?’, to which we are supposed to reply either ‘No’, or then qualify our affirmative answer by ticking ‘Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano’ (eh? I thought that was a derogatory term for ‘Mexican-American’), or ‘Puerto Rican, or Cuban’, or another such as ‘Argentinian, Colombian, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Spaniard, and so on..’, clearly showing that they have no clue as to what they are talking about. What about those unfortunate Latinos who don’t speak Spanish but another Romance language? The Brazilians, for example, who speak Portuguese? And what about Italians – are they ‘Latinos’, or merely ‘Latins’, and don’t deserve to be counted? Perhaps they should just identify ‘Romantics’ on the questionnaire, to represent all those whose first language is a Romance one.
Of course, ‘Hispanic/Latino’ is normally a codeword in sociological circles and the New York Times for ‘coming from Central or Southern America’, but, if I were an Aymara Indian from Peru not knowing a word of Spanish, or a German-speaking citizen born in Paraguay, I would presumably be deceiving the Census Bureau if I ticked the ‘Hispanic’ box here. And why give government officials a further excuse to fund translation of official materials into Spanish, thus providing another reason for immigrants who speak solely that language not to learn English? And why should Spanish be favored – just because of volume (number, not sound)?
The form then goes on to ask about ‘race’, carving the world up primarily into ‘White’, ‘Black’, ‘African Am. or Negro’, ‘American Indian or Alaskan Native’, before going into detailed categories of ‘Asians’: Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Samoan, Guamanian or Chamorro, etc. etc.), and ‘Other Asian’, such as Hmong, Thai, Pakistani (!), Cambodian, etc. The results of this survey will get aggregated in some Census Bureau report about ‘Asians’ in general, as if people hailing from Teheran to Tokyo, from Kandy to Kamchatka, could possible feel any solidarity or sense of belongingness in that category.
In addition. this clearly leaves large swathes of the world unfavo(u)red and untouched, which makes me worry about what the statisticians in the Census Bureau will get up to, and why they have not been spending their valuable time listing all the tribes of (say) Russia and Central Asia, or particularly ‘Black’ Africa, and leaves me concerned about the slights implicitly made against all manner of ‘communities’ (dread word!) not explicitly recognized by the Census. ‘Jewishness’ is studiously avoided, for example, as that is a sensitive issue, for historical reasons, although the Jews are one of the most vocal ‘communities’ with a strong sense of identity in the United States.
So what about all those whose ‘race’ has been ignored? What about an Egyptian or South African immigrant, for example – is he or she African-American? Are those from the Caucasus Caucasian? Are Turks ‘white’? Does the Pope swim? (Am I ‘white’? I am more a shade of delicate pink, although I have been known to take on a hue of bilious green or one of choleric purple in some of my worse moments.) Questions could be multipliedad absurdum, but the above is enough to show what a ridiculous, insulting and expensive charade this whole exercise is. Many people may just make up categories, and anybody who is … ahem … ‘bi-racial’ (I use the term guardedly, as it implies that each of one’s parents is cleanly monoracial) or ‘multi-racial’, may dream up any category he or she pleases, presumably, as Tiger Woods did with his ‘Cablanasian’. Maybe I should enter ‘Gringo’, or ‘Ingles’, (as all English-speakers in For Whom The Bell Tolls are so named by the Spanish). Or responders may just ignore the question. Some will enter ‘human’, of course, which is how I think I shall be describing myself — unless I wake up tomorrow morning feeling a peculiar affinity with the Chamorros, or hear myself speaking to my wife in Latin. The number who ignore the question is increasing each year, apparently, which must be a Good Thing. We are all related to Attila the Hun. Take a visit to a mall in Palo Alto, California, and you will see the melting-pot of the USA in its full glory, where all these categories have been forgotten.
And what can the authorities possibly do with such information? Yes, of course, they need to perform a count of citizens in order to determine how political constituencies should be determined for sending representatives to Congress, but to base dissemination of funds on such highly unscientific and subjective data as self-appointed racial characteristics would be discrimination of the worst kind, and constitute unsound and immoral social policy. All activities of the Census Bureau that try to handle issue of ‘race’ and ‘ethnic origin’ should be scrapped forthwith. (And no, I don’t expect it to happen.)
Tony Percy, March 31st 2010