Friday, March 19, 2010


Sam Smith

I have just received my census form and I don't seem to count for much. I guess I was living in the past, thinking of that time when the friendly woman sat in our living room and asked about our plumbing, the age of our house and so forth. It was fun reducing a whole life down to a few key numbers.

Now, it appears that the Census Bureau is only interested in my age, my race and whether I sometimes live or stay somewhere else. It verges on the insulting. Do they no longer care how many toilets I have and whether they're inside or out?

I realize that on that earlier occasion I had lucked out and had become a surreptitious sample of six or so other people's lives. The fact that they might have found this insulting never occurred to me.

But surely, the government could pretend to have slighty more curiosity about me. They don't even want to know whether I live in a mobile home, only whether I own it or not.

As for the race thing - which takes up about 25% of the part Person 1 fills out, and 50% of the forms for others in the house - I get a sense that the Census is more interested in stereotyping me than in counting the ways I might be the same or different from 300 million other Americans.

Besides, having been an anthropology major, I don't believe in race. It's a concept invented by racists and the sooner we dump it for the cultural and non-biological term ethnicity the better off we will be.,

But wait: it turns out that Latinos (or Hispanics or those of Spanish origin) are counted by ethnicity: you can describe yourself as a Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, or Cuban.

And Asians get to call themselves Asian Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong, Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, or Cambodian. The Census Bureau calls these groups races, which suggests that the educational defects of No Child Left Behind are already affecting the adult community.

Whites and blacks, however, get no such right. You can be black, African Am [a term I've never heard; is that like Pan Am?] or Negro. But you can't be Caribbean, African or Harvard Law School grad black. And if you're white, that's it. All whites are the same.

It's weird, but it reflects the absurdity of our definitions.

For myself, I plan to scratch out the word race, write in ethnicity, and insert the phrase "Anglo Irish."

Maybe it will upset them enough that will send someone around to count the number of toilets that we have.

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