I was looking at my copy of the US Census Form today. I think I will fill it out on Thursday, April 1, since it specifically asks for the names of all people who were living or staying in my apartment that night. Granted, I am almost 100% certain that the answer to that question is “2,” since we are not planning on taking in boarders, or bearing children, between now and then. I guess there is the chance that one of us could be arrested before then, especially if the government decides that my comments in this blog posting constitute an “anti-government terrorist threat.”
Another good reason for filling out the form on April 1 is because April Fools’ Day is the date when someone like me would be most tempted to have fun with the form. I will have to resist the temptation to include Osama bin Laden, Jimmy Hoffa, Fred Fredburger, and Mork from Ork as family members. Well, it will be Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, one of the holy days of Lent, which is a good time to practice resisting temptation.
I find it kind of odd that the census form asks as many questions as it does. Article I, Section 2, paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the United States indicates that the census is intended to count the total number of people, as a means of determining the number of congressmen from each state in the House of Representatives. Until the 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913, it also provided a means of levying taxes on the states; however, now that we all pay our own income taxes, the census has no bearing on taxation.
In its original form, the census had a certain racist bent. It included free persons, excluded “Indians not taxed,” and counted “three fifths of all other Persons” (i.e., slaves). The 14th and 16th Amendments have eradicated those distinctions, so the questions should be simple enough: How many people live here?
However, the census form I have in front of me has the following questions, in addition to the relevant ones:
- Whether the dwelling is owned or rented;
- Each person’s gender
- Age/date of birth
- Two questions per person about race: one asking if you are of “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin,” and another asking about your race.
Apparently, “Hispanic” does not constitute a race, but they ask it anyway. Why they selected this one category to get specific about, I will never know. Why did they not ask me about my ethnicity? Does a Cuban Hispanic receive any special privileges that an Irish-German-Canadian Caucasian, who is married to an Italian-German Caucasian, is not entitled to receive? Can’t we be proud of our ethnic heritage(s)?
Roughly one-half of the information requested on the form is completely irrelevant to the census’ purpose. It is only supposed to determine how many people live in each state, so that they can calculate how many Representatives each state sends to Congress. From that, it can also determine how those people are distributed throughout the state, for the sake of determining Congressional districts.
Why is race such an important issue on the census form, though? After all, we will not elect our Congressmen based on their race. As a matter of fact, if we were to make our voting decisions based on race, we would be racists.
Race relations has been an ugly part of our nation’s history. Slavery was an ugly mark on our nation’s early years, and I am sure most of us are glad it was eliminated. Our treatment of Native Americans is also something that I, for one, am not proud of.
We have come a long way within my lifetime. I was born during the tail end of the civil rights era, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated when I was a pre-schooler. Since that time, we have enjoyed the benefits of racial integration throughout society. We now have a significant number of African-Americans in Congress. We now have a President who is one-half African-American (I’m sure not too many people saw that one coming in 1968!). Even though I do not like Obama’s policies or ideology, I have to admit that I am proud that our society has made significant gains in the area of race.
However, we need to head in a new direction now. I am sure that most people who voted in the last Presidential election saw race as an interesting historical note. I would like to believe that most of Obama’s supporters voted for him without regard for his race. And, contrary to what some in the media say, most people who voted against him were opposed to his ideology, NOT the color of his skin. Yes, there were people on both sides who voted because of his race. But, judging from conversations I have had with liberals and conservatives, the people who used race as a criterion when voting are in the minority.
So, I now issue a challenge to both the US government and all those who seek to promote social and economic justice in our society: GROW UP! Race does not matter anymore; or, at least, it should not. Most Americans are able to address social and cultural issues by leaving race in the background, or even totally out of the picture.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” An important step in this direction would be when we stop thinking of people as members of a race, and think of them as people. The race questions in the census serve no valid purpose. I have a dream that, someday, the government would live up to its own claims of eliminating racial discrimination by eliminating irrelevant questions about race from all official documentation.