I`m always being asked why I study
identity politics issues such as race, ethnicity,
The implication is that those aren`t
appropriate topics for
Census form that recently arrived in your mailbox shows that
the U.S. government is quietly obsessed with those same
the decennial Census
"enumeration"—i.e., a count of everybody. Therefore, the
questionnaire is kept relatively short. (The Census Bureau
asks more detailed questions on a vast variety of subjects
on its monthly
American Community Survey sample of 250,000.)
questions are considered so critical to the government in
2010 that the Census has to ask them of every single
ten questions on the 2010 form, five are concerned with
enumeration (for example, asking your name and phone number)
and one with whether you own your home (with or without a
mortgage). The other four deal with identity:
is Person 1`s sex?
7. What is Person 1`s age and Date of
8. Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or
9. What is Person 1`s race?
In contrast, there are—of course—no
questions asked about whether the resident is a citizen or
even in the country legally.
Personally, I believe that paying careful attention to what
the state is doing is public-spirited. But it`s more
fashionable to be studiedly
ignorant about race. For example, liberal blogger
Matthew Yglesias recently
Yet, why in the world would they want to
be white when they
money and prizes from the government for being legally
nonwhite? You get more of what you pay for. And the U.S.
pays people to consider themselves non-white.
Thus, since the 1960s, all the movement
has been away from being seen as white. For example, Indian
immigrants used to be officially white. But South Asian
businessmen successfully lobbied the Reagan Administration
1982 to have Indians reclassified from Caucasian to
Asian category so that they could get on the
low interest SBA minority development loans and
preferences on government contracting.
When you stop and think about it, it`s
bizarre that Indians, the
highest income recent immigrant group, receives legal
preference over native-born U.S. citizens from the U.S.
government. But it`s considered in bad taste to suggest that
give up their racial privileges.
Census seems to furnishes a good time to think about how the
government classifies people by race and
ethnicity—abstruse-sounding questions that turn out to be
themselves, the ten Census questions only allow the
government to determine:
number who live in each political jurisdiction
Their race and ethnicity
Whether they own their homes
first purpose follows directly from the Constitution, which
mandates that Census results be to be used for redistricting
every ten years.
One little-known oddity about the Census:
immigrants are currently counted the same as citizens in
drawing up Congressional and legislative districts. Highly
Hispanic districts thus tend to be
relatively few actual citizens a.k.a. voters, which
makes a mockery of the Supreme Court`s principle of
For example, in 2008, immigrant enthusiast
Democrat Xavier Becerra won re-election in California`s
31st Congressional District, a heavily illegal immigrant
part of Los Angeles County, in an election that saw only
111,000 votes cast. In contrast, in California`s
50th Congressional District in suburban north San Diego
Brian Bilbray won a
race in which a total of 312,000 votes were cast. Each
individual voter in Bilbray`s district counts for only
36% as much as an individual voter in Becerra`s district.
Let`s turn to the government`s second
purpose, finding out your Race and Ethnicity. These
questions on the Census form provoke a little more public
discussion. Hence, the Census Bureau`s official
justification of its Race question claims:
You may wonder what
data have to do with
"fairness of employment practices." After all, civil
rights laws are usually justified as being about blacks
having to sit in the back of the bus, which you probably
haven`t seen much of lately.
So how does anti-discrimination compliance
get assessed by race data, anyway? Because, in reality,
civil rights programs these days are mostly based on
Impact"—not actual, you know, discrimination ("Disparate Treatment").
Statistics can`t measure equal
opportunity, just equal results. The government starts with
the assumption that if, say, employment rates diverge from
population makeup by more than
one-fifth, it`s the employer`s obligation to
the presumption of illegal discrimination. In other
words, the feds` message is:
quotas upon yourselves or expect to pay a fortune in
Census Bureau says, these numbers are thus used to calculate
the size of these implicit and explicit quotas. And not just
for employment. For example, the 2010 Census questionnaire
was specifically designed to enable the government to
calculate conveniently ethnic and racial disparities in home
ownership. As you may recall, George W. Bush
cited ethnic and racial differences from the 2000 Census
2002 White House Conference on Increasing Minority
Homeownership to justify
zero down payment mortgages and other
government-encouraged tricks to undercut
old-fashioned credit standards. Similarly,
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac quotas are assigned by
me again: How`d that work out for us last time?
are we doing it again?)
way: no, you can`t cut yourself in for a piece of the
preference pie just by declaring yourself a minority on your
Census form. There`s no connection between how you answer on
the Census and whether or not employers and the government
think you personally are eligible for affirmative action.
Another oddity: why does the government
care about your
“ethnicity” if you are Hispanic—but doesn`t care about
your ethnicity if you are anything else? Why are some
ethnics more equal than others? (For that matter, why is
Ethnicity on the Census form when, say,
Religion is not?)
Hispanics get special privileges under the law.
The Ethnicity question exists as a supplement to Race to
allow Hispanics to benefit from American anti-racism
programs while remaining racist themselves.
A large fraction of Latinos are
adamant that they are white. (Latin American cultures
against blacks and Amerindians.) Whites aren`t legally
privileged in modern America. So how can Hispanics have
their cake (being
white) and eat it (getting
privileges over whites), too?
By concocting a legal status ("Ethnicity")
that only exists for Hispanics. This enables them to get in
on the Disparate Impact Express, just like blacks and
Amerindians, without admitting to being any bit
It`s ridiculous. But most Americans find
Latinos too boring to think about. So the vast majority
of attention is devoted to arguing over the Race question
rather than the Ethnicity question, even though the former
is more likely to be a hopeless political cause.
Note also that the Census Bureau goes on
to assert in its
justification of the Ethnicity question that
"State and local
governments may use the data to help plan and administer
bilingual programs for people of Hispanic origin."
The Bureau isn`t even trying to make sense
here, because the Ethnicity question doesn`t ask anything
about language, just
"origin." The obvious intent, of course, is to maximize
the number of clients that the bilingualism a.k.a.
Spanish-language lobby can claim.
Ethnicity v. Race oddity that nobody notices: the Census
allows individuals to declare themselves multiracial—but not
Since 2000, Census respondents have been
permitted to choose as many races as they find they need to
describe themselves. The 2010 form states:
"Mark one or more
races to indicate what this person considers himself/herself
with parents of different races had lobbied hard for this in
the 1990s. They argued that being forced to pick just one
racial identity for themselves was in effect requiring them
to decide whether they loved their mother or father most.
Significantly, however, those kinds of concerns don`t seem
to bother President Barack Obama at all. Although he was
largely raised by his white relations, and he only spent a
single month with his
Kenyan father after he was an infant, the
President has checked just
one box in 2010:
"Black, African Am., or Negro."
As I point out in my reader`s guide to the
Half-Blood Prince, the preppie from
labored for years to convince himself that he was black
enough to be a black leader. This career plan induced him to
publish an autobiography entitled
Dreams from My Father
just as his white mother was dying of cancer.
another little-known oddity about the Census: for the
government`s main purpose in asking about Race and
Ethnicity—calculating the size of
technically, it doesn`t matter whether Obama puts himself
down as just black or as black and white anyway. That`s
because the Clinton Administration announced on March 9,
2000 that the government will simply ignore the white box.
For use in civil rights enforcement and monitoring, the
OMB bulletin declared,
combine one minority race and white are [to be]
allocated to the minority race."
allowing multiracial responses winds up just enlarging
anti-white racial quotas.
turns out to be good thing that nobody is allowed to choose
to both be Hispanic and non-Hispanic, because that would
just increase anti-white quotas even more.
When it comes to filling out the Census
form and mailing it in, white people tend to be both the
most conscientious (the town with highest response rate so
Dubuque, Iowa), and also the most troubled by idealistic
objections to counting by race and ethnicity. Some are
refusing to fill in the race and ethnicity questions. Others
are putting in answers for Race such as
intention is noble. But this game was rigged a long time
ago. Your every move was anticipated.
The beneficiaries of quotas pay a lot more
attention to the rules of the game than do their
quota benefactors, who only get even slightly interested
when their Census surveys arrive every ten years.
to organize is between Censuses. But the important step is
to organize. These issues are too crucial to continue to
leave wholly to the good will of minority activists.