April 1, 2010

Non-Censical Questions

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The first year of every new decade marks the beginning of census season. It is a federal tradition that began in 1790 under a mandate from the United States Constitution wherein every 10 years the population of all those residing in the United States of America are tallied up in order to allocate congressional seats, electoral votes and federal funding. With 300 million-plus people belonging to the American community today, the United States Census Bureau has launched a heavy marketing scheme to assure a high participation rate among households across America. The ad blitz so far has been very effective; with the nationwide census participation rate already at 54 percent, the Census Bureau is well on their way to achieving their goal of surpassing the the 2000 census’ participation rate, which was 67 percent.

Indeed the census is being properly advertised — through tv and radio, ads across subways, billboards and the internet, even plenty of spam reminders in the mail. But as commendable as the campaign has been, to 15 percent of Americans this decade’s census motto, “Ten easy questions in ten minutes,” was false advertisement. Over the last few weeks Latinos throughout America, including a household in Collegetown home to Ivy League educated Latinos, have been stumped by questions 8 and 9 of the 2010 Census. African American’s, and other minorities alike, have been appalled that the federal government is forcing them to identify with the loaded and outdated term “Negro,” which is notorious for its use during segregation and the Jim Crow era.

Question 8 asks if one is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin with an option for the respondent to check “no,” but question 9 inquires about that person’s race.  With a puzzled face many Latinos have been wondering: What is this? I thought I had just answered the question of race in question 8 when you asked if I was Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish origin? There is a brief note above question 8 which states, “Please answer BOTH Question 8 about Hispanic origin and Question 9 about race. For this census, Hispanic origins are not races.”

When you look into Question 9, more concerns regarding the Census Bureau’s handling of ethnicity in this year’s census arise. For one, the options that are given under the race categories in Question 9 begin with White, {Black, African Am. , or Negro}, American Indian, which are all categories that have historically been understood as racial, but then the question continues to list nine further options like Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, etc. which are nationalities. There is space at the end of question 9 which reads “some other race — print race”, but Latinos have already been told that Hispanic origins are not races. What is a Latino in America suppose to check off, White or {Black, African Am. , or Negro}? Why are there nationalities even listed?

Today it is in widespread agreement among biologists and contemporary race theorists that race was an ideological invention of science during the late-18th century which served to justify, rationalize and maintain the structural exploitation of colonized groups by Europeans. It wasn’t until scientists sought to establish the differences between humans that the ideology of race became globally accepted and institutionalized. This movement to build the scala naturae of races (which conveniently places the authors on top of the racial hierarchy) conflicted with the progress of civilization at the time with the Enlightment. So while renowned philosophers like Johann Gottfried Herder, who believed there to be no reason that he would have to accept the idea of humans belonging to separate races, new sciences that were brewed by racism like craniometrics and eugenics ensured that a certain group of humans were in shackles and chains to serve those who preached about equality of mankind.

America was founded on cultural discrimination and prejudices: Beginning with groups fleeing religious persecution in England, to the introduction of African slavery and the genocides of indigenous Native Americans. Racism and xenophobia have been used throughout all of America’s existence to rationalize federal policies that bar certain groups from rights and other protections. Today our immigration policy continues to be dominated by institutional extensions of racist ideologies, like fences along the Mexican-American border. Such symbols of prejudice seep into the American culture and society that fuel the still-burning 400 year fire of racism.

Race is biological fiction, and fails in describing social phenomenon. The implications of the ideology of race throughout its 400 year tenure in the minds of man have been that of enslavement, genocide, persecution and xenophobia. Nothing positive has ever come out of racial classification, and its effects continue to taint social interactions and prevent the normal development of millions of human beings in America and throughout the world.

Not only is it unethical and dangerous, but it is also impractical to retain race as a social category. The Census Bureau is already using race interchangeably with nationality, which is absurd. Item number six on UNESCO’s address, titlted “On the Issue of Race,” to global leaders and citizens of the world — in response to the race-driven genocides of WWII and the implications that the ideology of race has had on humanity — asked that nations “when speaking of human races [drop] the term race all together and speak of ethnic groups.” The Census can achieve all its demographic calculations by studying and collecting information regarding ethnicity. The word “race” and the ideologies behind it  have no place in federal documents used to categorize people.

We live in a progressive society that is looking to continue to evolve and correct our social conducts to promote the inclusiveness of all individuals. For the first time, same sex marriages will officially be recognized as marriages by the Census, and in states where they are not legally allowed to marry, if the family chooses so, they will be identified as a married couple. By nature and the ethic of universal brotherhood, all members of mankind are born social beings. We can only reach our fullest development through the interactions with other human beings. Centuries of denial of the bond between one man and another have brought the world to the edges of moral disintegration, inevitably leading certain groups to complete extinction. Metaphors dictate behavior, and the diction behind the classification of groups alters the nation’s social manners, conventions and has detrimental policy implications. Traditions are passed longitudinally down generations: orally, culturally or institutionally. Government’s role cannot be one of promoting ideologies which stem and enable racism.

Vicente Gonzalez is a junior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at vgonzalez@cornellsun.com. Color Between the Lines appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Vicente Gonzalez