I joined a group on Facebook called 2010 Census: My Race is American. One of my friends on Facebook started a bit of back-and-forth with me about it. He took up the argument echoed several times a day in the federal government's Census campaign, designed to ... well, promote the Census, basically.
The Census is important, of that there can be no doubt. Without the Census, we wouldn't know the answer to the most important question asked by the Constitution: how many people live in the United States? Without knowing that, how can we know how many representatives to send to Congress, and from where?
So far, so good. But the Census this year, as in past years, asks additional questions. Among them is the question of what race are you? In the government's promotional efforts, it says we need to know how many people live in a particular area to know how many roads, schools, and hospitals we need in those areas. What does that have to do with what race you are? Well, my friend points out that black people, for example, have a higher incidence of diabetes and other metabolic conditions, and the government needs to know about that. But is that the job of the federal government? And why, if that is the reason, do they not ask how much you weigh, or if you smoke or drink? Why not ask what sexual orientation you are? Doesn't HIV affect a greater number of gay people than straight?
There is no constitutional call for Congress to count or consider anything in the Census beyond the number of free persons in the United States. If a hospital or group of hospitals in a particular area has a higher percentage of diabetic patients than another, then there are any number of ways for that information to reach the Capitol. One of those ways is through lobbying firms. Surely the American Diabetes Association can afford to lobby Congress. Another way is for hospitals and doctors to contact senators and representatives directly. Is there a member of Congress in this entire country who won't take the phone call of a dean of medicine when it comes to apportioning federal funds for diabetes assistance? If there is, then let's vote them out office this very year. And what about the Department of Health and Human Services? Why have an HHS Secretary, or a Surgeon General for that matter, if they're not keeping an eye on this sort of thing?
Finally, the government doesn't ask on the Census, "Check all diseases that apply: diabetes, HIV/AIDS, etc." (which would be a much better way to determine diabetes funding apportionment, by the way); it asks what race you are. That is information the federal government does not need. Every possible reason why the government "might" need that information can be satisfied in other, more direct ways; and more constitutional ways, as well. What I find especially hard to believe is that Democrats, the party that supposedly believes in a fundamental right to privacy, are the ones allowing this question to remain in the Census.
There's more to it than the question of whether it's the government's right or responsibility, though. Everyone, from the president himself to the lowliest bum in the dirtiest gutter, is thinking about race in this country. Who's black? Who's white? How many of each are there, and how long until there are more blacks than whites? Who's "half-black", and what's the other half? Which culture should a quarter-black, quarter-white, quarter-Asian, quarter-Native American honor more, and (as regards this Census) which box should you check?
I have only one question about race: why does it matter? Yes, white people have done horrible things to black people, in the past, the present, and probably will in the future. So what? The emphasis on race will exist in all of our minds for so long as we choose to allow it to. Whether you're Chris Matthews, who just couldn't resist after the last State of the Union Address saying, "You know, I forgot for a while that he was black", or some Grand Wizard who wants to "put 'em all in the ground", race is as important to you as you make it.
Yes, it's important to know how important it is to others; but, a lesson we've learned time and time again from the Left's counterproductive efforts to shut up conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and the Right's equally counterproductive crusade against Hustler founder Larry Flint, the more attention you bring to a topic, the harder it is to make it disappear. If the president truly wants to transcend racial divides, then he'd've done well to distribute a "race-neutral" census. The last thing anti-racists need is the government saying, in any way, that it matters who's black and who's white in America.
My point, basically, is there are other ways for the government to collect the information it actually needs. The Census is the wrong way, and what race I am is not information the government "needs".
Update 13 May 2010:
Arizona (that hotbed of racism and discrimination) has taken a step that anti-racists should be cheering, rather than decrying. I'm not refering to their recent immigration law overhaul, but a law aimed at eliminating school classes that "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals". Predictably, left-leaning pundits and lawmakers have gone nuts.
When I was younger, I watched "Picket Fences", a show about life in a small Wisconsin town. This show addressed many controversial social issues against the backdrop of "smalltown America". One of the issues was bussing from the major metropolitan Green Bay area. I'll never forget the episode when the town was ordered by a federal judge to accept bussed students (most of whom were black), and the town decided to oppose the judge's ruling. They marshaled the police and sheriff departments and lined the streets with officers to block the busses from coming into their town. The busses, however, were escorted in by the U.S. military. So began a very tense season of integrating urban students into a tightknit community that didn't want them there.
What was the point of this? Why was it so important that the people of this town learn to accept these "dangerous" elements into their schools? For that matter, why was it important in the 60's and 70's to integrate the schools? Why should whites, blacks, browns, or any other "colors" mix? I don't really think I need to answer that question, do I?
When, then, did it become so important that we have classes that emphasize our differences? When did it become vital that "ethnic diversity" be promoted? Are we not all Americans? Do we not all share a common culture, a common civilization? Shouldn't that be what we celebrate, not just on the Fourth of July, but every day of every year? Shouldn't we teach our children that we're all the same?
No one wants to forget the trials and tribulations of any ethnic group. On the other hand, neither do we want to give our children any reason to think the state or the schools approve of our being "different". It's bad enough there's actual racism in America; but to reject an opportunity to teach them from the beginning that we're all part of one overriding group is simply irresponsible. Are the races "equal"? Let's teach them that.
Update 28 May 2010:
I came across this video today, and I feel the sentiment could not have been expressed better. How can we realize the dream of not being judged by color or race if we continually emphasize it, or if the government insists on "counting" us based on it?
My race? American!
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