Politics & Society

The Census: Imperfect But Important

I just got my census form, how about you?

And I filled it out and sent it back the next day. (My internal debate — should I make MYSELF — or my HUSBAND - "Person Number 1"? What do you think I did? I'm not telling.)

But one of my colleagues did me one better...he filled it out and went to the mailbox THAT NIGHT and sent it back.

Huh?

He told me he had worked once as a census enumerator and he felt so strongly about it he had to get in the mail right away. Now that's dedication.

I personally wanted the long form, where I am told census asks all your business, but we didn't get one. I planned to make it my own little Christmas letter and give them plenty to work with. ("We are so blessed that the twins are enjoying reading, basketball, ballet and swimming, and we hope that Aminah will soon follow her brother and receive her first promotion in Tae Kwon Do"...you know that kind of thing? I was looking forward to it!) But no such luck. All they wanted to know was who lived in the house. BOR-ing. Where's the fun in that?

As a journalist I am used to being cut out of surveys and all manner of opinion giving. I know some people think we are just sitting here giving our opinions all day long but, in my end of the business — the reality-based end — that is not true. Yes, I do take the liberty of offering up a commentary most Mondays, but for the most part we are, as I said, cut out of all manner of opinion giving, ethically and frankly by nature — we don't sign nominating petitions, we certainly don't give money to candidates or causes — or shouldn't. So I get really excited when I have a plausible and ethically legitimate opportunity to give people the business. But as I said, all I got was the short form. OK, so that's done.

Anyway, I got an e-mail from a friend who had not heard our piece about the controversy over the line that asks respondents to describe their race. We've actually covered a number of controversies around the census. We interviewed Arab Americans who would prefer not to be classified as "white," and are going to write in their specific country or origin.

Here are two of the stories in that coverage:

*Arab-American Activists Upset About Census Snub
*Ahead Of Census, Arab-American Group Tells Community 'You Ain't White'

But I am referring to the box that black people would check, that reads "African American, Black or Negro." My neighbor told me some of her colleagues were so up in arms about "Negro" continuing to be listed as an option that they called the Census Bureau to complain! My neighbor said these friends of hers told her they aren't going to fill it out because of that and asked why census was "catering to the unenlightened"...

Here's the piece we did about that:

*'Negro, Please!': Age-Old Term Creeps Onto Census

OK... will you indulge me in offering my opinion about this and only this (today)? I'd fill out the form if I were you...

Some people still use the term from time to time...

Here's a conversation we did with Tavis Smiley last week where he uses it...tongue in cheek of course...

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