Race is a matter of double perception – Without accepting that, the 2020 census is going to be a failure, just like all the other censuses were

Why is the 2020 census going to be a failure?

Two perspectives are needed to be taken into account. The officials and the population. The two ends of the same rope that fail to get at the middle of the same rope. Somehow, neither of them understands what the census is and what purposes it serves. So, the census becomes an unreliable formality.

This is why the former census, from 2010, resulted in “Other” being the second race in the US. And, unfortunately, it is going to be the same in 2020. Even though solutions were given by the Census Bureau, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) refused to answer them. And without the approval of OMB, nothing can be done.

What is the census and why does it matter?

The core of the census is to create an accurate demographic map. But how well does the population understand the concept of demography? The etymology of the word is the Greek expression for a “description of the population”.

The description can be made by criteria such as education, nationality, religion, and ethnicity. But also, by race, sex, and age. Race is not the same as ethnicity. They are two different describing concepts. This is the delicate subject that the Census Bureau made the amends to.

Why does the census matter? Because every population has different needs. To address them, they must be known.

For the population with Hispanic ethnicity to learn in their native language, the authorities need to know how many Hispanic students need that. For religious establishments to exist and serve every religion, the authorities need to know how many parishioners will attend to that church. And so on.  It’s a logistic matter.

The census matters because, unfortunately, discrimination exists. To combat discrimination, the authorities need to know where the means of combat are needed. For housing, education, health, and employment to become accessible to all categories, as they are mandated by law, the authorities need to know where to facilitate them. It is a protection matter.

There is, also, a matter of acknowledgment. The need of every religion and race category to be officially recognized. It’s an identity matter.

The numbers of specific populations determine a state’s electoral vote count. On their accuracy depends how many seats a state receives in the House of Representatives. It’s a political matter.

What is the problem?

The Census Bureau concluded that the inefficacy of their demarche can be changed into efficacy with the help of an additional question added to the form. Or better said, with the help of a divided race question.

Taking a look back at history is the only way to better understand the present problem.

Until 1960, the census was made by employers of the Census Bureau. They went door-to-door and completed the form themselves, relying on what they saw, knew, and presumed. There were flaws in that system, especially since the question of race was considered to be rude. So, the employers presumed what the race of the man standing in front of them might be. They also presumed what the race of the other members of the housing was. So, the results of the census were pretty inaccurate.

Since 1960, to cut costs, the census form was completed by the population. Given the occasion to complete the race box themselves, other issues arose and those issues are still lasting and keep growing into more complex ones.

The problems of the modern census

“There are a lot of other people who don’t understand how to complete the U.S. census because it doesn’t match their way of understanding race,” said Wendy Roth, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania who is been researching these problems from the early 2000’s.

One of the problems of the new system is that there were never enough and accurate options for the population to check. America’s population grew more and more varied. It isn’t a black and white matter. And although the form has constantly expanded the listed options, they still aren’t enough.

Since 1997, the form presents itself with five racial categories: White; Black or African-American; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; and Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander. Asians can select from Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and Other Asian. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders have their option too: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, or Other Pacific Islander.

But there are still categories that are left outside the form. Hispanics and people from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) don’t have a box. Hispanics can be counted by their answer to the ethnicity question. But still, “Hispanic” doesn’t define race. It defines ethnicity. MENA on the other hand is a buried population that exists without being accounted for.

So, the population which’s race isn’t listed on the form, checks the “other” box. They become “the others”.

The second problem is more a matter of identity. the way people perceive themselves. The counterparty of the racists “one-drop rule”. The rule saying that a single drop of black blood in one’s veins makes them black works the other way around too. People are using their drops of white blood to call themselves “white”. Dominicans proving their superiority to Haitians check the white box in the form.

Race is a matter of perception. Just like the Census Bureau employers completed the forms according to their perception, so do people when completing the forms themselves. While from a psychological and philosophical perspective this isn’t an issue, it doesn’t serve the census purposes.

A Dominican might consider himself to be white, but he can’t be perceived by society as such. His belief doesn’t protect him against discrimination, but instead it impairs the officials to act according to his specific social needs.

The third problem is somehow connected to the second one. People consider they belong to a different race than they actually are, based on the results from genetic ancestry tests. In 2010, after making those tests, people checked different boxes than they did a decade before.

And not just no-white people did so. White people did it the most. 40% of the white population who took the ancestry test changed their perspective of their own race. They stopped considering themselves as white.

And although this might be a solidarity gesture, or simply the exoticism of feeling different from the other whites, the phenomenon generates consequences that can affect the wellbeing of those that are truly victims of discrimination.

The unwanted solution

Aligning the good and the bad parts from both censuses, the Census Bureau proposed a dichotomy of the race question. “We need more than one measure of race,” as the sociologist Nancy López of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque put it.

Let there be two questions. One that shows consideration for the inner belief of the individual that looks black but considers himself white – what race do you consider yourself to be? And one that respects the society’s perception – what race an outsider might consider you are?

Unfortunately, “the push is entirely within the academic world. We’ve got no traction at all within the Census [Bureau],” said sociologist Carolyn Liebler of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.