2020 Census brings up deeper questions of ethnicity, identity for blacks in America
What and who is considered black are two questions that have long been used to separate and categorize people. It is these ideas that are at the heart of white supremacy and racism in the United States and around the world. While those systems do not solely impact black people, anti-blackness continually positions black people at the bottom of social and racial hierarchies that do nothing but perpetuate hatred, discrimination, and inequality.
For centuries, one way that this inequality persisted was through the census. A process by which the government counts residents of the United States every 10 years, it is supposed to provide a snapshot of America’s people and economy. It has also used demographic data for purposes of representation in Congress. In theory, using numerical data in itself to figure out how many people live in a particular district, and therefore proportionally assigning representation, should be pretty benign.
However, since almost nothing involving humans is fully objective, the census becomes problematic when racial data is used to distribute resources and feed white Americans’ obsession with race and racial purity. To that end, the census hasn’t always counted each person fully, equally, or accurately. As Gregory Smithson notes in Mother Jones:
The census has always reflected a Trumpian view of America, revealing our deepest anxieties about race and inequality. It’s a bit like a bathroom mirror the morning after a big party, reflecting what we’ve been up to in a way that is honest and ugly. [...]
The section of the Constitution that required the census was the same that set out the ignominious Three-Fifths Compromise that counted an African-American slave as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportioning congressional seats.
After Emancipation, the census reflected white American hysteria about miscegenation, distinguishing Blacks, Mulattos, Quadroons, and Octoroons.
As the 2020 census approaches, there is much thought about how to greater reflect the ethnic and racial diversity among people living in this country. Some advocates have already begun that process by requesting that the data collection allow opportunities for more categories for persons of black ancestry. Currently, the census allows a person to mark black or African-American. But according to NPR, the 2020 census will ask blacks to be more specific.