The 2010 US Census form had arrived in my mail while I was in India. Now back in the US, I took out the form and was immediately struck by several things.
The form is simplicity itself – there are just ten questions (repeated for each person) but the questions are interesting for what is asked and what’s unasked.
I’ve noticed that others have commented about the race question which categorizes “Asian Indians” as a separate race, distinct from “Other Asian” (which the form helpfully mentions as including Pakistanis, and presumably also Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis) . Yes, I didn’t know that Indians were a separate race, as distinct from Pakistanis, and I also didn’t know that Thai and Cambodian and Laotian were races rather than nationalities.
I didn’t know, either, that all Indians were a homogeneous race – that, say, the Manipuris, the Tamilians and the Punjabis were all racially identical (and completely distinct, mind you, from the Burmese, the Sri Lankans and the Pakistanis they are geographically closer to).
There have also been comments about how to categorize people of mixed racial descent – what if you had both Indian and Chinese origins? Answer : you mark both boxes – the form allows you to mark as many boxes as you want, and safely leave it to the Census Gods to interpret the results.
But what I don’t understand is this – why are 2 out of the ten questions in the Census about race? I notice that the Census does not ask you about (a) your marital status, (b) number of children (including any you may only have visitation rights to), (c) education levels, (d) annual income, (e) occupation, (f) religion if any. In other words, they ask you practically no demographic data. It is just a basic counting of heads.
I mean, people answer more detailed questions when they are opening a bank account. And I always thought the Census was the one great opportunity for the Govt. to get as much demographic info as possible.
But the Census Gods do want to know if you own your home or rent it, and what your race is.
On the race question, the census website says:
Asked since 1790. Race is key to implementing many federal laws and is needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State governments use the data to determine congressional, state and local voting districts. Race data are also used to assess fairness of employment practices, to monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education and to plan and obtain funds for public services.
Which still doesn’t tell me anything. I’m not even sure how the Census Gods can monitor “racial disparities in health and education” when they only ask me about my race, not about either my health or my education. Besides, how do they know that any disparities in education between say, Indians and Pakistanis or Indians and Chinese are racial?
As I mentioned earlier, there are just 10 questions in the form , and four of those questions are devoted to asking your name, age, sex and telephone number. But two of the remaining questions ask about your race/ ethnicity.
We live in a post-racial world, right? Right?