This month, all of us will be asked to participate in a $14.5 billion federal program - the 2010 census.
One of the questions on the report form will be one concerning your race, and the possible answers seem endless. Are you white, black, mulatto, Chinese, Mexican, Mexican-
American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Asian Indian, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian, American Indian or Alaska Indian, Vietnamese or "other"? How do you record mixed marriages?
President Barack Obama said in his election night speech, "... young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled ... we have never been a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America."
Ironically, as much as we have tried to eliminate racial discrimination, profiling and other forms of citizenship violations, our federal government from its very beginning has fostered discrimination. Article 1, Section 2 states, "Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."
"All other persons" mainly included slaves. To establish representation in the House of Representatives, free men were counted as one person, slaves were counted as three fifths of a person, and Indians and women were not counted at all.
Archie Thomas is a guest columnist.
If we really believe in equality, what difference does it make if the person who is hungry or without shelter is of one race or another - one skin color or another? We should minister to the person, not to a race.
Why, then, is the race question kept in the recording of the census? One of the biggest reasons is the use politicians make of racial census data to gain political advantage.
Bruce Chapman, director of the U.S. Census Bureau under President Ronald Reagan, explained, "Everyone knows that it is possible to organize a decennial census in a way that benefits one party or another politically. One way to effectuate this otherwise unpalatable departure from the Census Bureau's 200-year history of non-partisanship is to put the bureau administratively under direction of the politicos in the White House.
"In reality, that would be a sure invitation to cook the books on the highly consequential count of Americans," Chapman wrote. "The only reason the White House would want to be involved is in figuring out how to add more voting power to certain states and groups within states."
One of Obama's earliest actions was to bring the head of the census from the Department of Commerce to the White House!
A second reason for omitting the race question is interracial marriages and other factors make it more difficult to be precise in racial identification. According to a 1996 position statement of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, "Pure races, in the sense of genetically homogenous populations, do not exist in the human species today, nor is there any evidence that they have ever existed in the past. ... Humanity cannot be classified into discrete geographic categories with absolute boundaries."
One anthropologist said, "A growing number of demographers and historians who are fully sympathetic to the civil rights struggle would probably be happy to see the word 'race' disappear from the census as well. There seems to be an emerging consensus that the system of racial classification that has dominated national politics and the census for nearly two centuries is so fraught with imprecision - and so tainted by racist ideas that have been disproved by science - that it should eventually be dropped altogether."
A third disadvantage of recording racial data in the census is the misuse of confidential data. All persons working with the census are sworn to keep data confidential. We all know how confidential our government keeps data!
Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the interment of all persons of Japanese ancestry in the states of California, Oregon and Washington.
Census records were used to locate these people. Some 110,000 people were told to finish up any business and sell or store all their possessions. Sixty-two percent of those interred were citizens of the United States. Yet 33,000 Japanese-Americans served in our armed forces.
In 1988, Congress passed, and Reagan signed, legislation which apologized for the internment on behalf of the United States government. Some monetary compensation was given to those still living.
At the risk of being investigated, I recommend you do not answer the race question as it is a useless intrusion into our privacy, or you might disguise an answer such as the one I'm thinking of giving, "I'm white, with a slight blush of pink and a bit of tan in the summertime ... put that in your computer and smoke it!"