I keep trying to put ten years into perspective. Ten years ago, my prevailing concern was getting into college. Ten years later, my prevailing concern is the Coronavirus pandemic. It is inevitable that there will be a next ‘thing’ we must focus our energy on but we shouldn’t forget that Census 2020 is currently underway. The census comes once a decade and will measurably affect our lives for the foreseeable future.
It is imperative, then, that Census 2020 be accurate.
The census is a series of questions from which….arise more questions? Disclosing race, income, citizenship status conflicts with our sensibility to keep information private. However, if that information is to benefit the community around me, I would like for it to be done in a thorough way. Racially identifying Indian, I generally get frustrated with the box that demarks all Asians as the same. I know I’m not the only one. Then I think about my friends who are mixed race and the complications they face.
But like a true millennial, I am quick to jump to conclusions. So I recruited my mixed race friends, Ajay Srinivas and Nisha Kumar, to help me explore the myths and realities of Census 2020.
Nisha predicted using a biracial/mixed race option and Ajay said he would identify as South Asian and West Indian.
A quick FAQ search on census site informed us that:
Answers to this question should be based on how you identify. Each person can decide how to answer. You can mark more than one race for each person. Once you check a category, you’ll also be asked to write in the person’s origin.
- White: The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.
- Black or African American: The category “Black or African American” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Examples of these groups include, but are not limited to, African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Somali. The category also includes groups such as Ghanaian, South African, Barbadian, Kenyan, Liberian, and Bahamian.
- American Indian or Alaska Native: The category “American Indian or Alaska Native” includes all individuals who identify with any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. It includes people who identify as “American Indian” or “Alaska Native” and includes groups such as Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe, Mayan, Aztec, Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Traditional Government, and Nome Eskimo Community. Census respondents should report the person’s American Indian or Alaska Native tribe or tribes in the space provided.
- Asian: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Other Asian (including Pakistani, Cambodian, and Hmong)
- Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Other Pacific Islander (including Tongan, Fijian, and Marshallese)
- Some Other Race: The option “Some other race” includes all responses that don’t fit within the categories above.
Nisha would be able to use the multiple check marks to identify her half-Indian and half-White origins, but Ajay was a little more confused. “Will the Census account for my Trini population?…Will my diaspora benefit from the write-in option considering West Indian is marked as Black/African American and I’m of Indian descent?”
Ajay highlighted that there are many Indian diaspora populations in countries outside the Asian marker. Those populations benefit from their voice being represented and are left at a disadvantage when lumped with South Asians or Blacks/African Americans.
These were good questions I didn’t have answers to. This will be the first year that we have a write-in option. And perhaps, until we use the write-in option, we may not know of its impact.
What we do know is that there is a possible outcome the census can have. I ask Nisha and Ajay about the potential influence and receive well informed responses. Ajay and Nisha both agree that it will arbitrate “federal funding and resource allocation”.
I cross-check their information with that provided by the U.S. Census Bureau:
Information on race is required for many Federal programs and is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights. States use the data to meet legislative redistricting principles. Race data is used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks.
Nisha, Ajay, and I are in consensus on why it is crucial that we fill out the census. However, things aren’t so simple, right?
PRIVACY. FEAR. DATA USE. Do we have something to be apprehensive about with the census?
Nisha decidedly responds, “I am not worried for myself but I understand the fear of filling out the census if you’re undocumented. How can I ensure the information won’t be used against them? We’ve seen it happen with DACA.”
Ajay corroborates, “There is a fear that census data will be used maliciously by the Trump administration against POC, DACA, minorities, immigrants, etc.”
I resonate with their anxiety for the people around them but sometimes research is a panacea. I find that:
The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential. In fact, every employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life.
The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep your information confidential. This law protects your answers to the 2020 Census. Under Title 13, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. The law ensures that your private data is protected and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Violating Title 13 is a federal crime, punishable by prison time and/or a fine of up to $250,000.
The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You are kept anonymous: the Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or anyone else in your home.
Make it a part of your daily tasks – drink chai, eat cereal, take the census, shower, laundry, lunch, etc.
It is our social responsibility to urge everyone to take the 2020 Census. You are equipped with the knowledge to ease the worry that others might have. Don’t forget – we are what we report.
Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.