How recent publications on race can help us think through the U.S. Census changes.
For the first time ever, the 2020 Census categories of “Black” and “White” will be followed by blank spaces to allow respondents to write in their specific nation(s) of origin.
The rationale for the change is to address concerns about race and ethnicity by calling “for more detailed, disaggregated data for diverse American experiences such as German, Mexican, Korean, Jamaican, and a myriad of other identities” according to a Census Bureau report released last year.
The change has generated a negative response from Whites and Blacks alike. Elizabeth Grasso and Peter Farnsworth, both Brooklynites who identify as White, expressed skepticism about the new Census categories. Grasso is of German and Italian descent and does not want to think about the discrimination her grandparents endured since “there was a time when Italians weren’t considered white.” Farnsworth, who is of Irish, Scottish, English and Jamaican descent, balks at hearing the new Census questions because nobody believes him when he says that his family “has lived in Jamaica for hundreds of years.”
This question of specific origins is more fraught for members of the African Diaspora.
Mulusew Bekele, the director of program operations at African Services Committee, said he is unsure whether the “current anti-immigrant sentiment” will allow for truly honest answers. Fear and mistrust plague the Latino community as well, raising concerns on whether or not they will offer accurate insights given the current anti-immigration political climate.
Added to that, are concerns of undercounting or erroneous Census reporting. The Census has been a dangerous uncertainty for Black Americans. Because of the forceful removal of Africans from their homelands who were then brought to the Americas, and even those darker-skinned native people already in the West that were enslaved along with Africans, most Black Americans do not know their specific nation of origin to report on the Census. If members of the African Diaspora do not complete the 2020 Census accurately, this could lead to long term effects after 2020, including “redistributing seats in the House of Representatives and drawing up legislative districts,” according to Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University.