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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Who Counts? reaction - Nick B.

The greatest tension that arises from chapter 8, "The Measurment of Race and Ethnicity...", is the same tension that often arises in discussions of affermative action, that is moving in a counter-intuitive direction to achieve the end goal. The end goal in this case is to relieve the necessity for socially constructed racial categorization, yet to achieve this it needs to be shown (through censuses and surveys) that there is much discrimination and unfair treatment going on. Anthropologists recognize this tension explicitly on page 174: "eliminating the term 'race' presents an opportunity and dilemma because the categories are still required in order to be vigilant about the elimination of discrimination. Yet ultimately the effective elimination of discrimination will require an end to such categorization..." What I learned is that the decennial census was a major contributor to the advent of the affermative action policy. I had before taken the census as a mostly unpoliticized event. Rather it is a battleground for power and proof of the need for representation. Another related and equally vexing paradox is one that we experience everyday: is diversity a good word or a dirty word (p. 172)? "Celebrating diversity" of course has a positive connotation to it, but if we celebrate diversity by assuming someone's cultural heritage or positionality because of dress, language, skin color, etc, we have put ourselves in the position of a racist. To counter this, we say that everyone is individual and equal, and no one should be treated differently, putting a damper on the idea of "divisiveness." Are we supposed to be aware of and take into account someone's positionality, or do we ignore it and treat everyone "like a human being?" George Will's support for the multi-racial category is an attempt to erase cultural categories in a b-line fashion, one that is good in its intention, but inevitably leaves too many people in its wake. The multi-racial category is intuitive, and given the tension described above, cannot work. The point of asking people about their race in the census is not for their own identity, it is to bring people with unfair access to opportunity together so that they can increase their own political power. If we are all our own group (as we probably are in reality), would none of us have any representation? Aren't we all multi-racial? Why does "White" mean every European ethnicity? If I see a multi-racial category on the 2010 census, I will be inclined to check it. My mother has ancestry in Switzerland, and my father in Germany and Ireland. We can all say the same thing. What is interesting is that the Spanish-speaking world of Mexico, central America, and south America has not given in to this type of assimilation under the category of "Latino/a" or "Hispanic."

I cannot help but think of the census as not only a highly politicized event, but a highly geographical event. I don't think the book discussed it much, but I would be very curious to see the locations of low-response rates, as this is essentially what drives statistical sampling. The "first law of geography" states that close things are more related than things that are far away, something that a potentially accurate statistical sampling would have to assume.


At 10:35 AM, Blogger Caroline Sietmann said...

This is in response to the many posts about race in America. I'm glad that people tackled it. I'm hesitant to do so. I'm hesitant to do so because I am one of the people who thinks America is obsessed with diversity. Why must we always point out how different we are? But, as Nick brought up, do comments like that make their authors look racist? This obsession with differences goes back to the early days of America when one was a slave simply because one was black and one was free simply because one was white. (Well, not that cut and dry, but . . .) The Revolution freed the Americans from the British and, in order to realize they were free, they had to compare themselves to someone. Slaves. OK, that's a really cynical view, but it makes me wonder if the first censuses were caught up in all that. And, as everyone brought up, what does such a concept mean for the census today? Should we continue to classify people that way, and how? I don't have an answer. Maybe all these changes in the census process will lead to an answer.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Ben said...

I'm glad that you mentioned that passage from the book about how the elimination of categorization itself would be the last thing to go to eliminate racial descrimination. This wouldn't be just in the census, but in most, if not all, aspects of society. I've read that many immigrants in the past distance themselves from their own heritage in favor of being called an "American." I wonder what type of forms American expatriots have to fill out, and whether "American" is listed an ethnicity or race. Probably not. There are people that say also that racism is not a belief (although I think it is), but the actions of the majority assuming power over a minority based on race. In this definition, people in power can use the statistics as a weapon against others.


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