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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Who Counts?

I can't say that I have ever given much thought to the Census, and I was surprised at how interesting Who Counts? was. I thought the title was a clever play on the concept of who does the actual counting (the Census Bureau, their agents, etc.) and who counts, as in who is actually represented in the Census. Do we count everyone? Does everyone matter equally? Well no, since the framers considered slaves to equal to three-fifths of a whole 'free' person. Even after slavery was abolished the history of undercounting certain groups (racial minorities, urban-dwellers, homeless, etc.) has continued. Are they undercounted because they don’t matter? Is the political clout of an Asian-America worth more or less to a certain district? Does it matter if that person is identified either racially or ethnically? I thought George Will’s idea that creating a multi-racial category could help in some way end America’s “obsession with race and ethnicity” (p. 172) to be worth thinking about. Would it help end racism if we quit defining ourselves, especially as the government counts us, in ways that make us different from others? Maybe that’s too simplistic of an answer. And yet just as political parties and governmental entities have a vested political interest in how many people are counted and where, various groups representing those racial and ethnic minorities also have a vested interested in continuing and sometimes deepening the classifications of the people counted. If they can point to x number of people as belonging to their group, they gain leverage for their agenda. So people, in a large enough numbers, equal power, yet I think it’s important that we and others keep in mind that the geographic portrait that census statistics and maps paint is not the whole story. What seems to be true for a group or area does not always hold true for the individual. Accordingly, what on the surface seems to be the simple numerical and statistical exercise of the census takes on much more complexity when you consider the political and social ramifications of how people are counted, and how they are classified.


At 10:30 AM, Blogger umaysay said...

I think that Cristy made an insightful remark. Yes, what seems to be scientific and objective might hide a more complicated political will. However, most of people don't know about the fact. I am really concerned about the current tendency of depending on technological and would-be scientific approach to our societies. It seems to lose philosophical way of thinking and human value.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Caroline Sietmann said...

It's pretty ironic, then, that even science doesn't seem to work. Everybody was up in arms about putting the Census Bureau under some statistical organizational umbrella. And everyone was up in arms about using sampling. Seems like a Catch-22 - either you sample, or you get a wrong number.


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