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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Who Counts?

First off, let's hear it for the double-entendre of the title itself. The title may be interpreted as "who matters in society" and also "who is responsible for the tabulation," if that's what you want to call it. The issue of undercounting minority populations in an important topic to address, for it has direct applications to society, such as in resource allocation and the hot topic of affirmative action. Like many of you in the class, I found the topics in chapter 8 very thought provoking, and found that the author captured my thoughts on the subject very well on page 174. There is a paragraph on that page that states that the purpose for registering race and ethnicity is primarily for discovering and trying to eliminate descrimination, but asking questions referring to race and ethnicity also feeds the problem by making Americans racially-conscious. Additionally, such information can also work against minority groups if the actions of the government towards those groups are malevolent. That isn't to say that there's a "them and us" or to fuel a conspiracy theory, but to say that personal biases of individuals using the data, who have influence or control of those resources, could affect the communities that they live and work in. Worse yet, they could affect communities where they do not live and work. I don't want to believe that race and ethnicity are important to record, but the information probably serves a necessary function in fighting descrimination. I like what the anthropologists said about race having no scientific basis. I also like what the author says about ethnicity is largely a matter of choice, and that people don't fit neatly categories. Such fluid information and interpretations are unreliable in scientific study, and the apportionment of funding and services.
I was astounded to read how much the census has been influenced by partisanship, even from the nineteenth century. Personally, the bi-partisanship in politics makes me ill, as issues go unresolved. An example of this is the government shut-down in my home state of Minnesota last week. I can't help but think of George Will (the Washington Post columnist) and his "musing" about eliminating the race categories on the census altogether, for it would be interesting to see how the elimination of that demographic information would affect campaigning. The characteristics of the communities fuel what angle the candidate would spin their campaign in those areas, and can probably be deduced from the content of their speeches, instead of the more honorable method of standing up for what they believe in, no matter where they are.
The census has been fraught with unreliable methodology and has been challenged time and time again, and is being challenged as of the writing of the book. Perhaps we shouldn't look so critically at its faults, but be thankful for the benefits it has created. Perhaps we should look critically at those faults to eliminate gross misrepresentations, such as the 15 percent undercount for "non-whites" in the 1940s and 50s.


At 10:55 AM, Blogger Molly said...

I like your point about the possibility of eliminating the race/ethnicity categories from the census. While these questions do provide for key demographic data about the United States, one could argue that they have no relevancy in appointing political seats to states. The only question here is whether certain groups of citizens could then be underrepresented and have it go by undetected, or if the elimination of these categories would also elminate the potential and motivation for underrepresentation.


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