Census forms should start arriving in your mailbox very soon.

I’ll be checking off all the boxes as requested on the 2010 Census because it’s part of being a good citizen. The Census was first undertaken during the Roman Republic – the word itself is that ancient. Many other cultures have has similar regular surveys of their populations – ancient Egypt, India, Persia, China, the Incas. It should be uncontroversial – being such an ancient and good idea – knowing how many people live in your country in which places plus a few basic facts about those people.

Filling out the Census every 10 years used to be as simple and uncontroversial as filling out your 1040 tax form, i.e. ground floor civic duty. It’s actually a lot easier than doing your taxes since there are only a few questions. And there’s the fact that like doing your taxes, the Census is the law: everyone over the age of 18 must fill out all the questions or face a $5,000 fine. Yet people like Glenn Beck and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) have sought to turn completing and returning your Census form this year a personal act fraught with political ramifications. Bachmann threatened last summer to defy the Census due to her fear of what the government might do with her data. She appears to have backed off possibly because Minnesota is at risk of losing a congressional seat depending on its census results & population count relative to other states.

Glenn Beck in early March 2010 claimed that the race question which has been on the Census for a couple hundred years is now going to be used in a way such that minorities are worth more than whites.

“Today they are asking the race question to try to increase slavery. Your dependence on the master in Washington. No way, don’t answer that question,” he said.

Now I think we all know what he’s trying to say but let’s break down his fears of slavery and Bachmann’s assertions that the Census was used to target people of Japanese descent for the World War II internment camps. The dogwhistle here is: now that we have a black president, if you are white, you’re at a disadvantage. The brown people are gonna turn the tables and discriminate against whites using all the powers at their disposal the way whites treated minorities for much of the country’s history. If you put down that you’re white, well, you might as well march right up to the salt mines and labor camps that the communist darkies are setting up for all white people after they take away our guns, homes & jobs. <– Beck and Bachmann are cynically using the census to play to race hatred and are stoking fears of retaliation grounded in nothing but sick fantasies.

The fact is that minorities don’t want revenge! All we want are good schools, safe neighborhoods, decent jobs, reasonable healthcare, clean air and water, etc. The same things most Americans would agree upon. And the way we’d like to get there isn’t through taking away from some to give to others but to lift all boats, making sure that government and society gets out of the way of people trying to make it. We’d like for past discrimination to be accounted for and addressed so that we can transcend our shared history. Minorities want to move towards a more prosperous future and fair shake for all Americans, no matter the circumstances of your birth. Not to round up all the white folks and rob them at gunpoint. If we were planning to do that, frankly it probably would have happened already. We’re more about One Love than Beck’s One Fear.

Look folks, here’s the deal. The census has historically up to today’s time has been used for taxation, military, demographic, voting district and resource allocation purposes. More than $400 billion in federal funds are distributed every year to states and communities based in part on census population data.

The Census has asked about race & ethnicity in some form or another since 1790. Minorities in general in the United States are held to be undercounted which means that too often, communities with a large minority base may receive fewer public services.

If you don’t fill out the census, your community may not count as highly as another nearby group of people and resources your community needs for roads, schools, firehouses, ambulances etc. goes to someone else. Someone else who fills out the form.

The United States Congress approves every question on the census form. So let’s put aside the concept that there’s some conspiracy afoot. All of the questions are ones that have been used in prior Censuses. Congress has also passed many laws that depend on census data. These include the Voting Rights Act, the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, the National Affordable Housing Act, and the Veterans’ Benefit Program. Each of these laws specifies that the census must measure to ensure proper implementation of these laws to benefit American citizens.

I’m filling out the form because as an African-American (who’s a little bit Cherokee & Piscataway Indian too) I know that my community is depending on me. I’m going to fill out all the questions – even the racial ones. I look forward to the day when we can drop those questions off the form. In other countries, one of the questions often asked is about religion. We don’t ask that here because your religion shouldn’t matter and traditionally has mattered less than race & ethnicity when it comes to voting re-districting and public funds distribution. I hope that we get there someday. But for now, we must understand better the growth of our population as well as the changing socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of the American people.

I’d like to see more modern technology used – it would increase response rates among younger people, for instance, if people could respond to the Census using SMS and their mobile forms. There is no digital divide when you account for mobile internet. It would be significantly cheaper for the Census to use email or online forms rather than postal mail and would probably reduce the need for door-to-door checks. Evidently that will have to wait until the 2020 Census.

In the meantime, fill out your Census form and drop it in the mail! You’ll be participating in history. Thank you in advance.

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