Census 2000: Just Say No To Race
This week (03/13/00), the US Census Bureau is mailing millions of census forms across the country, some long and most short, which include the infamous “Race-Ethnicity” questions. This gives every American a chance to formally renounce the superstition and vice that has plagued the history of this country and “Just say no!” to race and racism.
To meet its constitutional obligation of counting people for apportioning legislative districts and revenues, all the government needs to know is how many people live where. Name, date of birth, and gender are useful identifying information to avoid duplication. There are also useful things to be learned by getting data from a random sample on things like where people are rich or poor, or what languages – English and others – are understood by how many people. But counting and dividing people by “race” has never done good, and has always done harm, and it is long since time to stop.
This year the form first asks if you are a Hispanic or a Non-Hispanic. This makes a mockery of the wonderful ethnic diversity of this country. The question – “Religion – Are you a Protestant?” – would be a stupid question, would tell you nothing useful about anybody’s core beliefs, and would have no legitimate use in drawing congressional districts or apportioning public funds, and the census rightly does not ask such a question. Likewise, there is no need for government to know where people are or are not “Hispanic.” “Hispanic” and “Non-Hispanic” are political identities with a dubious history in this country, and you cannot, under the First Amendment, be required to state a political identity if you don’t feel like it. You may want to cross this one out, so they know you didn’t just forget to answer.
Then it asks what your “race” is. Answer it truthfully, though it makes no provision for a truthful answer. Check none of the boxes, including “other,” but write in “I do not belong to a race.” Race is a set of arbitrary groupings that are not biological but political, and as political groupings are the stupidest of all ways people choose up sides. Consider the concept of “White” or “Caucasian..” Now the OMB guidelines say that includes Europeans, North Africans, and West Asians (this being news to a lot of “white” racists!), but arbitrarily excludes the Indian subcontinent. So Shakespeare’s Othello the Moor, a North African, is “White.” A Persian is “White,” but a Punjabi is not. Go figure. And don’t forget that, in Russia, Caucasians are “Black.”
The myth of a White Race, some great indefinable trans-national kinship group that includes northwest Europeans and a variable selection of other people, depending on who’s prejudices are showing, is one of the Great Bad Ideas of human history. It is an evil superstition that has pervaded our history and culture, to no end of harm, and it is time to renounce it. Quitting racism may be as difficult as curing an addiction, but it can’t be done without a formal and public decision to do it. And telling Americans to identify themselves by race is like telling a recovering alcoholic to keep liquor in the house.
The truth is, there is no such thing as a White Race. So no living person should check the “White” box. White people are people who died by ice.
Calling people “Black” has historically not been for any benevolent purpose. Indeed, there is probably no set of labels that could be more divisive than calling people “Black and White.” Black people are people who died by fire. Living people can skip that box too.
I suppose that there’s some point in checking the American Indian or Alaska Native box if you are part of a political entity that has treaty obligations it wants enforced, but the Asian and Pacific Islander section has no legitimate governmental purpose. Why would the government need to know about everyone who is Chinese or Filipino or Samoan, and not need to know everyone who is German, Armenian, or Nigerian? Not for any good and useful purpose.
The Census Bureau’s statement that it requires “race” according to the official groupings is a Congressionally mandated lie. Any use of “race” in apportioning funds or drawing legislative districts is blatantly unconstitutional. And, since “race” is not a scientific fact, but a political identity, we all have an absolute right under the First Amendment, as well as a historic duty to prevent further wrongs, to renounce “racial identity” on the Census Form and for all other purposes in the future.
Can boycotting the Race Question eliminate prejudice? No, not unless one follows up on it – by not answering to “White” or “Black” or so speaking of others, and recognizing strong emotional response to contrasting pigmentation or facial features as a Sinful Thought upon which it is forbidden to act, as one might do with feelings of sexual attraction toward someone whom it would be a sin to touch.
So start now. Just say “No!” to race, and send in the form, and be counted as a human being.
Text of E-Mail to Census Bureau
Can you please make it clear in your publicity that answering the Race and Hispanicness questions is voluntary, and that no one may be compelled to answer them?
Under the First Amendment of the Constitution, a person may not be compelled to either make or not make a statement of political or religious loyalty. Racial and ethnic identity are not objective facts, like age and gender, but political groupings which the government may no more require someone to identify with, any more than it may require someone to identify with a political party or an organized religion.
The government could never require me to say either “I am a Protestant (specify)” or “I am a Non-Protestant,” even if I am promised that my reply will be confidential. Likewise it could never require me to check one or more boxes for the religion or religions I might practice, and/or write in my own, even though people in government or the economy might find the demographic information terribly useful. If Congress were to make a law to demand such answers, we would know that it was unconstitutional and therefore not a law.
At least organized religion has done some good in this world, but “racial identity” has done only harm. Therefore I consider a demand any demand that I conform to the Race Myth to be equivalent to a demand that I bow down to my choice of heathen idols.
Though Congress may have commanded you to ask these questions, neither you nor Congress may command the public to answer them. Please make it clear in your publicity that the government neither requires people to bow down to heathen idols (which we know it does not), nor to identify themselves as members of a race.
Mr. Mattis is a small business owner, self-described “bleeding heart libertarian” and publishes several websites. Visit his sites below:
Here’s what the American Anthropological Association has to say about “Race.”
Additional Links of Interest
and James A. Landrith, Jr. of The Multiracial Activist
Copyright © 2000 James K. Mattis and The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.