I'm always being asked why I study identity politics issues such as race, ethnicity, sex, and age.
The implication is that those aren't appropriate topics for respectable discussion.
Yet the Census form that recently arrived in your mailbox shows that the U.S. government is quietly obsessed with those same questions.
The Constitution defines the decennial Census as an "enumeration"—i.e., a count of everybody. Therefore, the questionnaire is kept relatively short. (The Census Bureau asks more detailed questions on a vast variety of subjects on its monthly American Community Survey sample of 250,000.)
What questions are considered so critical to the government in 2010 that the Census has to ask them of every single resident?
Of the ten questions on the 2010 form, five are concerned with enumeration (for example, asking your name and phone number) and one with whether you own your home (with or without a mortgage). The other four deal with identity:
6. What is Person 1's sex?
7. What is Person 1's age and Date of Birth?
8. Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?
9. What is Person 1's race?
In contrast, there are—of course—no questions asked about whether the resident is a citizen or is even in the country legally.
Personally, I believe that paying careful attention to what the state is doing is public-spirited. But it's more fashionable to be studiedly naïve and ignorant about race. For example, liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias recently proclaimed:
Yet, why in the world would they want to be white when they win money and prizes from the government for being legally nonwhite? You get more of what you pay for. And the U.S. pays people to consider themselves non-white.
Thus, since the 1960s, all the movement has been away from being seen as white. For example, Indian immigrants used to be officially white. But South Asian businessmen successfully lobbied the Reagan Administration in 1982 to have Indians reclassified from Caucasian to Asian category so that they could get on the gravy train for low interest SBA minority development loans and minority preferences on government contracting.
When you stop and think about it, it's bizarre that Indians, the highest income recent immigrant group, receives legal preference over native-born U.S. citizens from the U.S. government. But it's considered in bad taste to suggest that Indians should give up their racial privileges.
The Census seems to furnishes a good time to think about how the government classifies people by race and ethnicity—abstruse-sounding questions that turn out to be hugely important.
By themselves, the ten Census questions only allow the government to determine:
The first purpose follows directly from the Constitution, which mandates that Census results be to be used for redistricting every ten years.
One little-known oddity about the Census: illegal immigrants are currently counted the same as citizens in drawing up Congressional and legislative districts. Highly Hispanic districts thus tend to be "rotten boroughs" representing relatively few actual citizens a.k.a. voters, which makes a mockery of the Supreme Court's principle of one-man-one-vote.
For example, in 2008, immigrant enthusiast Democrat Xavier Becerra won re-election in California's 31st Congressional District, a heavily illegal immigrant part of Los Angeles County, in an election that saw only 111,000 votes cast. In contrast, in California's 50th Congressional District in suburban north San Diego County, Republican Brian Bilbray won a race in which a total of 312,000 votes were cast. Each individual voter in Bilbray's district counts for only 36% as much as an individual voter in Becerra's district.
Let's turn to the government's second purpose, finding out your Race and Ethnicity. These questions on the Census form provoke a little more public discussion. Hence, the Census Bureau's official justification of its Race question claims:
You may wonder what data have to do with "fairness of employment practices." After all, civil rights laws are usually justified as being about blacks not having to sit in the back of the bus, which you probably haven't seen much of lately.
So how does anti-discrimination compliance get assessed by race data, anyway? Because, in reality, civil rights programs these days are mostly based on numbers—"Disparate Impact"—not actual, you know, discrimination ("Disparate Treatment").
Statistics can't measure equal opportunity, just equal results. The government starts with the assumption that if, say, employment rates diverge from population makeup by more than one-fifth, it's the employer's obligation to disprove the presumption of illegal discrimination. In other words, the feds' message is: Impose quotas upon yourselves or expect to pay a fortune in legal fees.
As the Census Bureau says, these numbers are thus used to calculate the size of these implicit and explicit quotas. And not just for employment. For example, the 2010 Census questionnaire was specifically designed to enable the government to calculate conveniently ethnic and racial disparities in home ownership. As you may recall, George W. Bush cited ethnic and racial differences from the 2000 Census at his 2002 White House Conference on Increasing Minority Homeownership to justify zero down payment mortgages and other government-encouraged tricks to undercut old-fashioned credit standards. Similarly, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac quotas are assigned by Census tract.
(Remind me again: How'd that work out for us last time?
(And why are we doing it again?)
By the way: no, you can't cut yourself in for a piece of the preference pie just by declaring yourself a minority on your Census form. There's no connection between how you answer on the Census and whether or not employers and the government think you personally are eligible for affirmative action.
Another oddity: why does the government care about your "ethnicity" if you are Hispanic—but doesn't care about your ethnicity if you are anything else? Why are some ethnics more equal than others? (For that matter, why is Ethnicity on the Census form when, say, Religion is not?)
Because Hispanics get special privileges under the law. The Ethnicity question exists as a supplement to Race to allow Hispanics to benefit from American anti-racism programs while remaining racist themselves.
A large fraction of Latinos are adamant that they are white. (Latin American cultures are notoriously biased against blacks and Amerindians.) Whites aren't legally privileged in modern America. So how can Hispanics have their cake (being white) and eat it (getting privileges over whites), too?
By concocting a legal status ("Ethnicity") that only exists for Hispanics. This enables them to get in on the Disparate Impact Express, just like blacks and Amerindians, without admitting to being any bit black or Indian!
It's ridiculous. But most Americans find Latinos too boring to think about. So the vast majority of attention is devoted to arguing over the Race question rather than the Ethnicity question, even though the former is more likely to be a hopeless political cause.
Note also that the Census Bureau goes on to assert in its justification of the Ethnicity question that
"State and local governments may use the data to help plan and administer bilingual programs for people of Hispanic origin."
The Bureau isn't even trying to make sense here, because the Ethnicity question doesn't ask anything about language, just "origin." The obvious intent, of course, is to maximize the number of clients that the bilingualism a.k.a. Spanish-language lobby can claim.
Another Ethnicity v. Race oddity that nobody notices: the Census allows individuals to declare themselves multiracial—but not multiethnic.
Since 2000, Census respondents have been permitted to choose as many races as they find they need to describe themselves. The 2010 form states: "Mark one or more races to indicate what this person considers himself/herself to be."
People with parents of different races had lobbied hard for this in the 1990s. They argued that being forced to pick just one racial identity for themselves was in effect requiring them to decide whether they loved their mother or father most.
Significantly, however, those kinds of concerns don't seem to bother President Barack Obama at all. Although he was largely raised by his white relations, and he only spent a single month with his Kenyan father after he was an infant, the "post-racial" President has checked just one box in 2010: "Black, African Am., or Negro."
As I point out in my reader's guide to the President's memoirs, America's Half-Blood Prince, the preppie from Honolulu labored for years to convince himself that he was black enough to be a black leader. This career plan induced him to publish an autobiography entitled Dreams from My Father just as his white mother was dying of cancer.
Yet another little-known oddity about the Census: for the government's main purpose in asking about Race and Ethnicity—calculating the size of quotas— technically, it doesn't matter whether Obama puts himself down as just black or as black and white anyway. That's because the Clinton Administration announced on March 9, 2000 that the government will simply ignore the white box. For use in civil rights enforcement and monitoring, the OMB bulletin declared, "Responses that combine one minority race and white are [to be] allocated to the minority race."
So allowing multiracial responses winds up just enlarging anti-white racial quotas.
And it turns out to be good thing that nobody is allowed to choose to both be Hispanic and non-Hispanic, because that would just increase anti-white quotas even more.
When it comes to filling out the Census form and mailing it in, white people tend to be both the most conscientious (the town with highest response rate so far is Dubuque, Iowa), and also the most troubled by idealistic objections to counting by race and ethnicity. Some are refusing to fill in the race and ethnicity questions. Others are putting in answers for Race such as "Human" or "American."
The intention is noble. But this game was rigged a long time ago. Your every move was anticipated.
The beneficiaries of quotas pay a lot more attention to the rules of the game than do their quota benefactors, who only get even slightly interested when their Census surveys arrive every ten years.
The time to organize is between Censuses. But the important step is to organize. These issues are too crucial to continue to leave wholly to the good will of minority activists.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]