Monday, October 10, 2011

Really Pedro? Really?

It was the emperor Servius Tullius, (6th king of Rome, technically an Estruscan) who invented the first census we know of. His reasoning, we are told, is that once you knew what you had in the way of families, males of a certain age, women, children etc. you could ascertain your potential as a nation, and also identify your limits and needs; As a ruler he could tell if he would have a shortfall of men to supply his armies with soldiers, or whether a growing population of aged, or infant classes demanded a need for food surplus to be generated or procured from foreign trade sources.

The Census is one of the great gifts (among many) that the Roman civilization’s ancient governments have given the modern world: The ability to know the size and characteristics of your nation’s population through tallies and demography.

But as John Madden once famously said; you can use statistics to prove anything.

As self-conflictingly Berra-esque as that statement of Madden’s playfully makes its curved point, its relevance to the science and practice of demography can’t be overstated in America. We are a Republic of districts, boroughs, counties, hamlets and parishes… it all makes about as much sense as the variegated shape and contours of baseball fields as equivalent platforms for playing the same game in principle.

Recently some surprising statistics leapt out of the National Census’s recent efforts.
“Whites” were seen as growing in the tallies accrued in 2010. Nothing shocking about that in and of itself except that it suddenly trended against the last several decades of demography. Upon further investigation, it turned out the increase was due to a nuance in classification; or more specifically an option in classification. Hispanics and Latinos are not recognized as a “race” by the Census. The Census forms explicitly say so. This of course flies in the face of centuries of institutional racism and conflict in the Americas, because anyone familiar with the word “Spic” would tell you it’s not a synonym for Yankee. There’s a wall being proposed to keep out Mexicans, -not Canadians.
The Census forms only allow for identifications of Hispanic Black, or Hispanic White, or Non-Hispanic White, or “some other race” where Hispanics are concerned. It seems Hispanics, filling out forms in the secrecy and anonymity of the enclosed world of their minds, were marking themselves down as Hispanic White, or White altogether.

It’s an ironic development in so far as one of the Census’ objectives is to allocate resources to communities at risk, or with special needs, such as English as Second Language classes for children of immigrants in hopes of assimilating them into the workforce and society more functionally, -more comprehensively. If it suddenly looks like there’s only “White” people in Spanish Harlem, the funds for that kind of schooling may never come to that district, to name one possible consequence.

I’ve always marked down “some other race.” I’m Hispanic: The cops and all the gatekeepers of all the places I wasn’t welcome in as a youth never let me forget it, so there I will spitefully stay on the Census form, if only out of respect for my younger self and all of his hassles. I can understand the allure of wanting to pass as a member of a dominant class, it’s an obvious one, with obvious benefits, and with some dark, nasty drawbacks because at the heart of this all is a capitulation to the old-world idea that race is biologically consequential or “real.” At the heart of all this is the belief that skin color itself and not the social reality that stigmatizes it that determines one’s future.
I know someday, we’ll all just insist on being human counted as “human.” Although I’ve somehow managed to see the election of an African American president, I suspect that other day is a much longer way off, when so many of us are willing to mark down a color as if it were some portent of winning some crazy game in which we know everybody loses eventually.