Dear Census-Taker: I’m a Conservative, Liberal, Subversive, Patriotic American

It’s Census time, and there’s a nefarious conservative plot afoot to undermine the gummint by subverting the racial purity of the decennial enumeration. The idea is to answer the racial question by ignoring the familiar black/white/Asian categories, selecting “Other,” and writing in “American.”

How do I know it’s a conservative plot?  Well, it’s been discussed at length in The Corner.  Taranto posted on his Facebook page that he “was American before it was cool,” and backed it up with a link to his article at the time of the 2000 census, where he advocated essentially the same thing.   There’s even a menacing quote from uber-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.”

So it must be a conservative plot — except the Web Goddess doesn’t see it that way.  When I first mentioned the idea to her, she said it appeals to her from a liberal perspective.  The twist she suggests is to move back one step further and answer the race question with “Other – human.” There’s a logic to that, but it passes up an opportunity to make a patriotic statement.  If some future World Government takes a census, I’ll answer “human” on that one.

Another idea is for anyone who was born and raised in this country to answer “Native American” — but the Census folks seem to have anticipated this.  If you look at the form reproduced above, the category is labeled “American Indian or Alaska Native” — there is no Native American box to check.

One thing that’s clear is that you shouldn’t lie, as “native American” Hans A. von Spakovsky writes:

Congress has directed through a federal law that anyone who “refuses or willfully neglects…to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions” on the Census form can be fined $100 (13 U.S.C. § 221).  If you deliberately give a false answer, you can be fined up to $500.  Although there are not a lot of reported prosecutions, this statutory requirement has been upheld by the courts as constitutional.

So the standard I have to meet is answering “to the best of [my] knowledge.”  OK, here are some samples of my knowledge:

  • I know that data on race helps fuel the racial grievance industry. (I do not know of any counterbalancing, non-pernicious use for racial data.)
  • I know that any moral justification there may once have been for Affirmative Action (and other forms of race-based discrimination) has disappeared with the election of a black president.  Equality of opportunity should be the standard, not equality of outcome.
  • I know the approach the Census takes to racial identity is utterly ridiculous and inconsistent.  Start with the question itself, as reproduced above.  Note that one of the choices offered under “Other Asian” is “Pakistani.” In the words of Mark Krikorian, who touched off the debate in The Corner:

    If “Pakistani” — a political/religious identity invented in 1934 — is a “race,” then “American” is a race.

    (“Invented” is the correct term, btw. There is no ethnic Paki tribe – the word started out as an acronym. But I digress.)

  • I know more than 20 million people chose “American” as their race in the 2000 Census — making it the third-ranking choice, after “German” and “African American.”  Here’s the data from the U.S. Census’s “Ancestry” page.  (Yes, I know that race, ethnicity and ancestry all mean different things, but the Census seems to use the terms interchangeably.)  And here’s a more user-friendly version of the Census spreadsheet — I’ve eliminated empty-category noise and sorted by top answers. It turns out that “English” outpolls “Mexican,” although if you lump in “Mexicano” and “Mexican-American,” the Mexicans surge ahead. “Human” doesn’t show up, it must be lumped in with “Not Reported.”

So it turns out that to the best of my knowledge, I’m an American.  Who’s with me?