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Ridiculousness: The 2010 U.S. Census and Race

Let’s play a game called “How many ridiculous elements can you find in the 2010 U.S. Census Race form!” Study the photo below and chuckle. I’ll start, and you add on.

U.S. Census Race form 2010
U.S. Census Race Form: Can you find at least 10 things wrong with it?

1.) There is no box at all for Arab or Middle Eastern.

2.) Where do Cape Verdeans (a Portuguese-creole-speaking island off Africa with a big population in Boston) check?

3.) “Negro”???!!!!

4.) Should European “Spaniard” really be under “Latino/Hispanic”? There are entire college courses dedicated to this debate, but if we’re talking about Latin American origin when we say “Latino,” “Brazilian” should be on the list. If we’re talking Latin origin languages, European Italians and Romanians should be on there, too.

5.) Why is “Asian Indian” its own category, but “Pakistani” is under the flippant category of “Other Asian”? They used to be the same country! Further, the whole tone of “Some Other Race,” is just downright sassy!

6.) Where do Haitians, Jamaicans, and people from the West Indies in general (who comprise large populations in New England) check?

7.) Overall, it seems that this Census form has the whole concept of Race and Ethnicity conflated and convoluted. From my studies, I’ve learned that “Race has to do with visual characteristics (ex: skin color, and face and hair characteristics), and is sometimes divided in the five categories: Caucasiod, Congoid, Capoid, Mongloid, and Australiod.Ethnicity,” on the other hand, has more to do with one’s country or human-divided region of origin (ex: Canadian).

8.) Therefore, to be more accurate (though perhaps just as ridiculous), there should be a “Race” section addressing physical characteristics (ex: matching one’s skin color from a display… which would cause an uproar of course, but which would be more accurate), an “Ethnicity” section for country of origin (with follow-up questions for country of origin of parents and ancestors), and a “Language” section which would address the “Latino/Hispanic” question more completely.

9.) Now let’s take a moment to realize how different each country’s concept of Race and Ethnicity is! When my brother was volunteering at a school in Brazil, he witnessed, horrified, entire lessons dedicated to correctly naming the color of each little child’s skin. In America, it’s rude to discuss such things! But physical differences do exist, and it’s ultimately more accurate to describe them than to skirt around it like this bumbling Census form does!

10.) All right… You take it from here. What else can we say about our poor, misguided Census 2010 Race Form?


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Monday 4th of March 2013

Aaaaaand this is why in France race does not appear on any kind of census (same goes for religion--another big no-no in France), it is against the law to formally collect this kind of data. Honestly I have never seen the point of collecting data on this because the labels are too confusing. I personally do not care how many people of so and so race live in America.


Monday 4th of March 2013

So interesting how different countries deal with race!


Monday 4th of March 2013

At last!!! The Census has decided to remove "Negro".


Monday 4th of March 2013

At last! Delia makes a good point below, though, about why it remained.


Monday 4th of March 2013

there's actually a particular process for getting a race added to the census. arabs in particular have been trying to get added for several decades, but can't quite get the political will. many have it right when they mention the strange historical remnants represented here. for example, back when the option was to be listed as black or white, arabs opted to be included with whites, because of the higher value and better treatment for whites at the time. there's also the issue of all the non-arab middle eastern people, like persians, jews, copts, turks, berbers, or other groups in north africa. it also seems strange to me that there isn't a race-related jewish question. i know that gets tricky and not everyone feels that it counts as a race or ethnicity, but many feel it does.

as for the word negro, that one is definitely controversial but has remained because many older african-americans have spent their lives identifying with that term. fun fact: at one time, referring to someone as an african-american was an insult, because it was insinuating that they should "go back to africa."

there's also the issue of haitians. while many identify as black, not all identify as african-american. and as far as data collection goes, some of the information that could be useful would make more sense when looked at alongside latinos, which of course opens up its own bag of worms. there are also many people who self-identify as latino, but may appear african american to someone who doesn't know them. it also seems strange to me to smooth over latinos when there are so many different racial categories within that monniker.

i think my biggest issue with how we discuss race in the US (as well as in the census) is our inability to use precise terminology, or terms that are consistent. is the purpose to find out skin color, or ancestry/country of origin? what are we really trying to learn? both are useful, but these questions won't necessarily give a clear answer for either.

glad to see so many people weighing in on such an important topic.


Monday 4th of March 2013

Fascinating background and insights!

Qiyin Y.

Saturday 16th of June 2012

Man, the cenus is sure outdated. They need to add a section that says "What do you look like?" to clear things up a bit. What do you do if you're not on there? The "some other race" box is so disrespectful! They have to change things up by 2020!

Kevin Armstrong

Thursday 24th of March 2011

Why does it say "Some other race" at the bottom instead of "Other race" it seems disrespectful.

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