2010 Census: Behind the Times

By Beverly Frimpong
Elm Staff Writer

Census 2010: “It’s in our hands.” The year 2010 brought with it many surprises, reassurances, devastations, hope and all sorts of issues that come with each new year. But one expected change was the update of the national census. This is something that many people do not give any real thought to, and thus often fail to fill out the forms. I am often one of those people. This year’s advertisements on the part of the U.S. Department of Commerce were very effective in reaching many individuals from all walks of life, from the older generations, to middle age generations, and even students, who in the past have proven to be difficult candidates for the department to persuade. Yet, many groups and organizations at Washington College went above and beyond to spread the word and get people to complete these short forms. The level of involvement and sheer interest exemplified by the institution swayed me to fill out my census. The process in completing the census, however, was a revelatory experience.

As I began filling out the form, it was pretty straightforward. It asked the usual questions of one’s first and last name, date of birth, sex, and origin. Of course, the available options of origins were, for some reason, centered on Hispanic origins. Not having any relevance to me, I moved on from that section into the race identification section. It was the usual set up. The options were white, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, and so forth. Having performed this process numerous times, I half-consciously moved down to the second choice, black or African American, and checked it.

I was just about to move on when I noticed another description, that in my year of filling forms in the U.S., I have never come across before. I was so stunned and surprised that I simply stared at the paper for a good minute, with my mouth open and eyes wide. I asked a couple of my friends if they noticed what I noticed, and one of them commented that they retraced their steps to the beginning of the form, just to clarify that they were not imagining things.

The second option in the race identification section had black, African American, or Negro. I cannot understand why the Bureau would have Negro as part of the list that describes blacks. Now, this word is a far cry from any derogatory insults. Nevertheless, one can not help but remember of the days it was used. Who in this century introduces himself using such description? I have yet to hear a person walk in the room and introduce himself as such: “Hi my name is John Johnson, I am a Negro from New York and I love to play basketball.”

Individuals use terms like African American or black. Why is this so? The time reference associated with the term Negro turns individuals off in using it to describe themselves. Furthermore, the form only provides various descriptions to all races except for the white race. There are no multiple terms like Caucasian or Anglo-Saxon. It simply states white. For the 2010 Census to incorporate this description is something of a puzzling nature. Though I found it to be amusing simply because of the shock factor, I also found it uncomfortable to complete the form.

Thus, whether the forms are simply outdated or not, these terms must be edited to reflect the current time. If it is truly in our hands, then we must see to it that we are all represented fairly and appropriately.

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