Why persons of African heritage should register for the Census 2010
By Paul I. Adujie in New York
Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston and USAfricaonline.com
There is strength in numbers. So goes an age old adage. That adage seems to be a perfect imperative for continental Africans and all peoples of African descent who need to be counted in the US Census of 2010, and even beyond.
Recently, I was in the city of Harlem, the hometown of all of New York City, and the premier cultural nerve center or capital city for African Americans and continental Africans, and all of Diaspora Africans in the United States. I attended an all-day event planned by the United States Census Board. The event was held at the City University of New York (CUNY) Campus and it was coordinated by some continental Africans’ social cultural and religious groups led by Ben Afrifa
The US Census Board was represented by a panel which comprised several persons, and the officials made presentations and thereafter invited questions during an extensive questions and answers session.
The purpose of their presentation was to emphasize the crucially important nature of US Census exercises which are conducted once every ten years. The preceding census was conducted in the year 2000, hence there is a US Census exercise scheduled for March 2010.The next exercise will be in the year 2020 as stipulated in the U.S constitution.
It is important to say that some African American leaders including The Reverend Jesse Jackson, The Reverend Al Sharpton and others have in the past few days joined the public enlightenment campaigns to ensure complete and accurate count of black peoples during the Census.
It is apparent that previous US Census exercises have seen rampant incidents of continental Africans and peoples of African descent being under counted and under represented in the total US population.
The implication of being undercounted and under represented is very consequential. In the United States and most parts of the world, knowing the true census figure allows for policy formulations and implementations. It facilitates political districting and redistricting for electoral and electioneering purposes. Knowing the census figures and the components parts thereof, also allows for the accurate or at least, the near accurate allocation of resources. Demography remains a key component part of public policy tools and machineries of government system, and more particularly so, in the American representative democracy.
Knowing the total population of Americans in each state helps in the allocations of public infrastructure, housing, senior citizens centers, social amenities, healthcare, childcare, social services, job training and projects in a representative democracy. The creation of Schools and their funding, the establishment of hospitals and government support for them, the allocation of trains, buses and other public transportation systems and sundry matters of daily community living are directly affected by population of people and other organs of societies through the determination of the population of various communities. Our communities should no longer be hardest to count or undercounted. Accurate census figure or demography assists local state and federal authorities in decision making.
The United States government attaches a value of $400 billion dollars in federal dollars and political representation for the benefit of all residents of the United States and this can be lost or diminished through apathy, undercounting and ignorance.
We are here, and since we are already here, we should participate in the census and be counted. Our clout and cohesiveness, political and economic will derive from knowing accurately what our exact numbers really are.
In my view, it is almost irrelevant whether some of us arrived these shores of North America by force or otherwise, haven survived the horrors and brutalities of slavery, or through fairly recent political asylum statuses or merely as refugees or as seekers of greener pasture.
Make no mistakes, the American legal and political structures regard all of us as Blacks, irrespective of our manners of arrival here. Therefore, it would be a great disservice to ourselves and our children should we decide to remain uncounted or under-represented in this political and socio-economic makings of this great nation.
We must therefore participate in the forthcoming US Census exercise as one unit and one community. There is no need for the usual pretenses of some of us who pretend to be British, French, or Black Chinese.
The truth is, in America, the law has established a very singular categorization for all of us and it is Blacks. Like it or dislike it. Besides, we should endeavor to always think the big picture, which is, the fact that our history, our present and future are irreversibly and inextricably linked forever, and we might just as well do everything possible to enhance, exemplify and advance our economic and political powers, and harness and harvest them for our collective benefits.
There seem to be some immigrants who would rather prefer to be counted as Ghanaians, Haitians, Jamaicans or Bahian of Brazil or Black Cuban or Black Honduran or Nigerian, South African or Black British or Black French Girl and the list is endless. But my advice is that we unite and work with what there is. It is what it is- Blacks!
The reality of our situation is that we are all Blacks or Africans. We should cease being too fancy or engaging in self-denials. We should stop being clever by half. We should stop being afflicted with the Tiger Woods complex and complicated definition of who we really truly are.
American laws, American social structures, and the realities of practical everyday life define all of us as one, regardless of some strenuous albeit, unimportant objections for a more nuanced definition of our origins.
An American Comedian, Chris Rock, I think it was or David Chappelle, who once joked, presciently, that an American police officer accosting a Black motorist on any American highway, if motivated by racism, such police officer would not care at all, the nationality or racial variation-combination of the person who is driving-while-Black. And the guy or lady, who is overwhelmed because of a black person’s presence in his business premises, say, in a store, and if motivated by racism only sees a Black does not care about your profession or income level and or sense of decency, you are seen just as Black, such is the irrationality of racism.
Continental Africans, African Americans, and all peoples of African descent are perceived the same way, whether and even if, they are President Obama, or Professor Louis Gates or Tiger Woods of the multiple racial background ambivalence or notoriety.
As a practical matter, the current US Census forms only provide an all- embracing, all -encapsulating category or definition for continental Africans, African Americans, and peoples of African descent from everywhere worldwide. Period. We should make this singular definition work for us all, and it is almost irrelevant whether the definition was originally intended as an evil spite or disregards for us.We do know that there is strength in the large number which will come about if we follow the current configuration of the current US Census Forms. The current US Census Forms only allow or permit our categorization by skin color, and we should check it, it is the appellation or description which we all already know, it is, BLACK.
As we participate in the 2010 US Census, we should check the column which is designated for our race by the US Government. As an additional measure for those so inclined, there is a blank column or portion of the US Census Form where a participant could handwrite specific or particular nationality after checking Black in the requisite column. You could then handwrite Kenyan or Trinidadian.
The US Census officials also informed us at the gathering that depending on the strength of our demand (strength in numbers again), it could in 2020 and subsequent census exercises amend and fine tune the forms to accommodate certain or peculiar categories and that the US Census Bureau has actually made such adjustments in the past except that the number of demands have to justify the expense and more importantly such demands have to be made well in time and well in advance of a census season which as we all know, occurs once every ten years. The important thing is for all of us to participate and be actively engaged in the economic, political, social, and cultural activities of our new places of residence.
I strongly hold the expansive view that we are one and indivisible part of collective past and future. And as such, continental Africans, African Americans, and all peoples of African descent should always join hands in soulful embrace for our economic, political and social cultural betterments. We are not peculiarly unique or distinctly different from each other. We have a common origin. We share a common checkered history, and we should be united in creating a wonderfully great future for all of us together as one. The forthcoming US Census exercise should be seen by all of us from this and not a divisive perspective.
In the end and at the end of the 2010 US Census exercise, it may turn out that we are actually 60 million instead of the current undercount which hovers at 40 million within the US total population of over 300 million people.
There are genuine reasons for disenchantments by continental Africans, African Americans and all other peoples of African descent in America. This disenchantments or apathy with the American legal and political system is historical and understandable. It is the case, it has been the case that all through the checkered history of our peoples in these parts of the world, our votes and our numbers and our labors have been denied, undervalued, and demeaned or disregarded. It therefore takes little convincing for so many in our peoples to become apathetic, disenchanted and disengaged from activities such as the census exercise.
It is public knowledge that among and within the Black community in the United States these days, there is also a sizeable population of immigrants. Some are continental Africans, others are mostly from the Caribbean nations or West Indies, and yet, other peoples of African descent from Europe and other continents. A subset of immigrants who are persons of African descent in America has additional hurdles and burdens of concern regarding regularizations of immigration status. But one step at a time.
New immigrants, it must be understood, are primarily focused on and concerned with matters solely related to the issues of their daily survival in the new country. These are the rather mundane issues of food and shelter and the barest minimum of daily human existence. And new immigrants are, as well, understandably in trepidations of any act on their parts which could or might expose their imperfect immigration statuses.
Therefore, it is surely understandable that a new immigrant, and in particular, a new immigrant with average education level may be unaware that the US Census by law and as a practical matter does not share information with the US Immigration Department, Homeland Security/ICE or any other law enforcement agencies. The US Census’s primary obligation is to determine how many persons are in the United States at a given census season and this is regardless of the citizenship and or, imperfect immigration statuses of the persons in the United States. And as such, they are counted by the enumerators of the US Census Board. Only in very few cities in America, such as New York City, where mayors, have through immigrant friendly executive orders, enjoined city agencies and departments to refrain from exposing immigrants’ immigration statuses to federal authorities, whose duty it is to enforce immigration.
We, among other things, suggested to the officials to nudge and encourage relevant US agencies, such as the Department of Justice and the Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Janet Napolitano (the former governor of the state of Arizona) Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE) to make conspicuous and even ostentatious announcements to the effect of making it abundantly clearly and publicly that enumerators, US Census managers and anyone connected with the US Census exercise is prohibited and forbidden from disclosing any confidential information including an immigrant’s irregular immigration status to anyone just the same way medical conditions are considered a matter of absolute privacy except and unless necessary for the protection and preservation of the life of the individual concerned.
Just like a patient’s Bill of Rights ensures, among other things, confidential medical information remains as such, confidential. And the US Census officials assured us that they would pass our suggestions along. They repeatedly assured us that immigrants should voluntarily participate in the forthcoming US Census exercise without fear of repercussion or hassles over any immigration statuses.
And that as a matter of fact, some census employees are immigrants themselves. They speak various African and Diaspora Languages spoken by peoples of African descent. There just is no excuse to be left out. The US Census 2010 motivational phase begins March 19, 2009 through April 19, 2010. Then the non-response or follow-up operations are from April through July 2009. US Census Day is April 1, 2010.
Tell your family, your friends, your colleagues, and your fellows at your place of worship, and at the barber shop, grocery and other corner stores that a complete and accurate count is in our own hands. If you miss out we all miss out and might not get the community benefits that we stand to get should our total population be known.