the u.s. census and racebox.org

Some food for thought... writer/musician/educator Adriel Luis has posted his first blog entry for change.org's recently launched Race in America cause: Will Census Takers Color Outside the Racebox?.

Adriel takes a look at Racebox.org, a website archiving the "race" section from every single U.S. Census, from 1790 to 2010, and the intriguing questions that emerge about history's gradually changing and re-defined notions about race in the United States of America.
Racebox.org's omission of commentary cleverly presents artifacts in a way that clears the air for dialogue. Whether or not you feel personally affected by race, a simple glance at the Census' history incites reaction from those included and excluded alike. As a Chinese-American, I was intrigued by the lack of any Asian presence in the Census throughout most of the 1800's, and then the sudden boom in Asian ethnicities - from Korean to Hindu - beginning in 1930. My first reaction was, "The Census must've gotten a Filipino intern!" But a closer look at the Census' history shows that in between 1890 (which actually listed "octoroon" as an option) and 1930 (which introduced the "other" box) was a 30-year grace period where the Race section was merely a blank space. Could it be that smack in the middle of the Jim Crow era, the Census reached a point at which it decided to make race an open concept?

Since then, the Census has faced the challenge of encompassing the nation's increasingly diverse montage of races, ethnicities and identities. It's done so while offering up as few options as possible. But for a subject that was once left wide open, why do we continue to play Three Card Monte with the race card? Is it just physically too difficult to account for the infinite ways that we define ourselves - even if such diversity is at the heart of today's U.S. demographics?
Read the post, then take a look at Racebox.org. It's a really fascinating glimpse into America's history, as well as a look forward into where we're going as the nation becomes an increasingly diverse collection of races, ethnicities and identities -- and the race box becomes increasingly insufficient to capture that. And be sure to follow Adriel's future posts here.

angry archive