This semester I have been inundated with information regarding race, class, gender and other subgroups that people can be categorized into. While very little attention is paid to the under-supported carrot-tops, I often come across examples that arch over my hair-centric focus to remind me of larger challenges and social perceptions in the world today.
I was reading an article by Jennifer Modenessi of the Contra Costa Times called: Framing mixed race: The Face of America is Changing (posted online 2/7/10).
The following excerpt was really interesting to me and reminded me about the flux of the nation and the race for people to find ways to categorize them.
“According to the most recent U.S. census, the number of people identifying as mixed race is growing. California’s mixed-race population, by percentage, ranks fifth in the nation, and data from the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimates that more than 4 percent of Bay Area residents identify as belonging to two or more races. Though that number may seem low and could be attributed to people of mixed heritage choosing to identify with one race, a look at the Bay Area’s diversity suggests the 2010 census could reveal much higher numbers. Still, more youths are being raised in interracial homes, often by mixed-race parents who are encouraging their children to embrace their diverse backgrounds, said sociologist and UC Santa Barbara professor G. Reginald Daniel.”
There is also the question of racial and identity sensitivity that comes into play when Census takers are flooding into neighborhoods around the nation to ask people, “What are you?”
That loaded question that people say so nonchalantly – never knowing what a crisis that could trigger in someone who has never thought in those terms or for those who struggle with that question constantly.
One of the sources quoted in the above-mentioned article struck me especially hard when a woman is explaining how she never gets the opportunity to tell people what she is because the assumptions win over the security of asking: “For some, the question never comes. Moses, 29, an Oakland resident, said she’s rarely asked about her ethnicity or background. With her pale skin, long red hair and freckles, not many people guess that her late father was black, Native American and white.”
(Most of my followers knew a redhead would get in here somewhere.)
It seems as if there is no winning in the world of categorization. If you ask then you may offend and when you don’t then you are assuming and stereotyping. But I think grappling with these concerns is a great exercise. It’s reminder that people who don’t fit into clear boxes should be more visible.
One of the major purposes of Census’ is to get a read on the country and what different types of people that makes up the national community.
In this case I implore that anyone looking to make those easy bucks as a Census taker this year – DON’T ASSUME: ASK. There are too many horror stories of Census takers checking boxes when they don’t understand or believe the residents’ response and falling back on appearance and stereotyping. The face of the nation is changing and any steps to remind people of that is an opportunity for learning and growth.