Census Day arriving quickly

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By Anthony Russell Jerry, Special to Inglewood Today

(Anthony Jerry is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology University of California, Riverside)

Census day is quickly approaching and political and media campaigns are in full swing to reach out to millions of Americans in an effort to count the entire population.  As part of the heightened attention on the mathematics associated with the nations demographics – Race, Ethnicity, Sex (not gender or sexuality), Homeowner or Renter – the question of the “Hard to…” once again arises.  The Census has determined that there are a number of communities that are Hard to…locate, interview, persuade, and/or count.  The issue then, is what makes a community Hard to Count?  In short, the answer to this question is, anyone who has been marginalized in some form or another.  This marginalization could be a consequence of any number of experiences.  Being a renter, having not achieved a high school diploma, having some form of “disability”, being low-income, experiencing homelessness, being a member of a cultural or linguistic minority, being undocumented, or being a racial or ethnic minority.  While it is easy to identify these specific populations, addressing the specifics as to why these populations continue to be Hard to Count is more difficult.  For some, it may be that barriers such as language limit the effectiveness of traditional methods of reaching and counting communities.  Yet for others, the lack of a permanent address might hinder Census efforts to locate and document the existence of millions of homeless or housing insecure.  However, a more difficult question to answer is what makes Black Communities Hard to Count?  Perhaps a better question is, how to address the specifics around a shared mistrust among Black communities?

Black communities may experience housing insecurity.  Black families may have one or more incarcerated family members.  Black communities may even have a large number of speakers of a language other than English.  These issues are all reasons that could potentially make a community Hard to Count.  However, it should come as no surprise that the issue of mistrust is an important common thread uniting Black communities in their feelings towards the census and their unwillingness to let the government know specifics about where they reside.  Whether Black folks are highly educated or have yet to achieve a high school diploma, whether these same folks are living under the poverty line or have gained access to the middle class, or whether or not these folks utilize any number of public services, the issue of mistrust of government and government intervention continues to unite us as Black people.  This mistrust seems to exist as part of a collective shared memory.  For example, during the 1970’s census, the use of the word genocide seemed to be a common way for Black communities to talk about the dangers associated with the census.  This feeling (if that is indeed a strong enough word) that the Census could be used to undermine Black communities continues to exist in the contemporary Black conscious.  This feeling is even more pronounced in those of us that represent the most vulnerable of California’s Black communities.  Ironically, these same communities seem to recognize that the Census could potentially help California’s vulnerable, under-represented, and underserved Black communities.  The question that remains; will the Census help build our communities?

It is commonly known that the Census is an important tool for determining how communities receive federal funds for programs related to broad number of social services, or the ways that the Census determines how communities will be represented at the state and federal levels.  When it comes to Black communities, the rhetoric around the Census is commonly about the one-way transmission of services and funds from the federal government, to the state to our communities.  But, is there another way?  How might we as Black communities interested in building our own communities from within utilize the Census as a tool for collecting data; data that we can then put to work towards starting a business, towards conducting research in our communities, towards serving our own communities?  How might we benefit from knowing the size of our own populations, both locally and nationally?  What might we do with this information?  The power of data is not simply about knowing the numbers.  The power comes from knowing how to put those numbers to work.  How might we make use of the Census this year?

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