An initiative
May 1, 2001 12:09 PM   Subscribe

An initiative to force government to stop asking Californians what their race is. This from the people who brought you Proposition 209, the American Civil Rights Institute.
posted by revbrian (19 comments total)
I'm curious... Does anyone know what the state and federal governments use that information for?
posted by waxpancake at 12:23 PM on May 1, 2001

No good, I'm sure. I always leave it blank or check "other".
posted by revbrian at 12:28 PM on May 1, 2001

This is what the Census Bureau has to say about what they do with racial data.
posted by briank at 12:29 PM on May 1, 2001

In the event of a war, the Census Bureau also makes racial information available to the FBI to round up suspected collaborators. That was how they were able to round up and imprison so many Japanese Americans during WW2 in such short time. Something that the Census Bureau has barely acknowledged and STILL has not apologized for.
posted by keithl at 12:36 PM on May 1, 2001

whenever i come across a 'race' question, i put a different answer down every time.
posted by bliss322 at 12:49 PM on May 1, 2001

waxpancake: Does anyone know what the state and federal governments use that information for?

revbrian: No good, I'm sure...

If only we could use our information about racial demographics for good instead of evil.... :-)
posted by jpoulos at 12:54 PM on May 1, 2001

[If only we could use our information about racial demographics for good instead of evil]

How exactly?
posted by revbrian at 12:57 PM on May 1, 2001

I believe he's joking, revbrian. :)
posted by gleemax at 1:06 PM on May 1, 2001

In the event of a war, the Census Bureau also makes racial information available to the FBI to round up suspected collaborators.

Um, keithl, do you have any evidence that can back that statement up?

I really detest perpetuating "big brother" myths because when large-scale government abuses do occur, people don't pay attention, assuming it's just another far-fetched conspiracy theory.
posted by jennak at 1:29 PM on May 1, 2001

Am I the only one who is horrified by this initiative? Sponsored by a so-called civil rights institute?!?

I think that one should always be allowed to opt out of answering race questions. (As is status quo.) So this isn't about privacy -- because you're already allowed to not answer racial questions. ACRC presents this initiative under the guise of uniting and protecting privacy, yet I remember another proposition they backed that would have encouraged state workers to check the status (e.g., social security number, documentation, documentation of family members) of anyone deemed "suspect" (e.g., ethnic).

The truth is that ACRC doesn't want to know about race because they don't want face issues about race, culture, gender, or economic status. Ignorance does NOT equal bliss. Ignoring the racial barrier will not make it go away.

The day we all treated as equal is the day that I will say that race doesn't matter.
posted by jennak at 2:01 PM on May 1, 2001

The fact of using data to round up Japanese Americans is well documented:
When the US Government rounded up Japanese-Americans in 1942, they used the "supposedly private" census data to tell the soldiers how many Japanese lived on each block also:
I'm sure if you looked long enough, you could come up with any number of lefty or righty or US government sources.
posted by sixdifferentways at 2:15 PM on May 1, 2001

jennak and other interested MeFi-ers: The Census Bureau's contribution to the Japanese Internment of WWII has been well documented in the media. Here's an article from AsianWeek. "The internment of Japanese Americans was actively facilitated by the Census Bureau." They did "express regrets" (hmmm that sounds familiar!) for it, though.
posted by girlhacker at 2:18 PM on May 1, 2001

Thanks girlhacker & sixdifferentways! I just like to back up things up.

Using supposed private census to round up Japanese. Grrrr! Why don't they teach this in school?
posted by jennak at 2:30 PM on May 1, 2001

A quick note about this initiative - it is for an amendment to the constitution of California, and, AFAIK, that will have no effect on what boxes are on the national Census.

It will however stop data collection on racial profiling and the racial composition of California's worst resourced and worst performing schools, and make it much more difficult to prove instances of institutional racism (policy that disproportially and negatively effects historically oppressed communities).
posted by at 2:45 PM on May 1, 2001

I know this amendment applies only to California, but since we've drifted to include the federal government...

As a regular user of Census Bureau data products, I would definitely miss racial information were it not collected. Without it, how could we identify the locations of racial inequities? When you map information like median household income or number of cars per household against a map of percent African American population, those inequities are impossible to miss. If the data is not collected, then it would become impossible to demonstrate and track changes in this situation, and make it much easier for people to ignore.
posted by Aaaugh! at 2:49 PM on May 1, 2001

Sorry about not posting a link to back up my argument. I should have done that. My bad.
posted by keithl at 4:21 PM on May 1, 2001

Census haters may enjoy this Google page with thousands of links to stories of criminal census workers, and their stories of frustration when dealing with, well, people like myself. Census workers rape, steal, and narc, (and sometimes die). It is just like I have been telling you all along.
posted by thirteen at 5:42 PM on May 1, 2001

Still, saying "in the event of war, the Census Bureau also makes ...." seems needlessly inflammatory. That was half a century ago. It shouldn't be forgotten, but there's a lot of things that happened back then that don't reflect current practice.

Besides, next time they may be going around California rounding up suspicious, untrustworthy ethnic minority whites.

Spies! Spies from Nebraska!
posted by dhartung at 5:44 PM on May 1, 2001

How do you know the martian kids are falling behind everybody else in school if you don't ask? Seems like race questions and the data collected from them could be used to see where, all else equal, race is "mattering," and then be able to do something about it.

Racism is stupid. Race is not.
posted by techgnollogic at 8:21 PM on May 1, 2001

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