Politics, Moderate



Census racial data can unite instead of divide

Esther J. Cepeda on

Still, the census uses certain terms to collect broad data about who lives in the country. Those terms should neither be politicized nor erased.

"It's well past time to recognize that the four-decade experiment has failed and has put our nation on the road to becoming merely a collection of tribes rather than one 'indivisible,' as our creed proclaims," the authors assert. They conclude: "Reforming the outmoded census would reflect the reality of our population and accentuate our identity as Americans."

This is some seriously pie-in-the-sky thinking.

The fact that census data has been used by a variety of actors with their own agendas to underscore our differences and pit people against each other isn't a sound reason to cut ourselves off from information that illustrates who makes up the country and where and how they live.

I believe that a stable-over-time data set will eventually show what census data has always shown: The U.S. is a melting pot.

The very notion of "the melting pot" has become anathema to a vocal minority who believe that it is somehow synonymous with colonialization, white supremacy and forced assimilation, but it's just a plain fact: People come here from all over and simultaneously become more like the group they joined and make the group a little bit more like themselves.

Don't believe me?

Even as some in this country are terrified that a mass Hispanization of the U.S. will irrevocably brown the face of America, Latinos are dropping out of the identity club like flies.

A recent Pew Research Center report found that even though more than 18 percent of Americans identify as Hispanic or Latino, a long-standing high rate of intermarriage and a decade of declining immigration from Latin America are reducing the likelihood that people with Hispanic ancestry identify as Hispanic or Latino.


(For the record, my two sons -- who are half-white, quarter-Mexican and quarter-Ecuadorean -- do not identify as Hispanic or Latino.)

In fact, "among adults who say they have Hispanic ancestors (a parent, grandparent, great grandparent or earlier ancestor) but do not self-identify as Hispanic, the vast majority -- 81 percent -- say they have never thought of themselves as Hispanic," according to the Pew survey.

Hardly different than the Irish, the Italians, the Germans and so many others before them.

Sure, to some, it might seem like the census data is divisive. But the only thing that makes lifeless data a political weapon is people who use it to make others feel scared and threatened.

Racial and ethnic data, if it is collected with the same fidelity over time and allows for people to self-identify in more expansive ways, is likely to ultimately tell a tale of people who have more in common than not.


Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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