Part 1—Extremely messy, she said: Last Saturday morning, Christine Emba wrote a fascinating column in the Washington Post.
We disagree with the overall viewpoint Emba expressed in her column, But along the way, she introduced a fascinating fact concerning the census which will take place in 2020, if that year comes to pass and if we still have a government:
EMBA (2/3/18): Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed its proposed questionnaire for the 2020 Census in advance of a March 31 deadline for its delivery to Congress for review...Emba is seven years out of Princeton. Despite her overpowering youthiness, we think, on balance, that she has been a good edition to the Post's frequently lifeless op-ed page.
[T]here are some key changes to the questions about race and ethnicity. In particular, black and white respondents will be asked to provide specific information about their origins. Rather than just marking a single race, respondents will be prodded for a bit more information: For the text box under the "White" checkbox, the census instructions helpfully state: "Print, for example, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc."
The data obtained is likely to be extremely messy, and it is not immediately clear how it will be put to use. (What exactly does the Census Bureau plan to do for the emergent category of white Egyptians?) Still, this change is a good thing—especially for white Americans.
In this instance, we think Emba's overall viewpoint is extremely unwise. For now, though, let's focus on the fact she revealed about the proposed census form.
Good God! As it turns out. Emba didn't imagine her factual claim! She links to the proposed census form, and sure enough—Whoomp! There it is!
On the proposed census form, you see the puzzling new set of questions Emba describes. Once a person has agreed to report that his or her "race" is "white," that person will also be asked to print his or her "origins," with helpful suggestions provided.
It's exactly as Emba says! On the proposed census form, Question 9 starts like this:
9. What is Person 1's race?Seriously though, folks—that's part of the question the Census Bureau wants to ask! The word AND appears in caps and in bold, presumably so the inevitable shirkers and scofflaws won't neglect to cop to their "origins."
Mark one or more boxes AND print origins.
White—Print, for example, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc.
(That's the way the proposed Question 9 starts. As it continues, people who say their "race" is "black" also get some suggestions concerning their possible "origins.")
In the understatement of the millennium, Emba says the data obtained in this manner will likely be "extremely messy." Beyond that, she sensibly says she can't quite imagine what use will be made of these millions of messy statements.
Emba goes on to voice some views about the possible benefits of this overall effort; on balance, we think her outlook is unwise. But good lord! For now, let's stick with the hopelessly muddy, throwback questions the Bureau wants to ask.
For starters, we think it's sad, though traditional, that every respondent will be asked to say that he or she belongs to a "race."
Do people really belong to "races," let along to the "races" the Census Bureau conjures? We'd be inclined to say that they don't—but we'll leave that point for another day.
In our view, it's sad that everyone will be prompted to say that they belong to a "race." We think it's insane that everyone will be asked to move beyond his or her "race" to the question of his or her "origins."
Two days after Emba's column appeared, the Post published a letter from Elmira, New York. The letter stated some basic objections to this proposed new question—objections we think are sound.
These objections take us beyond Emba's vast understatement, in which she says the data concerning "origins" will be "extremely messy." We'll review that letter tomorrow. For today, let's list a few of the many questions raised by the Census Bureau's proposed new Question 9:
Question 1:Those would be our first two questions concerning the proposed Question 9. We'll also ask, and answer, one additional question:
Do you and your various fellow citizens each belong to a "race?"
If we say that someone belongs to a "race," what the heck do we mean?
Is the Census Bureau's proposed Question 9 a race to the bottom? Possibly not, but it clearly represents a type of race towards the past.
Tomorrow: Inevitably, messy all the way down