RACE TO THE PAST: Elmiran doesn't know his "origins!"


Part 2—Claims Ohio birth:
Christine Emba made a nice find in the proposed form for the 2020 census.

Will there even be a year 2020? Given present circumstances, we'd say that's not wholly clear! There's an election and a Mueller report coming up, and somebody may need a war.

But if there actually is such a year, a census is scheduled to occur. In her column in the February 3 Washington Post, Emba called attention to the proposed new Question 9, which would start off exactly like this:
9. What is Person 1's race?
Mark one or more boxes AND print origins.

White—Print, for example, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc.
People, you won't just check the box marked "white." If you do, you will also be instructed to print your "origins." In case you aren't sure what that even means, they'll give you some helpful examples:

"German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc."

You can print as many as you like in the sixteen boxes provided!

As the proposed Question 9 proceeds, it also asks for the "origins" of people who say their "race" is "black." They too are given some helpful examples. More on that to come.

In her column, Emba made an accurate statement about this proposed new ask. She went on to voice a general viewpoint about this proposed new question which we would regard as unwise.

For today, let's stick with Emba's accurate statement. The data obtained from that question about "origins" are "likely to be extremely messy," the youthiness-afflicted columnist correctly said.

In fact, we'd say that assessment, while basically accurate, is the ginormous understatement of this or any year.

What sort of data would result from that blatantly foolish question? Two days after Emba's column appeared, a Post reader from Elmira, New York offered his thoughts on this matter.

Below, you see the full text of his letter.
While being on target everywhere else, he starts off with an injustice to Emba:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (2/5/18): I can hardly believe that Christine Emba thinks that asking for additional information about national origin in the next U.S. census will be productive, beneficial or even accurate.

She wrote, “For the text box under the ‘White’ checkbox, the census instructions helpfully state: ‘Print, for example, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc.’ ”

What would I write? I’m from Ohio. Shall I write, I mean print, “Ohioan”? Or does the Census Bureau want to know where my ancestors came from? Many came from Lithuania, although part of present-day Lithuania was called Poland at the time. Some came from Ireland, the part that is now Northern Ireland, although they considered themselves English. And some came from either southern Germany or Switzerland—I’m not sure which. Furthermore, if that’s not already too much information, some were Jewish, some were Ulster Protestants, some may have been Anabaptists, any of which may have taken precedence in their minds over nationality.

What can the Census Bureau possibly do with this information, when for many Americans “it’s complicated,” and the information is likely to be unreliable? Maybe I will write, I mean print, “Ohioan.”
Elmiran, please! When Emba said the data would be "extremely messy," she almost surely meant that the data wouldn't exactly be "accurate."

That said, the Elmiran goes on to explain why the data would be crazily "messy." This is the gist of his observation:

Uh-oh! As the Elmiran semi-explains, most people who say their "race" is "white" will likely have no real idea how to record their "origins," based on the apparent meaning intended by the Census savants.

Consider the Elmiran himself. He seems to be prepared to say that he belongs to a "race," namely the one which is "white." Beyond that, though, he says he has little real idea how to cop to his "origins."

In the most obvious sense, the Elmiran writes, his origins are in Ohio. That said, he correctly sees that the Census savants are after something different. They really want to know, he surmises, where his ancestors lived or came from.

They actually seem to want to know about his ancestors' origins! This presents the Elmiran with a pair of problems:
Problems facing the Elmiran:
1) He doesn't necessarily know where his various ancestors lived.
2) To the extent that he does know, the Bureau isn't giving him enough boxes in which to print all the information.
Pity the poor Elmiran! To the indeterminate extent to which he actually knows his "origins" in the sense of this proposed question, his origins are Lithuanian, Polish, Northern Irish, English, Swiss, German and almost certainly Other. But as you can see from the proposed census form, the Bureau has only given him sixteen boxes in which to print this roll call of the world's peoples.

Can we talk? In the sense intended by the savants, the Elmiran doesn't actually know his "origins"—doesn't quite know "where he's from." To the extent that he thinks he might know, he would need a much larger number of boxes to execute the requested printing of the roll.

Spectacular dumbness has been the norm in American discourse of the past thirty years. We expect to write on this important topic next week, working from Karen Tumulty's strange recent claim that no one would ever write about the significance of a male politician's shoes.

If you fire up cable any night of the week, you will encounter the spectacular dumbness which now defines our political and journalistic cultures. That said, that proposed new census question is strikingly dumb even by our failing culture's current standards and norms.

As the Elmiran helps us see, the proposed new census question is dumbfoundingly dumb. Even worse, it takes us horribly, unhelpfully back—back into our floundering nation's profoundly unhelpful past.

Tomorrow: Chayefsky's Oscar-winning Marty was making a break from the past


  1. "Will there even be a year 2020?"

    Of course not. The Mayan calendar ended in 2012, and that's another reason the liberals had turned into zombies.

    "What would I write?"

    He shouldn't write anything, unless he wants to.

    But then it seems pretty obvious that what they're asking for - the only thing they can ask for - is your self-identification. If it's "Ohioan", so be it. But, for what it's worth, it could as well be "Klingon" or "Kryptonian"...

  2. The Census Bureau is complaining that their proposed budget is inadequate*. This additional question suggests the Census Bureau has too much funding.

    *"Advocates for the census welcome the additional funding, although they say it’s still inadequate." http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/02/new-us-budget-deal-includes-more-funding-2020-census

    1. Do you really think the wonks at the Census Bureau came up with this question, after all these years of conducting a reasonable census? This is political and it comes from the top down, and it is intended to emphasize racial divisions.

      Don't be naïve David.

    2. I have experience in how bureaucrats think when they collect data. Bureaucratic thinking has these characteristics:

      1. Always add to your data requests. Seldom remove any.

      2. The bureaucrat's most important customer is the Bureau s/he works for. Getting additional data is good for the Census Bureau. It can only make the Census Bureau bigger and more valuable.

      3. It's OK to get additional data without knowing what it's good for. Bureaucrats don't care about the added burden on those who supply the data.

      This new question is typical of bureaucratic expansion creep. That's why I believe it came from the bureaucrats at Census, rather than from the Trump Administration.

      P.S. this business of the government classifying people by ethnicity has generally come more from the left, not the right.

    3. David, my origin is (0,0). What's yours?

    4. The census has changed over the years. Prior to 1850 it was just heads of household at statistics. In 1850 they started naming and aging everybody in the house. In 1880 they asked where a person's parents were born.

      In 1900 they included the month of birth and also the number of years married and asked the women a) how many children they had and b) how many were still living. The 1910 census includes those last three questions too but month of birth was dropped.

      After 1910 they dropped year of marriage and questions about children. 1930 brought back year of marriage, but 1940 dropped it and also no longer asked where a person's parents were born. 1940 did ask what the highest grade of education had been completed and also how many hours were worked in the last week and weeks worked in the last year as well as income (except for the self employed, including farmers).

      After that, of course, I am not privy to census information. I seem to remember that 1990 asked for ethnicity because I remember giving some ridiculous answer involving percentages rather than just one ethnicity. I don't remember filling out a form in 2000 or 2010. I think some of the census information they just get from driver's license or voting registration data. In 1990, I had no driver's license, but had a mailbox for my little two hectares in the middle of nowhere.

    5. BTW that WaPo article points out that the Trump Admin asked to include the question about citizenship. That was rejected because it might discourage responses and also because the Census Bureau spends months or years testing new questions before adding them to the form. This practice suggests that if the Trump Admin had requested the question about origin, the Census people would have rejected it, because it would not have been pre-tested.

  3. Neither Emba nor Somerby have asked the Census Department why this question has been reworked in this way, or how they intend to use the "data". As such, both are merely speculating as to its intent. Emba believes it is an exercise in thinking about one's origins, and thus about the concept of race itself. Somerby thinks it represents a "race to the past", to the "world of the slaveholders", one assumes, as he has put it elsewhere. Emba's view is intriguing. Somerby doesn't really make much of a case for his view, but he certainly assumes the worst.

    It's certainly possible that the Census Bureau knows the answers to this question will be a hodgepodge of unreliable responses.

    And if, as Emba says, and Somerby acknowledges, the data obtained will be "messy", one has to ask how it can possibly be used in any coherent way.

    1. The examples provided in the question tell you what they are looking for. Nationalities. They want to study the immigration patterns of people who are now in the USA.

      Possible uses: (1) remove other languages from ballots and public signs or publications, such as Spanish and Chinese; (2) require English as the national language; (3) justify new laws restricting immigration to certain countries, as consistent with our "national heritage"; (4) figure out how to repatriate people to their countries of origin, once all people with green cards have been expelled; (5) figure out how to make rules that restrict immigrants to those from "white" countries; (6) figure out how to write immigration bans in national terms that closely parallel color lines the USA.

      It doesn't take much imagination to see how this could be used by someone motivated to cleanse and purify the racial composition of the US population. We need to get these guys out of office ASAP. They are a danger to ALL of the American people.

  4. Furthermore, if that’s not already too much information, some were Jewish,

    This kike well knows he's a kike. There's no actual confusion here. This is simply more "my fellow white people" style subversion.

    1. Looks like the resident mongrel mutt is back knocking over garbage cans again.

    2. Amusing choice, given that, in Somerby's -or more accurately, the jewish- narrative, there are no such things as mutts.

      They're all just dogs! Pit bulls are unfair victims of our breedist society!

  5. Somerby's views on race or ethnicity are unclear. He almost exclusively chastises liberals for (supposedly) emphasizing such things. He has seemed to admonish liberals for even discussing race, especially when they talk about racism amongst the conservatives ranks. He pines for some kind of post-racial society, where no one need think about race, or so it seems. Does this proceed from some noble impulse? Or is it motivated by the more mundane notion that talking about racism is a losing proposition for liberals? Or does he buy the conservative stereotype of the racemongering liberal? One cannot talk sensibly about race/racism in this country without acknowledging its legacy, and without thinking about how the right-wing elite uses this issue for its own purposes. And despite one's fervent wish for a post- or non-racial society, it isn't clear that that racist legacy simply ceases to exert its influence just because someone says so, and it does not excuse a willful blindness to its continued existence.

    Today's post is an example of Somerby's ambiguity. Some could view it as a pushback against Trump's ethno-nationalist agenda, given that the Census Bureau is in Trump Administration hands. But given Somerby's history on this issue, it's just as likely he will find a way to criticize liberals over this. Perhaps Christine Emba is the latest victim.

    1. MLK wanted a post-racial society. King wanted people to 'not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character'. I imagine Bob wants the same thing MLK wanted.

    2. "MLK wanted a post-racial society."
      Instead it's 2018, and Conservatives are in power. Tough break for MLK (and the set of us).

    3. "I imagine Bob wants the same thing MLK wanted."
      I see David, apparently, still believes Bob to be a "liberal".

  6. "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years. "

    So, our Founding Fathers, from the get-go, required federal census takers to know if a person was an "Indian", and whether one was "free" or "bound to service for a term of years" (those folks got counted too), or "unfree", i.e. "a slave"...i.e. an "unfree" black.

    Too bad our Constitution was founded on a nod to the world view of those slaveholders. You know, those slaveholders who vanished with the passage of the 13th amendment, and whose views surely vanished at that same time, despite the rise of the Klan and Jim Crow.

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