In multiracial America, the census puts us in a box

In multiracial America, the census puts us in a box

Washington Post

Susan Straight, Professor of Creative Writing
University of California, Riverside

I received the census form in the mail last week, and I was ready. A vaguely admonitory letter from the Census Bureau had arrived the week before, urging me to fill out the form because the results would be used to “help each community get its fair share of government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors need.” It ended with a warning: “Without a complete, accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share.”

That’s a lot of fairness and sharing and community going on. But as my three daughters and I talked about the form — and in particular its racial and ethnic categories — we started wondering: How does the census really define our community, and how would that affect whatever our fair share would be?

The first time I got to check a census box for a child, it was 1990. I had an 8-month-old daughter with curly, brown-black hair, cinnamon-dark eyes and almond-colored skin. Her father is a mix of African, Irish and Native American; I am white; and since we could check only one box, the only option available for her was “Other,” as if she were from a different planet…

Read the entire article here.

Susan Straight’s new novel, “Take One Candle, Light a Room,” about a mixed-race family, will be published in October.

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