Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Regarding requests for ethnic labels

Hmmm. I'm trying to remember (it's late - don't ask too much from my brain just now), but I think it was for the 1990 census that, when asked to which ethnic group I felt I belonged, I checked the "Other" box and wrote in "American." (There's an outside chance I did this for the 1980 census, but I think it was the 1990 one.) At any rate, I was still writing my newspaper column and I made my wee bit of 'civil disobedience' (if you can call it that) the subject of one of my columns. Oh, my. Friends and colleagues wished me luck, predicted I'd be in trouble with the government the rest of my born days, and declared themselves admiring of my bravery but afraid to follow in my footsteps. It was an amazing experience. People actually were afraid to refuse to be a hyphenated American, if a hyphenated American was what the government wanted. For that matter, that particular year (whichever it was), I have to admit I hesitated before I did what I did. There was an undercurrent of feeling that you had to play along with the race-division game or expect repercussions. I know it's pathetic, but, well, sometimes the citizenry doesn't entirely trust its bureaucracies to be reliably sane. Imagine that.

That we're still having to fight our own public servants for the right to not be sliced and diced into little slivers of often-artificial subgroups is a bit disappointing. But Katie seems up to the task. Go, girl!

Update: I probably shouldn't post when I'm that tired. Sorry. I should have made it clear the battle isn't just with public servants at various levels. In Katie's case, for instance, it's with the administration at a private university.


benning said...

I did that in the 1990 census, checking "Other" and in the box writing in Teutonic-Celt (after all I'm Irish, English, and German, ethnically speaking), and feeling rather naughty. The Census folks showed up weeks later. With a blank census form. They claimed I hadn't signed the census form. So we sat there and I was asked all the questions except the one about my ethnicity. And off they went.

So Teutonic-Celt, it would seem, is unacceptable to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kathryn Judson said...

benning, are you pulling my leg? You aren't embellishing any?

benning said...

Nope! It happened. For the next census I just went with White or Caucasian, whichever choice it was.

Trust me, I was very surprised when they showed up at my door!

Kathryn Judson said...

I think I'd have been mighty surprised myself! (To say the least.)