So now that the Census campaign is out there, the real discussions have begun. Many people, organizations, and media companies have critical eyes on the Census advertising campaign, its advertisers, & the even the process in which the data is collected. But one topic that has and will probably always dominate “water cooler” conversations about the Census, simply put, is ethnicity—the labeling system that the federal government currently has in place to differentiate people from different ethnic backgrounds.
Recently, I’ve been following the Society of Professional Journalists Blog Network. They have an eclectic selection of topical pieces & they usually have some pretty interesting stuff. A couple days ago, they posted a new blog called Writing “Hispanic” vs “Latino” in the Who’s News Diversity Every Day section. The author talked about how the government has placed a title onto an ethnic group that didn’t resonate well within the community. Though the piece focused on the Latino community; the sentiment that the government lacks cultural understanding towards ethnic groups is not exclusive to Latinos.
Now I know almost everyone in this country answers the question “what is your heritage?” with “I’m part this and part that, and a little bit of this”, but I, myself am multicultural. My mother is Panamanian and I’ve spent much time with my family in Panama. I’ve been exposed & submersed in the culture enough that I truly see myself as part of the ethnic community. I’ve also come across enough people in Panama to know that most Panamanians see themselves as Latinos, not Hispanic, no matter their heritable connections to Spain. That as it may be, I, an American with a cultural connection to Panama, views myself as Hispanic.
While the piece mentioned above focuses on the Latino community, we should take this concept of lack of cultural understanding and apply it to another ethnic group. Take the Middle Eastern communities for example. At Allied Media Corp, one of our primary audiences is the Middle Eastern markets. This is how we describe it in short to our clients, though in reality, to describe this ethnic group one would need to be much more precise. If you were to attempt to convince a person from Egypt, an Arab nation-state, that they should be ethnically categorized with a person from Iran, a Persian nation-state, you would be unsuccessful. There are distinct differences in language & culture between the many cultural groups that comprise the Middle Eastern and to officially categorize them as one group would be considered incorrect by their standards. Though these communities share this common view, attempts have been made to solve the problem of the lack of ethnic representation in federal surveys by grouping them under one collective group.
Now we can argue until we’re blue in the face as to how to identify the many different ethnic groups, but we’ll leave that for another time. Right now, we should focus on finding an immediate solution to the query at hand. True, the largest federal survey in the United States is about to take place & true, there are issues/limitations on how to identify ourselves in this survey. My suggestion, let’s not argue about what should have been done & let’s focus on what needs to be done. When filling out a federal survey, think about your ethnic roots. If you don’t clearly see yourself in any of the listed categories, mark yourself as “other” and write out your heritage. This way you are able to clearly distinguish yourself from any group that you don’t fully relate with & you can properly represent your community.
This seems like a great idea, Paul – not only marking “Other” and leaving it at that, but being very specific in defining what one believes to be their ethnic heritage. I’m sure the Census wants the form to remain relatively brief, but these kinds of responses could potentially drive changes to the form in the future…including these more specific identifications in subsequent demographic surveys.