Contentiousness over the 2000 census touched on two issues which seem silly, even quaint, 10 years later: First, a “biracial” category, and second, the subject of how to count millions of undocumented aliens — mostly from Mexico, Central and South America — and their American-born offspring. “Mixed” race people, often speaking through organizations like Project Race demanded to be counted yet refused to be “pigeonholed”:http://projectrace.com/aboutprojectrace/; many Latino families with members in the U.S. illegally wanted to hide out of fear of deportation or prison.
Today, that calculus turns on its ear. “The biracial thing has cooled off a lot,” says Robert Towne, who used to work with Project Race and is now a public relations consultant in Washington, D.C. “It’s been eclipsed by hate, paranoia and power politics.” Towne elaborates: “Hispanics are mobilizing, and their birthrates speak loudly so they’re surpassing the population of people who categorize themselves as African-Americans. Then there’s the Tea Party folk scared of Obama and the same government whom they cheered after 9/11 when other peoples’ liberty was taken away. They either don’t want to answer the forms, or they don’t want to put down any race or ethnicity.” But Towne also asserts that while white conservatives are either pushing a census boycott or eschewing a response on some questions, they are also attempting to suppress the minority count.
Census controversy is nothing new to African-Americans. After all, Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which provides the basis for every Census 1790 to now, still says that each of us be counted—as three-fifths of a human being. Of course the 14th Amendment negates that provision, but the language is still there. Such was the compromise to give what would become the same Red State South — home of many of the conservatives who in 2010 decry efforts to count under-represented people — more representation and political power.
Yes, the census is constitutional, and yes, it’s the government’s job to find and count everyone. But some Americans don’t think a complete count in their best interest. Perhaps they feel sabotage is and not an “X” in a box on the form, is the proper response.
For almost a year, and with unprecedented vitriol and vehemence, conservatives have demonized the 2010 Census and pilloried the Obama administration for attempting to somehow “politicize” the process. On blogs or cable television, personalities, pundits and politicians from Michelle Malkin, to Glenn Beck, to Michelle Bachmann (R.-Minn.) have labeled the 2010 count a fraud, an Obama plot to use illegal aliens as a buffer against white Americans, or a means to “subvert liberty and privacy.” Battling this supposed scourge entails everything two principal actions: (1) boycott, as espoused by Bachmann and various right wing mouthpieces, or (2) refusing to put down any race but “American.” Indeed, Facebook pages and links therein to other blogs, sites and groups sprout and propagate daily, and they usually expound on these two “responses to tyranny,” as blogger “Crazy” Jerry Day rails.
Yet while Crazy Jerry bloviates, groups like The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, The National Institute for Latino Policy and the new, celebrity-saturated Voto Latino appear to be motivating immigrants who may have been timid in 2000 to respond to the count in 2010. At stake are benefits many Latinos, citizens or not, eschew out of fear, and the future political clout of their children — most of whom are natural-born Americans. Indeed, one would think conservative white Americans wouldn’t want to under-count themselves in the face of this perceived Hispanic tsunami.
Recently, some GOP leaders, out of civic duty, or sensing the flood, perhaps, publicly behooved Michele Bachmann to pipe down about boycotts or fudging responses. But clearly people like Malkin or Bachmann have plumbed — and tapped — the true nature of the extremists in the “base” when it comes to Census 2010. A commenter on Crazy Jerry’s blog made this statement:
“In accordance with the U.S. Constitution, the only information the Census Dpt [Department] is legally entitled to is number of people in the household, their age, and their gender. That’s it! Sure, the cannibal usurper in the former White House [President Obama] wants more information this time, but, the ‘alleged’ Constitutional law professor ( translated as: the lying ape in the half white house) [likely Charles Ogletree], is not legally entitled to any more information than that.”
In the fall of 2009, a census-taker who’d been conducting preliminary field work appeared to have hung himself from a tree in rural Kentucky, with the word “Fed” scrawled on him. The man’s family and coworkers continue to claim this was a murder, not a suicide, and local law enforcement, given cover by right wing bloggers and media, is sandbagging. Is this a conspiracy? Independent eyes would have to review the evidence to make that call. So far the official story is, well, official. Are this man’s loved ones and colleagues in the Commerce Department being irrational? That’s a call I have not trouble making. All one has to do is juxtapose that event with the hurling of epithets at the Democrats in Congress who passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act —along with thoughtless GOP statements e.g. by Bachmann , or John Boehner (R-Ohio) musing how a rival would be a “dead man,” or Sarah Palin exhorting her supporters to ” reload” when targeting Democrats up for re-election.
Accordingly, self-sabotage in Census 2010 is foolish if you’re a conservative white citizen…and frightened. It’s the easier way to work mayhem on your bogeyman, Barack Obama. Recall Robert Towne’s comment regarding the other bogeyman, ACORN. Judicial Watch, a conservative legal foundation, has been attacking the Commerce Department for over a year for soliciting a Census 2010 community group partnership application from ACORN. Likewise, Judicial Watch, and pundits like Malkin or Beck continue to lambaste the government for labeling certain anti-immigrant and radical anti-abortion caches and organizations as “right wing extremists”—and thus ineligible to assist in the in Census count. It would be interesting to see if militia groups would be an effective outreach tool in black and Hispanic communities.
More insidious, according to Voto Latino and leaders of La Raza, is the fear that conservatives might be orchestrating or manipulating the boycott of the Census called by conservative Latino minister Reverend Miguel Rivera. Rev. Rivera, a supporter of former President George W. Bush, is director of a group that calls itself National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, or CONLAMIC. Indeed, Mark Krikorian, who heads the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, which itself advocates for more restrictive immigration laws and has assisted a radical anti-immigrant group called FAIR with legal challenges to counting aliens, describes Rev. Rivera’s plan as “a boycott I can get behind.”
So far there’s been no proof direct support or a nexus between right-wing groups and Rivera. Perhaps Latinos should ask African-Americans about frightful, strange bedfellows. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan along with ultra-racist Senators Ted Bilbo (D-Miss) and James Heflin (D-Ala.) were all active supporters of Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)…as long as Garvey advocated voluntarily removal of blacks from the white man’s nation. One catch—Bilbo and Heflin wanted Garvey to take only “uppity” Negroes, and leave a critical mass of sharecroppers, convict labor and domestic mammies to keep the economy humming. Oddly familiar ring to that, if you’re an immigrant.
But one fact is might not be as manifest, thanks to a paucity of media coverage. Republicans in Congress, aided by conservative advocacy groups such as Judicial Watch, cowed the Commerce Department into retreating from its 2000 Census deal with what became the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) to dial back immigration raids during this 2010 Census count. Coupled with the destruction of ACORN and chilling effect on other community groups, sabotage like this may give conservatives some comfort , even when their more ignorant cohorts are themselves boycotting the Census or fudging their forms.
Robert Towne just shrugs in the face of this venom. He’s filling out his form on April 1, 2010, and says he looks wistfully as the time when the biggest debate was “black or white” in the racial checklist. “Maybe it all comes back to Barack [Obama]. He’s unleashed the crazies out there among right wingers and it is ironic that they’re now the ones who are scared, and it’s got nothing to do with him being biracial.” I agree. I’m filling out my form, too…and urging both the brothers I see at the corner, and the Hondurans down the block who never speak to me, to do the same. Fast.