Black Census hopes to capture the experiences of 250,000 Black Americans to help forge a political agenda

"For democracy or participatory government to be achieved, you have to talk to everybody who has a stake in it," said Alicia Garza, principal of Black Futures Labs, which is conducting the survey.

The Black Futures Lab, in the final throes of an ambitious, nationwide survey, wants to reach 250,000-plus Black Americans to gauge their experiences and how they hope to see things change.

The answers from the lab’s Black Census will give elected officials a roadmap to address the needs of the Black community. Organizers said that respondents numbering in the hundreds of thousands will make the survey the largest ever of Black Americans who the political process has marginalized for far too long.

The lab, enlisting the help of more than 100 partners, plans to survey “LGB+ communities, trans communities, incarcerated Black people, Black immigrant communities, and Black people in rural areas. Black Futures Lab will use the findings to shape a robust public policy agenda focused on the lives of Black people, with an anticipated release of an updated Black agenda,” according to organizers.

“At this moment in American politics, it’s necessary not just to talk at Black people [or] about Black people, but to talk directly to Black people about what it is that we experience every day and what we want for our futures,” said Alicia Garza, principal of the Black Futures Lab whose idea spurred the survey.

“For democracy or participatory government to be achieved, you have to talk to everybody who has a stake in it,” she said.

Readers of theGrio, a media partner in the census effort, can take the 10-minute census by accessing this link.

The lab has partnered with the Washington, D.C.-based political advocacy group Impact Strategies to work with various organizations to meet and exceed the survey respondent goal.

Garza and Angela Rye, principal and CEO of IMPACT Strategies, noted the survey’s importance in reaching beyond Black registered voters, a population that most traditional polls measure. Black immigrants, those who aren’t registered to vote or who may not speak English or speak it well are among those that polls can bypass. 

To combat the language barrier, the lab’s survey asks questions in five languages: Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Amharic and Yoruba, spoken in Ethiopia and West Africa.

Garza said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could say that we not only have talked to more Black people than anyone ever but are showing a representative picture of Black people across the United States and not just the people that get captured in traditional polls.”

The survey seeks “an accurate snapshot of who Black people are in this country and why that matters for American politics,” Garza said.

That would be an impressive snapshot. As Garza noted, most surveys only interview a few hundred to maybe 1,000 Black people. Those polls then extrapolate those responses to paint an overall picture of how that demographic feels on specific issues. 

Black Census questions include the standard demographic information but dig deeper into identity since Black people come from, among other regions, the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa. The survey asks for opinions on political leaders and parties, the most important problems facing the Black community and seeks to measure political involvement and motivation. 

The simple act of asking reinforces that the views of Black people matter. 

Garza said she hears, more than anything, that Black people have “never been asked what they think about, what they experience every day, what they want. If Black people are not being asked what we experience, how are we making policies to change people’s experiences? And why are Black people being left out and left behind?”

Rye added, “Black people feel powerful when they’re spoken to.” She said that’s an acknowledgment that their opinion and how they see the world matter. “That’s when Black people engage.”  

This is the lab’s second survey. The first, in 2018, received nearly 31,000 responses. Garza said responses to the current survey, open until the end of the year, have already surpassed that. 

You can take the 10-minute Black Census survey here.

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