By: Tajah Ware
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” is perhaps the most famous quote for the Declaration of Independence.
And in reference to the 2020 Census, The leadership conference on civil and human rights said the following, “The data collected affect our nation’s ability to ensure equal representation and equal access to important governmental and private sector resources for all Americans, including across racial and ethnic lines.”
Both of these statements, in some semblance, affirm that equality and justice is given and deserved of all Americans. However, to live in America is to know that isn’t true.
So the Census helps level the playing field right? But then how does the Census uplift all communities? How does the Census ensure that communities in need receive necessary funding? And the main question, how does the Census help or hinder communities of color?
These are questions that I and so many others have. Because to be young in America in is to question everything we are taught and told. So let’s break it down.
What is the Census anyway? It’s a short questionnaire that Americans fill out, either online, by phone or by mail, about themselves. Imagine you’re setting your Bumble or Tinder profile but instead of listing your spirit animal, favorite Beyoncé lyric and Harry Potter House, you list your race, where you live and how many people live in your home. The Census is basically a head count of everyone in the country. This head count is then broken down by specific demographics i.e. race, age, sex and location. Oh, and before I forget it’s done every 10 years.
According to an article written by Andrew Chatzky and Amelia Cheatham, the data collected from the Census is used to distribute federal funding to communities throughout the country and “reapportion political power. “
Whether or not the Census hinders or helps people of color is a tricky thing to calculate.
On one end, look at FLINT, MI. A town that was once suffering from a severe water crisis. A town, that according to Census data, is 53.7 percent Black. A town, according to a Frontline article, still has issues with their water. The article (2018) said the following:
“Though Flint’s water, which once tested dangerously high for lead, is now within federal safety standards, microbiologists, infectious disease experts and officials including Weaver worry that harmful elements may still remain — and that state and federal regulators aren’t actively testing for them.”
It’s hard for one to understand why this town, that is predominantly Black according to the Census, does not have completely clean water after six years. If the goal of the Census is to allocate funding to communities in need, why is the Mayor of Flint still working to make sure everyone has access to clean water?
And then there’s the food deserts that plague Black and Brown communities.
According to DoSomething.org, “Food deserts are geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options (aka fresh fruits and veggies) is limited or nonexistent because grocery stores are too far away.” And these food desserts are frequent in Black communities.
Take Chicago for example.
A Chicago Tribune article recently reported, “Food insecurity in Chicago’s South and West Side communities continues to negatively affect health, education and economic mobility, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.” The South and West Side of Chicago have the highest concentrations of Black and Brown populations. Information the Census most likely has.
Or so we’re told. But are Black and Brown people filling out their Census forms? Are they utilizing the Census to prove they are here and will not go unnoticed? Some people are concerned that they aren’t.
Civil rights leaders around the country are worried that peoples of color are not filling out their 2020 Census forms.
According to the Associated Press, “With outreach efforts to motivate minority responses upended by a global pandemic, both the National Urban League and the NALEO Educational Fund are sounding the alarm that communities with concentrations of Blacks and Hispanics have been trailing the rest of the nation in answering the Census questionnaire.”
Why peoples of color aren’t filling out the the Census at the same rate as others is hard to say. Maybe there’s a distrust in the government
Why peoples of color aren’t filling out the the Census at the same rate as others is hard to say. Maybe there’s a distrust in the government, that could have worsened in the last few weeks, as President Trump faces several lawsuits over what some community groups and states attorneys see as unconstitutional use of the Census. Or there is a lack of means to fill out the questionnaire. Maybe they are filling out the forms but their information is being lost or miscounted. But, also so few people, especially young people, really understand the point of the Census. A lack of understanding could play a role in people’s urge or desire to fill this form out.
So I went to a place where all young people go to get some answers, Instagram.
Enter Into the gram
I asked my followers three questions. My first question was whether or not they believed the Census was helpful. The second was rather or not they believed the Census uplifted all communities. And the third question, asked them how they felt about the Census. The responses were interesting.
89 people between the ages of 19-27 participated in this poll. Majority were Chicago residents. 56 women and 33 men were apart of the poll. Original photography by the author, Tajah Ware.
74 people between the ages of 19-27 participated in this poll. Majority were Chicago residents. 49 were women and 25 men were apart of the poll. Original photography by the author, Tajah Ware.
Original photography by the author, Tajah Ware.
The responses to my third question varied. Ariam Tesafye, 23, believes the Census is important. She supports it because she believes, “It’s good to have an honest look at how segregated our cities are.”
Shaunie Beasley, 22, does not support the Census. She believes, “It’s just another way to keep tabs on us.” She went to say it also notes, “Which areas to gentrify in a community.”
Jordan Koussai, 22, believes the Census is, “A good way to collect data but needs better incentives for participation.”
Check-in in with Chicago Votes:
I also spoke with a young woman from Chicago Votes, whose views on the Census mirrored Mr. Koussai’s. Katrina Phidd, 21, is the Communications Associate for Chicago Votes. An organization that strives to help young people see their power, especially as it pertains to political power. She officially started working for this organization in March but has been volunteering for them for two years.
When asked about the Census, she had a lot to say. Phidd believes that so few people, especially young people, really understand the point of the Census. “ I think we overall as a society we really lack public education on the Census,” said Phidd.
Again, a lack of understanding of the Census can lead to young people and peoples of color not fully grasping its purpose and or power.
Phidd wishes young people knew the correlation between filling out the Census and funding.
“Funding that helps contribute to our schools, our healthcare, our grocery stores and investments in our communities,” said Phidd.
Phidd went to explain how the filling out the Census also gives us power. She explained how the Census is used to determine legislative and congressional districts.
“The Census is used to determine your districts, when it comes to legislative and congressional districts, so that’s like our power. The more people that fill out the Census the higher our numbers are for keeping or gaining more legislative representation.”
Phidd believes filling out the Census and can be a radical action. To her it’s a way to say “I’m here, you can’t ignore me.” However, she understands the complicated relationship peoples of color have with the government and their hesitance to maybe fill out the Census. She did make a good point, however, during the end of our conversation.
Because of the deep connection between funding and the Census she believes peoples of color can use the statistics, which are public, about the racial makeup of their community to hold people accountable.
“Statistical information is public and when that information is accurate, you can use that information to hold people accountable.”
Mild Sauce attempted to reach the U.S. Census multiple times for a formal live interview, but was turned down.
Well, that’s all folks:
Does the Census help or hinder peoples of color? It’s a multi-layered question. Some will say it helps. It helps with funding, It helps increase political representation in communities of color. But others will say it’s a hindrance. That it has not helped communities in need. That it’s not done often enough to help peoples of color.
Is the Census, a way to silence the seen? Or is it a tool that can be weaponized to force people to see peoples of color? It depends on who you ask.
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