A Category of One’s Own - The importance of being counted
On June 20, in the twilight of Caribbean Heritage Month, Caribbean-American media houses and civic organizations across the country launched a campaign to ensure that Caribbean-Americans are accurately counted in the U.S. Census. CaribID2010 (www.caribid2010.com), as the campaign is called, is pressing for the addition of a Caribbean-American and/or West Indian category in the 2010 Census. The U.S. Census Bureau, which takes a tally of everyone living in the country every 10 years, currently does not count Caribbean-Americans as a separate category. Instead, Caribbean-Americans are split up by race into the broad categories of “American Indian or Alaska Native,” “Asian,” “Black or African-American” and “White,” with no further option to self-identify.
Based on media, Hollywood and Madison Avenue portrayals of the Caribbean and its people, one would think that all Caribbean people are Black. The people of the Caribbean — whether Dutch-, English-, French-speaking — also include Amerindians (there are more than 20 indigenous groups in the region), Chinese, East Indians, Europeans, Lebanese, Syrians and Tamil. But because the Census makes no provision for those who have migrated to the United States — and their U.S.-born offspring — to identify themselves as Caribbean, no one knows for sure the true size of the Caribbean community in America. The last time the Office of Management and Budget revised standards for federal data on race and ethnicity was October 1997, when it provided for Census respondents to select one or more races to indicate their racial identity. As a result, the 2000 Census included a sixth racial category: “Some Other Race,” plus two categories for ethnicity: “Hispanic or Latino” and “Not Hispanic or Latino.”
Why all the fuss about having a category of one’s own? As the example of the “Hispanic/Latino” breakout shows, it’s about business growth — attracting advertising and financing, say, to Caribbean publications and businesses. Moreover, the Census data directly affect how more than $300 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation and much more. Census data also affect a community’s voice in Congress in that they are used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Census affects a community’s representation in state and local government. It is used to define legislature districts, school-district assignment areas and other important functional areas of government. And the Census informs a community’s decisions. Data about changes in a community are crucial to many planning decisions, such as where to provide services for the elderly, where to build new roads and schools, or where to locate job-training centers.
According to the 2000 Census, 2.8 million people residing in the United States were born in Caribbean countries. Of that number, 47 percent were naturalized U.S. citizens, a rate identical to Asian-born Americans and second only to the 52 percent rate of those born in Europe. Median earnings for workers born in the Caribbean were $27,000 for men and $23,100 for women, against national median earnings of $37,057 and $27,194, respectively, and an overall national per capita income of $21,587. Imagine how much more the nation would know about itself if the Census really reflected the nation.
By Rosalind McLymont