Here in the US, it's time for the decennial US Census, wherein the government attempts to tally each and every person living in the nation.
I just received my census form in the mail. On the surface, it seems like it ought to be simple enough -- just answer seven questions about each person.
I'm somewhat bemused, however, how the government can't even put together a simple, less ambiguous form for an undertaking of this massive scale.
The form makes a big deal about counting only people who are physically in my house on April 1. Yet elsewhere it states, "Please complete and mail back the enclosed census form today." Uh, it's not April 1 yet . . . so what to do?
Question 1: "How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?"
Question 2: "Were there any additional people staying here April 1, 2010, that you did not include in Question 1?"
(Two questions in, and my forms-challenged wife has already given up. "Here. You do it." She shakes her head and hands the form off to me.)
Question: "[Are you] of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?" . . . followed by yes/no checkboxes.
Question: "What is [your] race?" . . . followed by a bunch of checkboxes for an assortment of ethnicities -- a list which does not include "Hispanic", "Latino", or "Spanish".
"Please answer both questions . . . For this census, Hispanic origins are not races."
Okay, now they've just confused a whole lot of people.
I expect a major segment of the population will be befuddled. "I always thought I was Hispanic, so if that's not a race, what race am I?"
I can envision many people pondering, "What, exactly, does 'origin' mean?" (I'm not Hispanic, so fortunately I can simply answer "no" and not trouble myself further.) Does it mean a person who was born in a Hispanic country? Are you of Hispanic origin if you were born in Argentina to parents who fled Germany after WWII?
What if it was your parent or great-grandparent who was the emigre from a Hispanic country? Does that still count as being your origin? What if said great-grandparent married into a Caucasian/European bloodline and nobody else in the family tree is Hispanic?
Oh, right -- Hispanic is not a race.
Given the large Hispanic population in this country, I would have thought the Census Bureau would have seen fit to add a brief explanation or definition in the instructions.
Also, how about some guideline on how to define race (of which you are supposed to mark "one or more" checkboxes)? In this world of increasingly mixed ethnicity, how much race counts as being of a certain race? If you're only one-quarter Chinese, should you still mark the box labeled "Chinese"? What if you're 1/32 American Indian? Is that enough? How about those white, southern rednecks whose DNA testing revealed they had a black ancestor back in the Jeffersonian era? (Okay, we know they would never in a million years mark the box labeled "Black", but I'm just saying ... )
When you're trying to put a third of a billion people into categories, a few simple guidelines could have gone a long way.