In politics, as far as counting is concerned, it is always better for African Americans to count, to be counted and to be in the count. All other options are too deleterious for Black folk in this country. That is not to say that standing up to be counted and making sure Black folk are in the count do not have their drawbacks too. I’m just saying…..
It’s certainly better to be in it than out of it. Black folk have already lost far too much to keep participating in helping themselves to lose or in continuing to give it away without the hint of a struggle. Staying home and being absent as protests, unless you are talking about a theater piece like Doug Turner Ward’s classic satiric farce, “A Day of Absence,” or you are talking about an economic absence from holiday shopping to teach retailers to respect the Black consumer more, simply are not effective political strategies for us. The 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott worked, for a variety of reasons, but look how many times Black folk have successfully done that since–zero. Black folk have certainly talked a lot about doing it again, but talk is just that.
The biggest count in our immediate future is the 2010 census. In spite of lingering suspicion of government record-keeping and intrusions into our living spaces, and just not wanting to be bothered, here’s very strong advice: choose to be counted. Otherwise, don’t complain later when you can’t get more help in your community for music classes, training programs, hospital care, etc. This is Mao’s now legendary comment, ‘those who don’t participate have no right to complain.’ In essence, be counted or be quiet!
Here are the basic facts. Starting with its March 15th mailing, the U.S. government will begin officially counting how many folk live in America, how many are Americans, where do they live, work, play, the types of occupations, etc. Since 1790, every ten years, the government is obligated by the U.S. Constitution to count its residents and citizens. Census numbers help determine where to send block grant funding, money for new housing, roads and transportation support, including buses and rails. Census numbers help maintain enforcement of the 1964 CRA and the 1965 VRA for eligible populations, and with providing billions for education and hot meals for needy children in schools. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program is dependent on the census numbers, along with Medicaid and a host of other projects. Politically, the census determines voting districts, reapportionment-redistricting and whether Black folk should get more or less representation in elective office.
In case anybody has not been paying attention, in L.A. city and county, the voting rolls of Black folk are declining. The only city council district in which Black voters hold quantitative sway is Bernard Parks’ 8th district. The 9th and 10th can easily be had by other populations based on the current number count. Without numbers to back up public demands and requests for service, politicians frequently ignore pleas for help. There are more Black folk in L.A. than have been counted in L.A.
In spite of (some say because of) still having serious consequences of low achievement and high discrimination in this country, Black folks remain the most undercounted of all American populations, and since 2003 have been relegated to America’s second largest racial-ethnic group behind Hispanics. Blacks went from 14.8 percent of the American population in 2000 to 12.3 percent at the 2003 interim count. With that fallback, there was also a ton of funding lost for well-needed projects to help Black folks climb out of the ditch. Congratulations to Hispanics, but woe be unto those of darker hue.
In the meantime, the recorded Black immigrant population has increased by well over 50 percent since 2000, to over 3.1 million (from 1.5 million), but many of them were not counted as Black. Why? The U.S. census form, on question number nine which asks for racial/ethnic self-identification, only asks for Black, African American, or Negro. Most Black immigrants are Haitians and Jamaicans, and they do not generally accept either designation. The majority of continental African immigrants are Nigerian, and they don’t either. Instead, most who fill out the short, 10-minute census form, simply write in their national or tribal origin at the top of the form or on the side, leaving it to census workers to decipher what group they fall into. A few checked off ‘Other’ on the form. Either way, they were not counted as Black Americans.
This year there is a much greater push to have all of the Black immigrant groups fill out one of the available Black slots, while simultaneously requesting changes in the next census form. There is a bigger push for Diasporan collaboration and cooperation. After all, the majority of the members of these groups live among African Americans, and they benefit or lose community funding along with other Black folk.
Please pay attention: Be counted! It is in the best interests of all those who look like you, including your children and other kin. Do for yourself instead of waiting for someone else to do it for you. Or, be quiet.
David Horne, Ph.D., is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
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