Date of publication: March 27, 2000
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by MICHAEL FINLEY
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Comments on this column:This piece got picked up by the March 25 Salon, so we got more thanthe usual number of responses.
Someone at the Race Relations website took serious umbrage at this piece, and used it as a springboard for a rant about census misinformartion. Check it out!
My friend and neighbor on one side is Black (she says she is not African-American because, like Oprah, she doesn't know what tribe/nation her ancestors came from and she can trace her family history back further here in this country than I can). She told me she was encouraged by her minister to say she had five children -- she's single and happily childless -- so 'her people' wouldn't get undercounted on the census. It made her mad as hell.
Interestingly, my wife's Chicano co-worker was encouraged to do the same thing by some of her friends.
It seems to me that, thanks to you, and the constant TV ads, and the strong efforts by the minority communities to "compensate" for supposed undercounting in the past, we Euro-Native Americans (Eastern? Western? Who knows and what difference does this all make? I was born on the Navajo reservation of mixed heritage and look like it) will be the demographic minorities in the future.
Why not just tell the truth? I wonder what kind of subliminal message about honesty you gave your children... M. A.
You are a GEM, Mike. I wish I hadn't already sent in my census form cuz I'd like to be black too...
Must admit I was tempted to do as you did, and mark the census for a race or races different than I appear (or am generally thought) to be. I'm related by blood or marriage to all the races, and at least a few dozen national or ethnic groups. I believe if more people knew their true geneology, back more than a generation or two, they might realize that race is an illusion -- a set of physical characteristics fleetingly expressed within a (closed) population. However, I recognize that humans have a strong tendency to point out the "otherness" of other people, whether if be physical, philosophical, or cultural - and to use that as a "reason" to justify all manner of horrible behavior. So many people seem to feel that the only way to build themselves up is to knock down someone else.
My husband is black/native American, and so our kids are Jewish/white/black/native American/Hungarian/German/Russian/English and heaven only knows what else. I've decided that you can inherit race from your kids, because I feel distinctly non-white now (a decade after their birth), even though I suspect people still mistake me for some kind of Caucasian. I wish I'd thought to reflect this in my census form. Thanks for doing it for me. Good move, Mr. Finley!
Michael, that reminds me of the time we moved from Boston to Birmingham, Alabama. My son, then 16, got a job in a grocery store as a bag boy. One of the other teens made a racial comment, to which he said, "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't say that word...my Mother is black." The kid was quite embarrassed, apologized, and never said that word to Greg again. I'm not black, of course, but I was very proud of my son for saying that. It gives us hope for the future.
Loved your "black" thing; it is a trip! Have you read "The Fire Next Time"? I don't know why but I thought of that book while I was reading your e-mail. It is a great book, and I rode a Chicago CTA elevated train with the author-- James Baldwin. I also watched his biography on a recent TV special. It brought back a lot of memories, all of them good. (I never remember the bad memories.) Hahahahahaha. They call it denial but it works for me.
You cheer my heart. We are of the unfortunate few who received the "long form", asking all manner of impertinent and intrusive questions. I have been contemplating putting in erroneous information as a protest, and now you've encouraged me.
Now you can apply for reparations.
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