General consensus: Census forms are confusing, misrepresentative

Last week, a study was released indicating that more Hispanics had identified their race as white in the 2010 census than during the last taken in 2000.

While there's no disputing the truth of this claim, there's a few answers that may be a little more accurate than the cries of assimilation of Hispanics to white that have been suggested.

"The data provide new evidence consistent with the theory that Hispanics may assimilate as white Americans, like the Italians or Irish, who were not universally considered to be white," said Nate Cohn of the New York Times.



It's a cute sentiment, but there's no way things can be that simple, and the pride people feel for their heritage is just too strong for such a glossed-over answer.

When you ask anyone who identifies as white what their race is, they may leave their answer short and simply say "white," or more likely, you'll get their entire family history – German on their mom's side, Polish on their dad's and somewhere down the line there's some Italian; the whole things a twisted mess, so it's just easier for them to check off white and be done with it, you know?

But wait, red flags rising, you might think, "That's not race; that's ethnicity!" A valid statement, but what's the difference? More specifically: What does that even mean? As it turns out, most Americans don't know the difference, which is why they might be changing their answers from census to census.

This phenomena of overall citizen confusion has lead the census bureau to conduct a new test, combining race and ethnicity into the same check box section. In aiming for clarity and simplicity, the bureau has created a 15-20 optioned statistical nightmare that leaves a survey taker's head spinning.

Still, even with these new identity options, the results are about the same, with people, especially those with mixed race parents, unsure of how to identify themselves and selecting white or simply skipping the question.

As an example, one fairly well known person has this exact problem when filling out a census form. With a white mother and a black father, what does President Obama pick? He chooses black, but really, it all comes down to his own personal preference.

For many, this preference may be based on the implications of what follows after you select a race box. Unfortunately, racial profiling and segregation are still at large in this country, so picking a minority might not be the best option for equal treatment. If we're going to stick with the claims of assimilation, it would be fair to say that Hispanics have been oppressed into assimilation, rather than glamorizing it as some kind of willing conversion.

Census forms, while necessary, are never going to be as specific or accurate as the Census Bureau would prefer, but how can it be attainable if they're asking questions that fall into grey areas? Some things just can't be summarized in black and white.


Reach the columnist at or follow her on Twitter @mikayrodr

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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