The 2020 Census: Security Against Haters

By Jennie Lusk

When I first heard last week that the census–which was engineered for inaccuracy during the last years of the Trump administration–would show a decrease of the White population in the United States, I began to worry about backlash from supremacist groups. 

I worried that hate groups’ paranoia about the extinction of the “white race” would be triggered by the headlines about the count. The GOP increasingly has used race-baiting to divide poor white populations from poor communities of color, thereby preventing the possibility that a unified 99% could overcome the power of the wealthy 1%. I would hate for the truth that the numbers of white people in the country has decreased to be used to harden the divide among people seeking power and influence over the policies and dollars we contribute to the nation. 

Now that I think about it, though, I have a bit less concern. The fact that fewer people self-reported as being White can be seen as evidence that supremacists have already lost traction: The percentage of people who prefer to identify as multiracial has increased by 276% over the past decade.  According to the census bureau, the number of people who self-reported as White decreased by 8.6% between 2010 and 2020, and the number of people who self-identify as multiracial increased from nine million in 2010 to 33.8 million in 2020.   See https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/population-changes-nations-diversity.html

The census questions that allow residents to report race and ethnicity in detail demonstrate that fewer people now WANT to identify as White, and that is a huge political shift. Perhaps we are seeing that the slow death of legal racial segregation has given birth to ethnic sophistication, as people seek accurate descriptors of their family backgrounds. Maybe the census results are best used to show how far the country has come and how far it is willing to go to put ethnicity into context. Here are some useful visualizations courtesy of the New York Times.  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/08/12/us/2020-census-race-ethnicity.html?campaign_id=37&emc=edit_rr_20210814&instance_id=37943&nl=race%2Frelated&regi_id=72270143&segment_id=66273&te=1&user_id=60d337e2942ada51246ce62739c0fb94

Perhaps it’s now safer to embrace having a complex heritage, safer for more people to speak the truth that we are, in fact, diverse–and, now, proud of it.

The Trump administration did all it could to miscount or undercount people of color, tribal people, and undocumented people—and even so, communities of color survived and grew.  Here’s an interactive map from the New York Times that is a good visualization of the changes between 2010 and 2020: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/08/12/us/2020-census-race-ethnicity.html?campaign_id=37&emc=edit_rr_20210814&instance_id=37943&nl=race%2Frelated&regi_id=72270143&segment_id=66273&te=1&user_id=60d337e2942ada51246ce62739c0fb94

It’s important to remember the problems with the actual count—both because this census may be so skewed and because its results will affect the number of federal dollars coming in to New Mexico for a decade to come.

In particular, it’s worth noting the following:

  • The Census Bureau under Trump appointee Wilbur Ross first attacked the census process by proposing to eliminate the count of undocumented people altogether–but failed. Federal dollars available for family and community supports is allotted on roughly a per capita basis, so an undercount of New Mexico’s people would (and does) shortchange the state and its ability to provide for nourishment and education of its residents.  Failing to count undocumented people means failing to provide supports for them.
  • The shoddy system the Trump administration adopted for surveying the American public may have effects long after 2021. Most of the 2020 census was conducted online, leaving internet deserts common in New Mexico to be counted in person. The in-person count was first halted because of COVID-19. But even when it was safe to resume the door-to-door count, the Trump administration reduced its efforts and shortened the period during which it accepted new data.  
  • Further, much of the data collected has been scrambled, using “differential privacy” methods in the name of preserving individual anonymity. The methods permit transplanting racial, ethnic, poverty, and other data from one census block to another, again risking federal dollars directed to tribal and other communities of color.  

Knowing that the self-identification of multicultural people survived techniques designed to undercount and misrepresent them is heartening. The 2020 census count of self-identified multicultural people is evidence that supremacists have already lost both the battle and the war to divide the interests of people advocating for a significant voice in distribution of power and federal dollars.