By Michelle Merriweather, President & CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and Ebony Miranda, Board Chair of Black Lives Matter Seattle King County
Every 10 years, the federal government counts everyone living in the United States. But for African Americans the census has always been exclusionary and deeply flawed. It was intentionally designed to protect the institution of slavery, by reducing those who were enslaved to less than whole human beings.
Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution states: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States… which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
This was the law when the first census was completed in 1790 and for 75 years until the 14th Amendment was passed; enslaved Black people were legally considered less than. It is a legacy we still battle today. The intentional decision to undercount Black people in 1790 still hurts us in 2020.
We are not just historically undercounted; we have been undercounted in every census since. There are significant institutional and systemic barriers to accurately count Black and Brown people and our communities. We are being left out. We are not getting the resources we deserve and have helped pay for.
The census is the process the government uses to decide how billions of dollars of funding to states and our communities will be divided and spent. We cannot afford to not be counted in the 2020 Census.
Being counted in the 2020 Census is as important as preserving and restoring the Voting Rights Act, reversing gerrymandering, protecting a person’s right to choose, and ending mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline. The results of the census determine funding for Head Start, Free and Reduced Lunch, WIC, Medicaid, transportation and even Priority Hire in Seattle and King County.
This year will be the first time the census will be online. This is another barrier to an accurate count; our communities are at a disadvantage because overall, we have less access to the tools needed to be counted–another consequence of years of discriminatory and insufficient policy and investment by the federal government in education, net neutrality, and infrastructure.
The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and Black Lives Matter Seattle King County, along with a host of community-based organizations across the state of Washington are working to make sure that we are all counted in the 2020 Census, because the consequences of an undercount are very real.
We all have to work together as community to make sure we are counted. Being counted is our right as people who contribute to the places and spaces that make home.
This is a call to action to make sure all of us are counted; neighbors, aunts, uncles, cousins and elders. This isn’t just about adding numbers to a page. This is about positioning ourselves and our communities to fight for and achieve economic and social justice we are entitled to.
When we Make Black Count in the census, we then have the power to Demand to be Counted as lawmakers are making decisions about our communities and neighborhoods.
It is on all of us to make sure we are counted in the 2020 census. It starts by being committed to making sure the people you care about are counted, that they understand the census and its importance to the immediate future of our communities.
We are more than 3/5 and more than what history has set us out to be. This is our act of resistance. We cannot allow the census to be weaponized against us, and we will not be reduced or erased by it.