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Sunday, December 5, 2021

2020 Census: The Only Way To Fight Intentional Erasure Is By Intentionally Being Counted

By Livio De La Cruz, Committee Member
Demand to be Counted 2020 Census Project

Every 10 years the federal government counts everyone living in the United States through the census, and it is meant to make sure that when the government is distributing federal resources, the distribution is done equitably. The problem is, if people are not counted, funding is not distributed for them.

It’s really easy to say government doesn’t work, because for us and our communities, so often it doesn’t. The census is not different. Historically, African Americans have been undercounted in the census. We already don’t get the level of resources our communities need and that we pay for. Given that we are already undercounted and not receiving our fair share of the American pie, the changes made to the census process disproportionately threaten the future quality of our lives and our communities.

I don’t remember the last census in 2010. I was still in high school. I’m guessing an employee of the US. Census Bureau came to my house, just as they’ve been doing for every household in the country every ten years for over 200 years. Clipboard in hand, the employee must have spoken with my parents to complete the questionnaire. I assume we were counted. But I’ve never really given the census much thought until now.

Political scientists and statisticians have long since argued the census isn’t the best way to get an accurate count of everyone in the United States; off the bat, it’s an imperfect method. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that it is the method used to count us, and then to dedicate and distribute funding and other resources based on that count.

In the past the census was solely a door-to-door effort conducted by trained staff. That process is no more. In 2020 we are responsible for counting ourselves. The census is moving to the internet. This might seem like a great idea, and it may appear to make the census more accessible, but that isn’t true for our communities. Black folks are much less likely to have access to the tools and resources needed to understand and complete the census.

Being undercounted in the census -or not counted at all- has real-life consequences. We are the very people who need these resources the most in our communities. We don’t have enough affordable housing. We don’t have enough affordable resources and activities for children and youth. We don’t have access to healthcare in our communities at the level we need it. We don’t have transportation options that serve our needs.

We don’t have enough of anything.

As if those challenges aren’t enough, the current political climate is also a factor affecting whether we are all counted. People feel distrustful of the government. Even though there are strict laws in place that are supposed to protect the information we provide through the census, as people of color we know that our rights can be violated at any time.

The result? The census feels like a risk. Opting out feels easier. Opting out feels safer. Maybe it is.

But the only way to fight intentional erasure is by intentionally being counted. It takes all of us to make sure everyone is counted in 2020. Getting rid of the current systems that hurt our communities, and strengthening the systems that help us, requires many kinds of tools and actions. We have to fight for our own liberation on every front, including being counted in the census. This is something we need to be intentional about in solidarity with each other, in fighting for economic and social justice for those who need it the most.

We are doing outreach work for the census because we demand to be counted. We see all of the forces that are working to stop us from being counted, from having our voices heard, and we refuse to let them win. We refuse to be silenced, ignored, or erased.

The U.S. Census Bureau has already started mailing information to every household with instructions on how to be counted in the 2020 census. If you don’t see anything in the mail, you still have until July to go online or complete the census by phone. Learn more at www.demandtobecounted.org, and do what you can to spread the word in your corner of our community: In 2020, demand to be counted.

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