Who Are We?

Posted March 31, 2010, at 5:27 p.m.

When the census process is concluded later this year, we as a state and a nation will have a good long look in the mirror. The census, in addition to establishing equitable representation among the nation’s congressional districts, will update the state and nation on who we are — our ages, our education, our income and our ethnicity.

Demographers already are projecting that for the first time since the nation was founded, more non-white children than white children will be born. According to the New York Times, births to women of Asian, African and Hispanic descent accounted for 48 percent in the U.S. in the period from mid-2007 to mid-2008. By 2012, non-Hispanic white births in the U.S. will be a minority.

All of which begs the question — what is race? And what bearing does it have on the way we understand ourselves as a nation?

The 2010 U.S. Census asks the person completing form if he or she is “Spanish/Hispanic/Latino.” If the answer is affirmative, the choices that follow are: Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano; Spanish, Hispanic, Latino; Puerto Rican; Cuban.

Then, the census form asks for the person’s race, and gives as choices: “White; Black, African-American or Negro; American Indian or Alaskan Native.” Further choices are: “Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, Other Pacific Islander, Other Asian. Then, with boxes to fill in, the last option offered is “some other race.”

So what constitutes race? Are we all not members of the human race? If we must categorize people, should we use the continent from which their ancestors hailed? If the color of one’s skin is used, we have a problem, because in recent decades, if the average color of Americans’ skin were reproduced, it would be neither black nor white, but instead mocha.

Because skin color is blending and national and ethnic origins are more mixed, those born at the start of this century will, as adults, care far less about such distinctions. Even today, it is more difficult to assign “race” designations based on skin color to people such as singers Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez; golfer Tiger Woods; actors Will Smith and Jimmy Smits; Govs. Bobby Jindal and Bill Richardson; newscasters Soledad O’Brien and Rick Sanchez; and President Barack Obama.

And isn’t that a good thing?

Maine likely will remain the “whitest state in the nation” when the census statistics are tabulated. Those who worry about intolerance sometimes extrapolate from that statistic that Maine is more prone to bigotry. But Maine’s homogeneity does not necessarily lead to intolerance.

Americans of northern European descent, who were the early settlers of this country — though they displaced Native Americans, and French and Spanish settlers — should not see any threat in the darkening of our country’s collective skin.

Pride in one’s heritage should and will remain as we blend as a nation. But maybe when the 2020 census is taken, the race question will be dropped from the form altogether.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/03/31/opinion/who-are-we/ printed on September 19, 2014