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Jewish World Review Nov. 22, 1999 /13 Kislev, 5760

Don Feder

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Washington's race obsession hits the census -- THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT demands to know my race and threatens to fine me ($500) if I refuse to answer questions it has no right to ask.

I received a form letter from the United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, admonishing me that I have not as yet returned its Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons (Form MB-1 or MB-2). For tax purposes relating to supplemental income, I am considered self-employed, even though my "business" has one employee -- me.

Form MB-2 has six questions. All concern race or gender. "Is the primary owner(s) of this business of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origins?" question 2 asks.

But that's not enough. Washington must go further in pigeonholing us. If the answer to 2 is yes, is the primary owner: "Cuban," "Mexican Am." "Puerto Rican," "Spaniard," "Hispanic Latin American" or "other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino."

If the answer is no, the respondent gets to choose among 13 other racial/ethnic classifications, including "Filipino," "Korean," "Vietnamese," "Amer. Indian," "Asian Indian" and "Pacific Islander." There is no designation "American."

The purpose of this inquisition is alluded to in the instructions. "These data are needed ... in order to provide a framework for assessing and directing federal, state and local government assistance programs" -- in other words, loans and subsidies reserved for minority businesses. My government wants me to become its partner in crime by facilitating its game of racial plunder.

MB-2 is a prelude to something bigger and even more ominous. Next April 1, Washington will perpetrate the greatest invasion of privacy in history -- the 2000 census. At a cost of roughly $7 billion, it will attempt to survey, classify and categorize 275 million Americans.

Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution provides for a decennial census for the purpose of apportioning House seats among the states. While the census is one of the few things the federal government does that's actually authorized by the Constitution, that mandate (a simple head count) has metastasized beyond recognition.

Those fortunate enough to get the long form in the mail will be asked 52 impertinent and intrusive questions. All but one (how many reside in your household?) have nothing to do with reapportionment -- unless you consider the number of toilets in your domicile, what you pay for homeowners' insurance or the length of your commute relevant to the distribution of House seats.

These are questions the government of a republic would never dare to ask, indeed has no reason to know. But Sizable Sibling has become so nosy, so curious about the status and habits of his subjects, that he would probably ask us if we floss after brushing, and sleep on our back or stomach, if he thought he could get away with it.

And, of course, there will be the ubiquitous racial-classification questions. Respondents who aren't satisfied with the available categories will be able to designate their own grouping by filling in a blank.

To assure that no minority is missed, for the first time, census forms will be printed in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog, as well as the standard English and Spanish.

Racial classification has become quite the racket. For diversity-mongers, it is essential for the distribution of spoils, including quota hiring. Welfare-state politicians need to know who to pander to and to what extent. Should Al Gore pay more attention to Latinos or blacks? Should he address the annual convention of the National Association of Native Alaskans or the Committee for the Advancement Pacific Islanders?

Self-designated spokesmen for various minorities get power from the numerical growth of their constituencies.

It's good for everyone except Americans -- that dwindling number whose principal identity is national, instead of racial, ethnic or linguistic, that is to say, non-hyphenated Americans.

Racial politics polarizes. Like dogs fighting for scraps of food, it pits groups against each other. It accustoms us to thinking and acting like members of interest groups instead of those with common bonds that transcend accidents of birth.

The Bureau of the Census wants to know my skin pigmentation, the texture of my hair, the shape of my eyelids, my grandparents' national origins. None of its damned business.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate