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Jewish World Review June 7, 2001/ 17 Sivan, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Double trouble in census silliness -- THE melting pot ideal, with its assimilationist pride, hit a boiling point followed by meltdown, and has been replaced by a cauldron of politically poisonous stew of ethnic separatism. Has anybody got the Maalox?

Nowhere is this seen more perniciously than in the 2000 census. Race was once an exclusive category, but on both the short and long questionnaire in the 2000 census, a person could mark more than one box for categories of race and ethnicity. This is no doubt from the double trouble stirred up by the three witches in their brew in Macbeth: "Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips.''

The census decision may not be of the magnitude of measuring a slave as three-fifths of a person in the Constitution (actually meant to punish the slave-holding South by reducing its congressional representation), or the Nazi debate over how many Jewish grandmothers it took to mark a Jew for genocide, but it's the source of a bit of devilment here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

"It may well herald the beginning of the end of racial classifications as we know them,'' writes Tamar Jacoby in an analysis in Commentary magazine.

Men and women from a rainbow of color, from every age group and region, ticked more than one box on their Census forms: 5 percent of blacks, 6 percent of Hispanics, 24 percent of Asians, 40 percent of American Indians. Those under 18, looking to the future, were twice as likely as the men and women in older generations to mark themselves as multiracial.

Lest you think the purpose behind these multiplication tables was precision, think again. It's about political power --who's got it, who wants it, and what advocacy group is clawing its way toward getting more because their numbers are increasing. Having stumbled in a previous column in compiling statistics for different groups and coming up with considerably more than 100 percent, I discovered there's no easy way to establish clear lines of ethnic separation in the America of the modern era.

The Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration, in its bureaucratic fatuousness, made mischief of this muddle by adding insult to ethnicity. It decided to count all those whites who also checked a minority ancestry to be counted in the minority category, not as a single "mixed race.''

You don't have to be a genius at geometry to see that this expands the pie for the minorities and, of course, that's the point. The greater their number, the greater their power base. The black and Hispanic lobbyists opposed ticking a box for mixed-race person, which biracial parents wanted so their children could identify with both parents in a mixed-race marriage. The minority lobbyists saw that such a single category would take away numbers from blacks and Hispanics.

Hence the headline that a majority of whites is sooner or later to be replaced by a Hispanic majority is grossly misleading. It's non-Hispanic whites whose percentages are diminishing, but only because the census is not counting Hispanic whites in the white category. The most reliable census projections suggest that by the middle of this century whites, instead of becoming a minority, will be close to 75 percent if the category includes Hispanic whites, and 52 percent if the category excludes them.

This sounds a lot like the racial classification schemes in the Old South, where not so long ago blacks were divided among mulattos, quadroons and octoroons as a means of calibrating the race of offspring of interracial marriages. Today's census categories -- someone has cleverly described it as "splitting heirs'' -- are rationalized as a means of ending discrimination. You can bet that the new numbers will be used for establishing quotas for affirmative action, government contracts, college admissions and drawing legislative districts. Ethnic pride turns not on competitive achievement, but on competitive prejudice.

Approximately 7 million whites ticked a box designating themselves as from a minority, expanding minority categories and diminishing their own. Traditional minorities, whether of black, Hispanic or American Indian, get to eat their cake (greens, tacos and corn pudding as well) and have it, too.

More than a million blacks ticked both black and "something else,'' which didn't jeopardize their status as blacks. Only 2.5 million chose American Indian alone; others think (or wish) they may have a little Navaho, Cherokee or Chickasaw blood, and said so. Their numbers multiplied to 4.1 million persons, a jump of almost 65 per cent.

Annie Oakley, in the musical "Annie Get Your Gun,'' sang: "I'm an Indian, too, a Sioux, a Sioux.'' Lots of Americans are singing her song. Funny, if not so confusing --and more than a little sad.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS