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Jewish World Review April 5, 2000 /29 Adar II, 5760

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Counting the Race Cards -- I GREW UP in the fifties and the sixties. Way back in those dark ages we were taught that we shouldn’t judge others by the color of their skin. There’s only one race, we were told, the human race. Everyone is equal under the skin. Race discrimination is a bad thing, they said, and should not be tolerated. Don’t stereotype people. Strive for a colorblind society. My generation were taught these things and we took them to heart.

I believed then, as I do now, that each person regardless of race, should be entitled to the same rights as anyone else. I believed that every person should be judged as an individual -- not as a Black, not as an Asian, not as a member from any particular group. I learned that looking at a person as an individual tends to humanize that person -- while looking at a person as a group member, by definition, tends to stereotype that person.

These were the lessons of racial equality we were taught in the America of the sixties -- what a shame America in the year 2000 has taken a totally opposite view towards race. If you doubt this, just consider the Census 2000 form sent out to us from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

On the first page of the so-called long form, you are first asked your name, then telephone number, then sex, then age. Reasonable questions so far for a census. Then we come to the “what-are-you?” section, of which there are no less than 24 separate races listed with additional boxes left open to write in “other.” I read recently that someone actually figured out that there are literary 63 combinations of race available within those 24 options.

The first question asks: Is this person Spanish/Hispanic/Latino? (For some reason they have separated this category of people out from all the others -- I wonder why?)

Up until now, it’s been my understanding that Spanish usually refers to someone born in Spain or having Spanish heritage (that is, ancestors who came to this country directly from Spain). I never thought of Spanish as a race anymore than I considered Irish a race or English a race, but okay, let’s move on to the rest of that question. What is the difference between Hispanic and Latino? I always thought the terms were interchangeable, and if they are not, then is it possible to be Hispanic and NOT Latino? Can one be a Latino and NOT Hispanic? Can one be Hispanic on their mother’s side and Latino on their father’s side? Hmmm.

Okay, moving down to the next part of the Spanish/Hispanic/Latino question -- they ask if the person is Mexican, Mexican Am., or Chicano. Now, see, I’m getting all mixed up again. I always considered a Mexican as a person from Mexico -- like an Israeli is a person from Israel, or a Canadian is a person from Canada. So when the form specifies Mexican, do they mean a citizen of Mexico or an American of Mexican heritage? But then they have separate designations for Mexican American and Chicano (which I stupidly assumed were also interchangeable terms for American citizens who have Mexican ancestry).

If you find all this a bit mind-boggling, wait -- it gets better.

There are separate boxes to check for Puerto Rican and Cuban, and if you are none of the above, you are asked to print your “group” (interesting term, eh?) under “other.”

Next question: What is this person’s race? Mark X one or more races to indicate what this person considers himself/herself to be. Then they list the following:


Black, African Am., or Negro
American Indian or Alaska Native -- Print name of enrolled or principal tribe.
Asian Indian
Native Hawaiian
Guamanian or Chamorro
Other Pacific Islander -- Print race
Other Asian -- Print race.

Then, under all of that there is a last catch-all box for “some other race” and an area to print what that other race is.

Again I ask, as I did for Hispanic and Latino, is there a difference between Black, African American and Negro? And if there is, then is it possible for a person to be, through mixed parentage, half Black and half Negro?

Notice that there is only one category of “white” in the list. I guess if you’re white you’re white -- period. No mention of any Semitic groups, either. What about counting Jewish people? Are Arabs white? Are Armenians? Are Greeks? And why aren’t Spaniards considered white? Some Spanish people I know tend to be whiter skinned than many Italians. The mind more than boggles, it aches and throbs.

Yes, I always thought that when evaluating the worth of a human being, race shouldn’t count. It appears my government has other ideas.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Greg Crosby