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Why Does the Government Care about Race?

every 10 years in the u.s. folks celebrate a time-honored tradition that most of us wish we could forget and many of us do the collection of the National census because let's face it it only happens once every 10 years and filling out a questionnaire is hardly the highlight of the average person's decade when compared to other major life events like graduations deaths newborn kids buying a home or avoiding social media spoilers for our favorite shows but if the census is supposed to be a relatively impartial record that keeps track of how many people are located in the country at a given time then why does the census ask us about our race well the answer tells us about a history of voter disenfranchisement that stretches back to our country's inception so stay tuned because this week origin of everything is getting very Civic see civics Phish civics minded let's settle for the last one one thing I've heard repeated over and over again about the census is why does the government need to know what race the argument usually goes we're all more than our race so why is the federal government keeping track of this sensitive information and of course we all have many intersecting identities among which race is one but while race became a major category that public and private institutions started tracking systematically throughout the 20th century the federal census was preoccupied with race since the 18th century the first census conducted in 1790 included questions about gender race relationship to head of household name of head of household and the number of slaves if any according to the US Census Bureau so the question of race has been baked into the cake since the censuses beginning but although the original census document was pretty short and sweet it was actually a reflection of the limited scope of citizenship at the country's beginning as more and more people were granted access to citizenship residency Asylum and government aid the question became more complex through time now the census is as much about keeping track of folks as it is about preventing things like voter suppression and gerrymandering and also allocating state and federal spending for infrastructure housing education and healthcare it also allows us to measure life outcomes for different groups track the efficacy of government programs and determine how many representatives and electoral votes each state gets that's right filling a bunch of bubbles can determine how many federal resources your state and indirectly you get every year as well as how much your state matters in the next federal election which means in some ways info we bubble in on the census can have as lasting an impact as the votes we cast so to get to the bottom of this question today we should first talk about how the census emerged and what exactly those early enumerators know really that's what census takers are called we're even looking for next we need to think about how it evolved from a six question survey to become a 50 plus question laundry list of information for the federal government before being whittled down to ten questions again and the answer demonstrates how we went from recording six answers per household across thirteen states three districts in one territory to spreading to over 300 million people today and finally we'll discuss why race among other new questions seems to be here to stay on this nationwide poll the early history of the census runs pretty much parallel to the history of the first US presidency George Washington had been in office for one year when the first census was conducted in 1790 and nearly every one of the original six questions was about race in one way or another because the number of eligible voters was entirely determined by race and gender census workers were asked to collect these answers from every household names of heads of families the number of free white males aged under 16 years and of 16 years and upward number of free white females number of other free persons number of slaves three of the questions explicitly asked for the number of white residents in the household while the last two asked to record other free persons other being coded word here for not white and number of slaves with an understanding that the overwhelming majority of enslaved persons at this time were of African descent so the original census design was largely concerned with race but why well keep in mind that only free white men who owned property and were 21 or older could vote so the earliest purpose of recording race on the census wasn't to evenly distribute voter rights but to limit enfranchisement to all but one specific group and in order to guarantee that limitation the federal government had to ask about race since it was a prerequisite of voting but because voting rights were guaranteed to a relatively slim number of people the early census didn't require much more outside of race gender age and legal status in regards to slavery and freedom and whether or not you were a property owner the founding fathers shared a belief that men who didn't own land poor people white women and all racial minorities were incapable of casting a decent vote or deciding the future of the country so the original reasons for recording race on the census were aimed at disenfranchisement and limiting the rights of full citizenship to a small percentage of the overall population if that's the case then why did race as a category on the census stick around well the answer comes down again to how we were voting or who was being excluded from the voter rolls after 1790 and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries key pieces of legislation and historical shifts increased both the size of the country and the number of citizens eligible to vote that included people of color emancipated slaves all women and men who didn't own land but the road to a fair census was still very fraught according to journalist Becky little by 1820 all other free persons was converted to free colored males and females and in 1850 the census expanded to include the category of mulatto under the ranks of races that people could check off but that was because legislators saw the country pivoting towards the Civil War so they were thinking about which states would remain in the Union and about how to count millions of african-americans and people of color who are either enslaved or considered legally free but still largely barred from casting a ballot and professor Melissa Nobles a political scientist at MIT noted that the 1850 designation of mulatto was added at the request of racial scientist Josiah knot who hoped to use this information to prove his false theories about biological differences between people based on the degree of African blood they have in 1894 just one census cycle categories like mulatto quadroon and octoroon were available on the census but by 1930 statisticians acknowledged that these categories were subjective and largely insignificant and replaced these subcategories with Negro while also adding categories for people from South and East Asia Native Americans and Mexicans or mexican-americans but the spread of Jim Crow from 1850 into the 1960s meant the census data collection on race was often tied to ensuring that certain people could not vote rather than providing an accurate and objective number on the population so race has been a contentious and often very negative category on the census for most of its history so why did it stick around to today while arguments by both the Census Bureau and supporters of keeping race on the census point out that the issues was recording race on the census namely gerrymandering or realigning congressional districts can easily be flipped on its head just as race has been used to redistricting areas that are largely populated by racial minorities and people with fewer financial resources those same numbers can be used to raise cases in court against unfair redistricting lines that favor one party over another for example people still live either through social organizing or through economic stratification and neighborhoods that can be racially or economically homogeneous and race and class often aligned with people's political affiliations so census data can prevent congressional districts from being drawn in ways that guarantee one party or type of candidate will always win a certain district even if the majority of voters living in that district support an opposing party or candidate and because as of today the census is mandatory unlike voting it gives a fuller scope of the number of people actually residing in a state than the turnout of voters on Election Day so the census is the federal government's best chance to record the accurate number of people in each state to make sure that everyone's vote can count equally and to determine how federal funds are spent based on population and recording race on the census helps support redistricting in states like North Carolina as recently as this year where congressional lines were found by federal courts to disproportionately disadvantaged minority voters it's also been included as key evidence in a number of redistricting cases throughout the 20th and 21st century so this seems to be a matter of same data with different objectives it doesn't downplay that the history of recording race on the census was alarmingly negative but rather says that the recording of race isn't the inherit issue at hand but rather how lawmakers choose to use that information for the public good or not and every time a new question is added to the census or removed it sparks ongoing debate about what should be recorded and how that information is being used whether it be for public good or for more partisan efforts this debate is rearing its head yet again as we towards the 2020 census well there you have it the only two things that have stayed pretty much consistent in collecting data for the census is recording race and calling census workers enumerators and while that name comes across those pretty dry that debate about how and why the government is recording races anything but and while a history of race on the census is largely rooted and disenfranchisement that same info has often been taken in the last several decades to fight disenfranchisement because the questions that researchers ask are often just as critical if not more so than the information they collect our personal perspectives and arguments influence shape and change the outcomes of studies just as much as the results themselves and that means there aren't really any strictly objective questions because those questions are driven by very real sometimes good and sometimes not so good human motivations so what do you think anything to add on how recording race on the census impacts your vote any other information to share be sure to drop all those comments questions and debates down below subscribe to origin of everything on YouTube and follow us on Facebook and I'll see you here next time you


  1. Rough
    Rough June 7, 2019

    As a afro latino from haiti i could say america you suck

  2. zama202
    zama202 June 7, 2019

    Absurd to count illegal immigrants and treat them the same as legal residents
    in Congressional Representation. 5 out of California's 55 Electoral Votes
    is because of their illegal immigrant population and also 5 of their 53
    House Members. This terrible rule disenfranchises legal citizens.

  3. Joel Oiknine
    Joel Oiknine June 7, 2019

    This young lady is excellent in explaining the US Census as well as the racial component in questions dating back to the first US Census held in 1790, just one year after our first President George Washington took office. There are so many different options on how a person can respond to the “race question,” that it’s very difficult to not be able to report your race as well as that of all members living in the household. The question of Citizenship will be decided by the US Supreme Could on April 26, 2019 in an expedited appeal due to the the US Census printing

  4. John Labus
    John Labus June 7, 2019

    While I understand how the data can be used to protect gerrymandering and identify groups from being targeted, I still don't understand the way that the Census identifies those of Hispanic or Latino origin. How does one justify categorizing people as a separate race based (sometimes it seems) solely on their mother tongue? That doesn't tell us what their race is; it often just tells us who conquered the lands of their origin.

  5. Elizabeth Phillips
    Elizabeth Phillips June 7, 2019

    Part of it is for health reasons. For instance, the more people who report being Native American means that more money will be set aside for Native American health issues.

  6. Fuert Neigt
    Fuert Neigt June 7, 2019

    National Geographic magazine has an article that says there is no such as race, can this channel do a video about that?

  7. Mrs Mutawa
    Mrs Mutawa June 7, 2019

    Interesting and weird in the same time. I’m from Kuwait and we never mention race or ethnicity in the census even though we have different ethnicities like mainly Arab, African , Persian and others.

  8. Professr Frank
    Professr Frank June 7, 2019

    Always very interesting!
    I think the objection is that the word “race” is outdated. Until we find a better one, just stick with what all people (“folks”?) understand.
    Which leads to my suggestion: differences in English vocabulary. Example: in Canada we never use “folks” as a synonym for “people.”
    The Canadian census asks origin question as a cultural group.
    These questions are necessary until they stop being important. If a definable group needs support, you need to know how many there are in the group to define it.
    I would like it if the census asked about orientation, and differentiated sex and gender.
    In Canada of course we also ask questions about language use (“mother tongue,” language used at home and at work) because we are a bilingual country and French and Native language speakers get extra protection.
    Does the US census ask language questions?

  9. Tristan Irby
    Tristan Irby June 7, 2019

    I once worked for the US Census and it was a good job. I was an independent contractor meaning I worked when I wanted. They pay good money. They pay you everyweek. I hope to do it again next year.

  10. jws1948ja
    jws1948ja June 7, 2019

    I like this lady.

  11. Bathoric95
    Bathoric95 June 7, 2019

    I know in Canada it is seldom asked in government forums. Mostly for indigenous aboriginals for tax season so they get the correct rebate aswell as extra forums for write offs.
    However I have had online job applications ask me my race and I feel that is just fucking wrong. I have an unusual name and during a blind interview had a company assume and boldy state "they thought I was black because of my name". They even directed the only black girl in the room by my name. Her name was Nicole… I got the job but turned it down when they called me to start.

  12. *little_werido*
    *little_werido* June 7, 2019

    the gerrymander example she shoed isn't actually gerrymandered. The top and bottom of the shape are made up of mainly Hispanics and portion in the middle is mainly African American. The district makes sure both these group are represented correctly.

  13. washingtonstromtrooper
    washingtonstromtrooper June 7, 2019

    Did anyone else lie and said they did tons of hard drugs on the survey's they gave in school?

  14. Caged
    Caged June 7, 2019

    Is it wrong to list myself as white even though I'm not….maybe my 23 and me of would be more accurate.

  15. Alia Guerin
    Alia Guerin June 7, 2019

    In Europe we ask for Nationality so we know in what language we can communicate. Nobody here would dare ask for race. That is a big no no. And rightfully so. Peace.

  16. Norry Shauck
    Norry Shauck June 7, 2019

    Yeah but not everyone gets a census letter. My friend got one but she’s the only one I know who got one.

  17. Kristina
    Kristina June 7, 2019

    In the 70's, to earn money, my mom was a census taker. She also would deliver phone books.

  18. Asura Heterodyne
    Asura Heterodyne June 7, 2019

    As an amateur historian, I want to have as much info as humanly possible on the census, since that is a fantastic way to find out a lot of information about folks who otherwise would be lost to history.

  19. Raquel L
    Raquel L June 7, 2019

    I was taught from my grandma that God made all people. Red , yellow , black or white we are precious in his sight. God loves us all EQUALLY

  20. Jnn F
    Jnn F June 7, 2019

    I love your voice girl. So bomb! I need a "Draw a life" from you.

  21. Julian Reid
    Julian Reid June 7, 2019

    Humans don't have races! It is just a tool for divide and conquer politics. Humans are a stupid self-destructive species that is also capable of greatness and compassion.

  22. Mistress Führer
    Mistress Führer June 7, 2019

    I'm not even gonna watch this dumb shit. They ask you, your race, because they wanna know how many of that one race there is in the USA. 😑😑

  23. Scott Miller
    Scott Miller June 7, 2019

    I find it interesting to see the racial makeup of a particular region. I'm writing a story set in rural Montana (in the US). Towns there are either overwhelmingly white, or overwhelmingly native American. Third on the list is Hispanic with typically between 1 and 2%, while black, Asian, etc are under 1% each. One town set on the edge of an Indian reservation is about 95% white, another set in the center of the reservation is about 95% Indian, while a smaller town on the reservation is about 99% Indian. As a writer this info is invaluable as to understanding a place (along with a ton of researched info on what it means to be white or Indian in that part of the country). Of course there's no substitute for visiting, which I've done.

    An interesting bit of trivia: There's a 19th-century book written about that Montana tribe, and in it is the mention that a member saw a "black white man". Interesting because "white man" didn't refer to skin color, but to otherness. Very much a part of the us-versus-them mentality.

    Another example of us-versus-them is that on my first visit to that reservation a native man told me a story about traveling through an airport in the southern US, near the border with Mexico. And INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) agent started talking to him in Spanish, the assumption being he was Hispanic and maybe an illegal from Mexico. Of course he wasn't and didn't know Spanish. Spain settled Mexico and mixed with the local population, who were American Indians (American, as in the continent). So there can be a similar appearance between a Hispanic from Mexico and an Indian from Montana. Anyway, the native Montanian showed the agent his tribal ID card, which proved his relatives lived in the Montana area long before Columbus. The agent had never seen such a card, but stopped hassling the guy and let him get on his flight.

  24. MX Bravo
    MX Bravo June 7, 2019

    There was movie called Bulworth offering a very intriguing solution on how to end racism. Now, if I could just remember the exact quote…

  25. A. T.
    A. T. June 7, 2019

    I am Mexican and I just check off white because my mom is a white green eyed Mexican so I figure it is the most correct. But it is pretty ridiculous when a brown skinned Mexican feels the obligation to check off white when it's clearly not the case.

  26. Omar Zeid
    Omar Zeid June 7, 2019


  27. Dave Coons
    Dave Coons June 7, 2019

    This video is incredibly slanted. Antebellum census takers asked about race because slaves were counted, but counted differently, for the purposes of congressional representation.
    And how did the Jim Crow laws of the southeast have anything to do with a national censuses?

  28. Nooom91
    Nooom91 June 7, 2019

    As a French person I’ve always found the way Americans talk about race disturbing in a way. We are not used to using this term to refer to humans in my country, only animals. It’s seen as offensive by minorities actually. We generally prefer to ask about people’s origins as it seems more relevant to their identity specificity, but also recognizes that they have participated in the building of a shared French culture as a result of that origin story. It’s weird that American racial demographics would count a recent white French expat in the same pool as white Americans, but would consider black Americans to be an entirely different demographics with different ideologies. Culturally white Americans have more in common with black Americans than with me for sure. It’s also disturbing that many make the assumption that we have so much in common because of some ancient genes. Like « oh I’m French too, my great great great grand-father moved here but I love croissant and Paris and oh la laaaaa » 😅

  29. TheEngineGal
    TheEngineGal June 7, 2019

    It’s even funnier that my spouse is someone who was born in Africa but became an American citizen, and is technically a white African American! Also what about black folks who aren’t from Africa?

  30. Gerson Cuevas
    Gerson Cuevas June 7, 2019

    I think the census is flawed.
    It still doesn't take in consideration the homeless or the undocumented immigrants.

  31. The Truth
    The Truth June 7, 2019

    Why is it that when Americans speak or Black-Americans get to express their views on any topic they always end up referring to the slave trade or at least slavery as a key point in their stories? Same with Jewish people. Besidesthese arguments often overshaduw everything black people stand for. if you are not getting compensated in the sense of lets say precedence with housing or jobs or the way Jewish people are, then move on from it.
    Thicking boxes should not be made as high of a priority as it is right now it should rather be made irrelevant.

  32. Bunker Sieben
    Bunker Sieben June 7, 2019

    To put you in internment camps like they did to Japanese.

  33. God of Beans
    God of Beans June 7, 2019

    Like I know racism isnt over, but whenever I hear about the past concerning things like race and gender I'm so glad I was born today. I'm a white male so I'd be fine but a government decided by only one race and gender sounds real shitty.

  34. Joshey vlogs
    Joshey vlogs June 7, 2019

    Wow. It's almost like everything in the US is rooted in racism and oppression.

  35. IcantSeeReplies
    IcantSeeReplies June 7, 2019

    If American society got rid of its "obsession with race" blacks would be the first to complain because they would lose all their privilege the race cards gives them.

  36. The Goddamn Batman
    The Goddamn Batman June 7, 2019

    I'm more concerned if they ask about citizenship. Even though I'm a naturalized citizen it offends me enough, that if they ask, I wont bother filling that census out. They can go screw themselves.

  37. Tensai55
    Tensai55 June 7, 2019

    Well, I'll be able to accurately record my religion in 2020. In 2010, I was still living with my parents and they put my religion down as Christian (which it wasn't by that point in time).

  38. dammyqb
    dammyqb June 7, 2019

    so glad i came across this youtube page! i literally could sit and watch your videos back to back! i love history and i’m obsessed with it! knowing the origin of things explains how things are how they are now ❤️

  39. nourhan amara
    nourhan amara June 7, 2019

    In Lebanon it is worse, the government needs to know which religious sect are you…

  40. Karma Roam
    Karma Roam June 7, 2019

    your voice is lunar

  41. ber Bart
    ber Bart June 7, 2019

    One territory

  42. ShaVaughn Peterson
    ShaVaughn Peterson June 7, 2019

    As an afro-latino, I'm often conflicted about the proper boxes to tick when asked about race. Why does the census specify black non-hispanic?

  43. Eeriel Constantine
    Eeriel Constantine June 7, 2019

    As an ethnic mutt I’ll just check the least specific answer. Hopefully it’ll make some beaurocratic office worker frustrated

  44. Hope Weiss
    Hope Weiss June 7, 2019

    Please talk more about controversial questions/content like the one regarding citizenship in the upcoming one

  45. Nick Carberry
    Nick Carberry June 7, 2019

    What happens if you don't fill one out?

  46. XxxlilmizzzxxX
    XxxlilmizzzxxX June 7, 2019

    WTF is octaroon???

  47. Mark Hazlewood
    Mark Hazlewood June 7, 2019

    I love your presentations. The info is excellent and topical, BUT your flighty hand movements drive me nuts. Please control your hands better and do continue to deliver great content.

  48. sarahraspberry15
    sarahraspberry15 June 7, 2019

    Where do birthmarks come from

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