Census enumeration was way simpler in 1790, the year of the first census in Bey.1 Certainly in the matter of ethnicity, where Beysians were either black, white or colored. Fast-forward to 2010, and the issue has become far more complex, giving rise to questions like that raised by Clinton Luna’s article “What Race are You?” (Amandala, Feb. 16, 2021). His curiosity arises from his own cited experience (whether for illustration only is not known) of having a Mestiza mother and a Creole father.
After the 2000 census, I had raised the same question from another perspective. I had stopped on St. Jude Street at its Boulevard intersection in Belize City to let a couple pass. She was Mestiza and very pregnant. He was—make no mistake—very Creole! The question we had was: what would be given as the child’s race in the next (2010) census? In my K.I.S.S. thinking, the simple answer should be Creole—the father’s ethnicity.
Against that backdrop consider the following from the 2000 Census:
1. There were 119,000 persons classified as “Spanish/Mestizo,” but only 94,000 said Spanish was their first language.
2. Some 70,000 Beysians said their first language was Creole, while enumerators found only 58,000 “Creoles.”
Two decades later and things have gotten a lot more complicated. Here, for instance, is the guidance note to the 2010 enumerators regarding ethnicity and race classifications:
“Ethnic group and race do not…mean the same thing. Ethnicity refers to the customs and culture of the family*, while race refers more in a strict sense [sic] to physical characteristics.” [*The census report uses the word “group”].
This binomial construct raises several worrisome concerns, and I’ll mention three (3). First off is the chance that some arcane motive drove the distinction: no question about “race” was raised anywhere in the questionnaire compared to the 14 ethnic classes listed. If we go into the 2022 census with this seemingly pointless distinction, who is to say there won’t be a recurrence of the kinds of numeric anomalies mentioned above? Since ethnicity is the gold standard, and language is its main ore, then there should be a good fit between the language and people.
Secondly, there’s not enough time for enumerators to assess the broad gamut of culture: music, speech, attire, cuisine etc. Especially in a multicultural society like ours. To do justice by an enumeration based only on culture would require much more than the 10 weeks targeted for the census. The most recognizable determinant of a culture is the language. It’s true even of duck-dom!
Finally, the system appears to muzzle the enumerators’ skills and training by thrusting responsibility for the accuracy of the data onto the person who comes to the door. Here’s the relevant guidance:
“You must mark the response category to which the [person at the door] says he/she…belongs. DO NOT GUESS…DO NOT DECIDE BY APPEARANCES AND DO NOT ARGUE.” (Caps from census text).
It doesn’t take much imagination to spot the flaws here. Going back to the mixed couple with which I began this piece, the mother will be the one at the door since, generally speaking, the father will be at work. I think her answer will depend a lot on how faithfully she chooses to follow the culturo/ethnic lessons learned at home.
1 One of the earliest names for Belize.