It's Noncensus
The Census Bureau discovers miscegenation.

New York Press, Wednesday March 15, 2000

In 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court declared that states can't prohibit interracial marriage. Eight years earlier a Virginia couple, Richard and Mildred Loving--he was white, she was black--had each been sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty to violating the state's ban on miscegenation by marrying in Washington, DC. The trial judge, Leon Bazile, was compassionate enough to suspend their sentences--provided they get out of Virginia and stay out for 25 years. "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents," Judge Bazile opined. "The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

The Supreme Court, in the delightfully named case of Loving v. Virginia, unanimously disagreed, striking down antimiscegenation laws in Virginia and 15 other Southern and border states. Ever since, interracial unions have been permitted just about everywhere in America, save at South Carolina's Bob Jones University. In late February BJU posted on its website an explanation of the "Bible principle" behind its longstanding ban on interracial dating and marriage among students. "God wanted a divided world, not a federalized world," the statement read, echoing Judge Bazile. "The University wishes to give God the benefit of any doubt and avoid pursuing any direction that would give assistance to the renewed efforts of man to create a one-world community consisting of one religion, one economy, one government, and one race."

Mighty white of them to give God the benefit of the doubt. On March 3, however, BJU president Bob Jones III--stung by criticism from George W. Bush, among others--announced on CNN's Larry King Live that his institution was lifting its ban. The same day, the zany apologia disappeared from the BJU homepage, replaced by a bland statement that began: "We are not racists in any shape, form or fashion. We do not hold one race over another." But last week Jones issued a caveat, telling students that they would need written permission from their parents before the university would allow them to date outside their race.

If BJU hasn't quite entered the 20th century, the U.S. Census Bureau is about to do so. The 2000 census, which takes place April 1, will be the first that officially acknowledges the inevitable result of mixed-race marriages: mixed-race children. Suppose your mom is half Haitian and half Irish, and your dad is half Filipino and half Cherokee. In 1990 you'd have had to decide which box to check: black, white, Asian or American Indian. In 2000 you can check all four.

This means that when the census is tabulated and the racial categories are added up, the total will be more than 100 percent. What an inspiring thought: America is greater than the sum of its parts. For those of us with complicated ethnic backgrounds, the new census form is a welcome change. Finally, the government is allowing us to affirm every aspect of our heritage.

Well, not quite. Some ethnic groups turn out to count more than others. The whole enterprise underscores the folly of categorizing people by race.

Example: My mother, Ulla-Britt Taranto (née Johnsson), is an immigrant from Sweden. But we Swedish-Americans don't merit our own census classification. There isn't even a "Scandinavian" category. Instead, we're lumped in with the likes of Belgians, Serbs and Bulgarians, all crowded into the "White" box.

Asians, by contrast, get nine separate "racial" categories, ranging from "Chinese" and "Japanese" to "Samoan" and--my personal favorite--"Guamanian or Chamorro." But my paternal grandfather, Vitali Taranto, was born in Asia--Izmir, Turkey, to be precise. The census form has no "Turkish" category. Asian-Americans, however, unlike European-Americans, get a write-in option. I can check "Other Asian" and identify myself as Turkish.

Those who are "Spanish/Hispanic/Latino," too, can cast a write-in vote. There are separate boxes for Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cuban-Americans, but everyone else has to check "Other" and stipulate his group. Since Vitali Taranto's ancestors were from Spain--expelled, with other Sephardic Jews, in 1492--I can write in "Spanish."

Other parts of my heritage get ignored altogether. My paternal grandmother, Goldina Taranto (née Feldman) was born in Istanbul to Romanian Jewish parents. And Vitali's ancestors lived in Italy for a time in the 15th and 16th centuries--hence my Italian surname. Romanians, Italians, European Turks? Forget it. To the bean counters at the Census Bureau, we're all "White."

A census that took full account of America's endless diversity would be staggeringly complex. It would require separate categories for Basques and Lapps, for Hutus and Tutsis, for Cuban Jews, Peruvian-Americans of Japanese extraction, and hundreds of other groups and subgroups. Why not, pray tell, a single category for Swedish-Turkish-Romanian-Italian-Spanish-Jewish-Americans? In my family alone, three people fit that bill.

Here's a better solution. According to the Census Bureau website, you are free to forgo all the standard racial categories and identify yourself simply as American: "Mark the 'Some other race' box and enter the response in the space provided."

When you fill out your census form, forget "white, black, yellow, malay and red." The only colors that matter are red, white and blue. Dear reader, join my write-in campaign for America. Don't lose that Loving feeling.

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