(I don’t do politics. This will be an atypical post, and if you’re one of the tens of people who come here for the usual tech stuff, you’ll miss nothing by ignoring this post.)
I filled out a census form today, for the third time in my memory. I don’t think they’ve changed a great deal since I started. But this time, for some reason, it felt worse. For those US residents who haven’t done so yet, you enter a code into a web form and answer some basic demographic survey questions about who lives in your household. If you’ve been paying attention to US politics these past couple years, you know it’s been a fraught question. The administration wanted to ask citizenship questions that are really pretty far outside the purpose of the census and that many think would’ve reduced response rates, and they were prevented from doing so by the courts.
The questions they did leave in, though, feel a bit icky. Quite apart from my new need to refer to Molly as my “opposite sex husband/wife/spouse.” The ones that rubbed me the wrong way were the ethnicity questions. I checked the appropriate box for race, and then it wouldn’t let me proceed through the rest of the form until I answered a free-form question about ethnicity. I know more about my ethnic extraction than many do, I think, by virtue of having read the writings of a couple avid geneaologists in our family. But that didn’t make the question easier to answer, and I question the governmental interest in the answer anyway.
I don’t think these questions are new. My suspicion is that the new online form allows them to demand answers to questions I left blank on previous years' paper forms.
Our answer: “Unknown.”
What I know can’t be characterized by a one-word answer anyway. But it feels weird to give that answer about something I’ve learned so much about. Maybe “Unanswerable” would’ve been a better response.