Power in Numbers

Wendy Tardieu is a writing instructor, author and English professor from Orlando, Florida. She writes fiction, political and cultural commentary, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida.  Email: tardieu78@yahoo.com

Wendy Tardieu is a writing instructor, author and English professor from Orlando, Florida. She writes fiction, political and cultural commentary, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida.

Email: tardieu78@yahoo.com

The Trump administration attempted to add a question to the upcoming 2020 census that asks if the participant is a US citizen, citing a need to “enforce the Voting Rights Act” as explained by Vox. The U.S Census is a constitutional obligation to enumerate and represent everyone living in the United States. Not since 1950, however, has a citizenship question been on the forms. Much controversy has followed the proposed addition, arguments fueled by everything from partisan gerrymandering to allocation of government resources. Ultimately, the Supreme Court struck down the attempt. As explained by BlackPressUSA, many viewed it as “about money and political power.” While money and politics certainly may play a role, the primary motivation behind the process has everything to do with race. 

The citizenship question on the 2020 census benefits white supremacists is a number of very genius ways. One is the intent to marginalize minorities by taking away or at least diminishing their political power is one motive. The ability to redistrict is another. But there is one larger incentive for racist lawmakers that few people seem to be talking about: Optics.

Author William Frey’s analysis of the U.S. Census population projections released March 13th, 2018, shows that in 2045, whites will lose .3 percent of their majority.  While most people scoff at such a low number, white supremacists and white nationalists are up in arms, in some cases literally. This has sparked The Great White Fear – the idea that whites will no longer be able to reasonably claim the majority of America and thereby lose the dominance we have enjoyed these hundreds of years. So many of the current administration’s policies reflect a stark and hostile reaction to this information, but the citizenship question is one of the most effective ways they can attempt to curb this revelation. 

Because so many Americans are accustomed to a culture in which plain numbers, pictures, and graphics convey so much of how we see this country, it makes sense to manipulate this powerful census data in a way that shows that whites are still ‘supreme.’ In the same way ancient battle tactics were often to make as much noise as possible to give the illusion of larger numbers as intimidation, the skewed data on this upcoming census will leave the country with the impression that not only are most American citizens white, but that we may have dodged that projected dwindling majority. 

This will re-enforce the sense of entitlement whites already have for America in the sense that the country ‘belongs’ to them. Lawmakers know that many, especially in light of the status of current immigration policies, will be motivated not to participate in the census, thereby being under-counted. This sends a shockwave through the data that determines demographics in the nation. It has already been acknowledged that much-needed programs that benefit minorities will be affected, further disenfranchising them. A CNN report noted, “[t]hat data helps the government decide how to distribute federal funds for programs like free and reduced-price school lunches, highway spending and Medicaid” But, the optics of larger white numbers is the tantamount bonus of this attempted legislation. 

It is imperative that Americans look beyond the surface of this attempt to realize that much of it is in the hopes to combat what will eventually be a .3 percent loss in the white majority. Lawmakers know that if they are on the verge of losing those perceived entitlements, they will simply warp data in order to fabricate them.