Yes, there is some controversy around question nine on the 2010 Census form. But whether you consider yourself to be Black, African American, Negro or something else, you should think of the U.S. Census as a way to economically empower your community.


That’s right. There are two economic empowerment aspects to the Census.

First, there are employment opportunities.

If you are out of work or are looking to supplement your income, visit the U.S. Census office on the eighth floor of the William S. Moorhead Federal Building and apply for a job. I did this during the 1990 Census and worked in the Hill District, my own community, as a Census taker.


Second, by taking a few minutes to answer 10 simple questions and mailing back the form by April 1, you are helping to guarantee that your community gets its fair share of more than $4 trillion in federal funds over a 10-year period.

The National Urban League, in its “State of Black America” report states that, “economics remains the area with the greatest degree of inequity, followed by social justice, health, education and civic engagement.”

The funding used for crucial things such as schools, senior centers, job training centers, bridges, highways, public transportation and local emergency response services and training depends on each and every one of us completing and returning the Census form.

A Pricewaterhouse Coopers study discovered that Pennsylvania paid a high cost over the last decade because an estimated 5,740 people were not counted in Allegheny County alone and 101,537 throughout the Commonwealth. That number translated into an estimated loss of $478,297,000 that could have been used for such programs as Medicaid, Foster Care, Adoption, Rehabilitation Services Basic Support, Child Care and Development Block Grants, Social Services Block Grants, Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grants, and Vocational Education Basic Grants.

These forms will begin arriving in mailboxes near mid-March even though debate has been going on for weeks about the now nefarious question number nine—the question of race. Among the multiple selections is “Black, African Am., or Negro.” Certainly, each description is considered offensive by some.

I know some who think “Black” is a negative and demeaning term, others who do not identify with the African in “African American,” and still others who believe “Negro” is the other “N” word. It is this later group that has raised their discontented voice in opposition to the use of the word on the Census form.

Yet, I do not hear such cries of foul waged against the National Council of Negro Women, the United Negro College Fund, the Negro League Baseball Museum and the Negro League Baseball Players Association, or the Journal of Negro Education. That is because not too long ago it was alright to call ourselves Negros. Even Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X used the term.

So here we are with a 21st century version of what W.E.B DuBois identified as “the problem of the color line.”

But consider the fact that just 10 years ago, more than 55,000 people wrote in the word “Negro” on the Census form, even though it was already printed alongside of the selection with African American and Black. In fact, 20 years ago, I recall several people whose door I knocked on, identify with the term. Now, can you understand the quandary the Census Bureau found itself in? The agency kept the word on the form so as a way to be inclusive and to avoid offending the elders in our community by eliminating the racial category that they self-identify themselves as belonging to.

The uproar has caught the attention of the Census Bureau and it is responding. As part of the 2010 Census, the bureau will test 15 major changes to questions about race and Hispanic origin. For each, approximately 30,000 households will receive a slightly different questionnaire so that demographers and statisticians can use data—along with follow-up interviews—to decide if the modification helps or hurts the accuracy and consistency of information collected. Deleting the word “Negro” is among these changes.

The most important thing in this debate about the Census is that each and every one of us, be we Black, African American, Negro or mixed, be counted where we are. Billions of dollars for our communities are at stake.

(Sonya M. Toler is executive director of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs and former news editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)

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