Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Rev on 2010 Census

Dec 19, 2009

The greatest civil rights leader in history taught each and every one of us invaluable lessons throughout his short time on earth. Absorbing his teachings, readings and speeches, we have been able to peacefully highlight injustice whenever and wherever we see it, and demand equality in a forthright and sustainable way. As a student of Martin Luther King Jr’s nonviolent methods, I have witnessed the incomparable results of structured demonstrations and organized intellectual objection. All of us – Blacks, Browns, Whites and everything in between – have been blessed to see many of Dr. King’s dreams come to fruition. But despite us electing the First African American President of the United States, perhaps the biggest lesson MLK taught us is still often overlooked. The underlying message in all of his great work after all was for us as a people to stand up and be counted; and there couldn’t be a more important time for us to do so than now in the 2010 census.

The U.S. Census first began in 1790, more than a year after the inauguration of President George Washington. Mandated by the Constitution, this census is conducted every 10 years with the aim of counting each and every individual within the nation – including both citizens and non-citizens. But despite what many may fear, the census is not utilized for misuse of personal data, but rather as a tool to determine which communities are underfunded and how much money will be allocated to varying districts. Through this data, grants and other federal dollars are distributed to cities/towns, and impoverished neighborhoods obtain the opportunity to shed light on their difficult circumstances. And just as importantly, the redistricting of local areas is based on this data, and a state could literally lose or gain congressional seats based on its population – just as it did in 2000 when six congressional seats in Texas swung to the GOP following the 2000 census.

The political and monetary effects of census data are something that we cannot simply ignore. A brief questionnaire, that takes all of a few minutes to complete, can determine funding for your neighborhood, or who may represent and fight for you in federal government. And like many other federal mechanisms, historically, Blacks and minorities have been misrepresented or underrepresented in this data. The 1990 census missed an approximate 8 million people, – mostly immigrants and urban minorities – and instead double counted some 4 million White Americans. Although we improved a little in 2000, the census still undercounted about 3 million Blacks and immensely over-counted Whites.

As we approach the 2010 census, we cannot continue down this unproductive path. Not only do we as a people need to actively participate in this process, but the appropriate measures must be taken by the census bureau to reach our communities. Paid advertising must increase to underserved locations, more Black managers and executives must be hired to carry out both the corporate and field work necessary to reach marginalized communities, and more funding overall needs to be allocated for districts with Black populations. The advertising needs to be targeted, and the efforts to reach everyone have to include appropriate tallies of the roughly 1.3 million Black prison inmates so that they can counted as residents of the areas which they come from, and not as residents of where the prison is located.

We must urge the census bureau and the federal government to take these immediate steps for 2010. We cannot wait another 10 years to improve our fractured system, for the needs of the people are an immediacy. Nearly $450 billion in federal aid is distributed based on census data, and we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for the sake of our children and their future. We must do whatever is necessary to increase funds for minorities and target appropriate ads/efforts to reach the people. In the memory of the great MLK, it is literally time to stand and be counted.

In the 1790 census, we were marked down and herded under the category of ‘slaves’, following free White males, free White females and all free persons. Let us stand up and willingly check ourselves as free Black folk that have earned a right to be acknowledged, to be heard and to receive our fair share.