The 2010 Census' Existential CrisisS

If only it were as simple to count everyone in America as "One, two... three hundred million." Nope. It's still about four months away, but the 2010 Census is already under attack by people wracked with existential angst.

Remember the 2000 United States Census form? Now that was a form. 56 in-depth questions probing everything from your monthly rent to the number of cars you owned. Really made a guy feel like he was more than just a number in a government database—Like he was 56 different variables in a government database.

The 2010 census, which starts in April, is different. It asks only 10 measly, super-basic questions. One problem with this: It will cause some people to disappear! Last week the Detroit Free Press reported on Arab Americans' unease over all questions of ancestry being dropped from this years' census questionnaire. Whereas the 2000 census asked respondents about their ethnic background, this year you only exist in the eyes of the government as a race: "white" "black," "American Indian" or about a half-dozen flavors of Asian. Arabs count as "white." Sorry, Hamid, your silly cultural doo-hickies and funny dances just don't matter to Uncle Sam. (Unless you are Latino, in which case you get a whole separate question about your ethnicity! But then, Latinos are about to take over America, so we will be learning all of their dances.)

Meanwhile, black people aren't content with their coveted status as actually existing. They want to be counted accurately, too: Last week African American leaders appeared in the pages of the Washington Post, urging officials do more to count blacks. According to the AP, 3 million blacks were missed in 2000. (Which, how do they KNOW!?). Of course, attacking blacks existentially has a long history in America. See: The three-fifths compromise.

The 2010 Census' Existential Crisis

And, congratulations, gays: For the first time ever, same-sex marriages will exist... sort of. CNN reports on the gay-married Massachusetts couple that jokingly argues over who will be listed as 'head of household' on their 2010 census form. Seems like one of the most annoying things a married couple could do, ever. But we digress: The important thing is that the 2010 census will be the first to recognize same-sex couples who list themselves as married—even in states where they technically don't exist. That is not enough for the statistically-minded gays of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. They've started the Queer the Census campaign to try to get questions about sexual orientation on the census, so Americans aren't just a bunch of sexless gray fleshblobs in the eyes of the government. (Even if many are in real life.)

Officially existing is important. Not only is it emotionally fulfilling, but it determines the allocation of federal funds, the shape of congressional districts etc. However, some people actually don't want to exist. For example, those with questionable immigrant status, many of whom are extremely suspicious about the census. Which, non-existence is maybe a good idea in their case, seeing as how census officials turned information about Arabs over to the Department of Homeland Security post-9/11. (Although Census officials have promised the information they gather will not be distributed to any other agencies or used to narc on illegal immigrants.) And, of course right-wing crazies like Michele Bachmann are worried about the government selling their data to Reptilians or whatever. Some people really do deserve the choice to not exist.

In conclusion, existence is cool, but it's definitely got some drawbacks.