Sunday, 27 March 2011

Counting Half-Truths

The Telegraph points out a considerable deficiency in the UK Census forms:

Question H6 seeks to know how each of these persons is related to every other member of the household (including me and their old man as Persons 1 and 2). If household members are not related, the form-filler is instructed to tick "Unrelated". Simple.
Or not so simple. Considering that Person 3 is the child of my husband's first marriage, her relationship to me is "Step-child" and there's a box for that. Persons 4 and 5 are our son and daughter. Since all three have the same father, their relationship with each other is so obvious that I felt stupid when I couldn't find it on the form.

To my absolute puzzlement, the census form defines the relationship between children of the household in only two ways, as either brothers and sisters or as step-brothers and step-sisters. Half-sisters and half-brothers aren't mentioned.(1)

Jersey doesn't do that - it hasn't relationship to other members of the household. But it does have relationship to main householder (section 2), and while it is not perhaps that probably that half-siblings might be living in the same house, it is not impossible, and again there is no option for it, apart from "other related". 

The USA has a far more comprehensive list, ranging from

Adopted Ad
Adopted Child Ad.Cl
Adopted Daughter Ad.D
Adopted Grandchild Ad.Gcl
Adopted Mother Ad.M
Adopted Son Ad.S


Half Sister H.Si
Half Sister-In-Law H.Sil
Half Brother Hb
Half Brother-In-Law Hbl


Jersey does have "partner" on relation to main householder (section 2), so things are moving ahead from the days when "husband or wife" was the only coahibiting relationship, but the status includes never married, married (first marriage), remarried, separated (but still legally married), divorced, widowed. These are supposed to supply some useful information, but actually they have huge gaps in them.

For instance, I have a relative who lived with a lady for around 25-30 years, then left her and married the lady he had left her for. He will be married (first marriage) on the form, but because it is tightly focused on the legal aspects of marriage, it is going to exclude a good deal of information, and if it says x number of people are still in their first marriage, then his example, and I suspect it is not unique, will give a very false picture of the real state of play.

And of course, not counting people who have not remarried, but have committed to partners after a divorce, also gives a  very false picture of family life. In the days when legal marriages were everything, section 11 would be useful information. But nowadays, in getting a complete demographic picture of the population, if that is the intent, it is very deficient, especially if the assumption is made that divorced does not imply a current (non marital) relationship.

Of course, the worst part of the census is the so-called "cultural and ethnic background". Why don't they just say "race", because that is essentially what it is in Jersey (section 8), with categories split between White, Asian or Asian British, Black or Black British, or Mixed - with sub groupings beneath that. It is a nonsense. I have a Jersey mother, and an English father, and back 2/3 generations, French ancestors. I defy anyone to prove I am in any one of the discrete categories so beloved of the idiots who decided on this, because it predates genetics, and has its origins in racial stereotypes. It is intellectually incoherent.

Nowhere is this plainer than in America::

According to the Census Bureau, a little over 12 percent of Americans are "black, African American or Negro." According to geneticist Mark Shriver, "the level of European ancestry in African-Americans averages about 20 percent." Many notable "blacks" have been 50 percent or more "white."

In its American incarnation, blackness emerged as a social category in the seventeenth century as part of Southern whites' attempt to justify the economic and social subordination of Africans who had been brought to the country in bondage. The legal interpretation of blackness was accompanied by laws barring miscegenation between whites and blacks. The one-drop rule endured after the Civil War and after emancipation as a justification of racial segregation and of the tiered economy of the sharecroppers.

Today, the laws against miscegenation have been thrown out, and a Louisianan with Susie Guillory Phipps's ancestry might win her case for being classified white, but the one drop rule persists in the way Americans, including me in this piece itself, think about race. And to the extent these mutually exclusive categories of white and black endure, they perpetuate all kinds of stereotypes and pseudo-scientific nonsense, like American Enterprise Institute fellow Charles Murray's The Bell Curve.

Let Harry Chang have the last word. In The Critique of the Black Nation Thesis, he wrote that "the overthrow of racism will . involve the abolition of racial categories. . What is meant by the abolition of racial categories is simply that human genetical variation or genealogical diversity would not be pushed into the Procrustean bed of racial distinction. Instead, the genetic and genealogical richness of mankind will probably remain, but with this crucial proviso: truly democratic spirit would be completely indifferent to it . and assign to skin-color the same kind of social significance as weight, height, or hair-color."(3)


1 comment:

CFR said...

Concerning the racial background lunacy on the census form, I ticked 'Other' and wrote in 'human'. Sadly, I think I may be in a minority...