On March 30, Alex Wagner of The New York Times raised an issue that many seem to have forgotten about, even in light of the increased debate surrounding immigration: those not counted in the U.S. census. Excluded from the six categories of White; Black; Asian; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; American Indian or Alaska Native; and Some Other Race are Hispanic and Arab peoples. According to Wagner, “Today, the third-largest racial group in America is “Some Other Race” — and it is made up overwhelmingly of Hispanics.” Yet Hispanic only appears as an ethnicity (“Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin”) rather than a race, while Arab populations do not appear represented at all.
The issue propagated is less one of representation than it is of visibility. In the words of Wagner, “To be counted in the census is to be both seen and supported.” Yet, how can we achieve an equal representation of all of our citizens without first accepting and then welcoming and hearing their voices?
The danger lies in continuing to ignore those whose voices have been silenced or dimmed. The issue is not limited to identity — also affected are allocations of federal funding (more than $675 billion, to be exact), the Fair Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and votes in the Electoral College. This choice displays a clear exemplification of white privilege as well as the dismissal of minority groups, those historically and culturally underrepresented and those who are not considered to be official citizens.
This is the antithesis of an inclusive United States. It seems all too simple for those who are counted to forget about the others, but let us not. One’s position in the United States should not be determined by their “official status,” and who are we to say that they do not exist? We do not have the power to discount and exclude lives for the sake of convenience.
The issue is not clear-cut for undocumented immigrants and refugees, many of whom believe that answering the proposed additional question of their citizenship status, which has not appeared since 1950, will lead to their deportation. Wagner explains that their concerns lead to ignoring the census altogether to avoid the risk. Either way, there is a distinct lack of presence: How can they exercise their agency if they do not even technically exist?
At Binghamton University, one of the strongest forces at work in our student population is diversity. Staff members in the Multicultural Resource Center and Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strive to level the playing field for students of historically underrepresented groups and cultural organizations on campus. It is our responsibility as global citizens to be aware and not to stop there — we need to be writing to our senators expressing concern for this national issue and supporting those who may not be considered “official,” for they matter, too. We have two more years until the next presidential election and it is clear that under the Trump administration, there is no concrete plan to include those that he considers rapists, criminals, terrorists and delinquents. It is on us to broaden the voice of the United States, to shift it from being largely white-centric to being a global field.
Kara Bilello is a senior double-majoring in English and Spanish.