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Cepeda: Census racial data can unite instead of divide


According to conservative thinkers Ward Connerly and Mike Gonzalez, the Census Bureau should stop collecting data about race and ethnicity.

Writing in a Washington Post op-ed titled “It’s time the Census Bureau stops dividing America,” they argue that the classifications are divisive and amount to “arbitrary racial straitjackets.”

It’s an interesting read. It also contains this kernel of truth: “[T]he official categories often shed little light on policymaking,” write Connerly and Gonzalez, the president of American Civil Rights Institute and a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, respectively. “Groups such as ‘Asians’ and ‘Hispanics’ do not capture the different life experiences of Indian Americans and Korean Americans or Mexican Americans and Cuban Americans.”

Oh, those pesky kernels of truth—always acting like Rorschach inkblots upon which any number of wild ideas can be projected!

Let’s just agree on this: Official U.S. census race and ethnicity designations are broad and general. They were created before data granularity and analysis were as sophisticated as they are today.

But, as it happens, the only ones complaining much about them are young people who turn their noses up at anything giving off even a slight whiff of racial or gender specificity.

Just a few years ago, the term “Hispanic” was devalued in favor of “Latino.” How quaint.

In the past year or so, the navel gazing about that term exploded into something of a culture war that sped through the iterations “Latino/a,” then “Latin@” and, most recently “Latinx.”


Obviously, words matter. But they don’t matter more than issues like the high prevalence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes among Hispanics, segregated schools with few resources, professional pay disparities, the Trump-era insecurity about immigration status, and so many other challenges Hispanics face.

Still, the census uses certain terms to collect broad data about who lives in the country. Those terms should neither be politicized nor erased.

“It’s well past time to recognize that the four-decade experiment has failed and has put our nation on the road to becoming merely a collection of tribes rather than one ‘indivisible,’ as our creed proclaims,” the authors assert. They conclude: “Reforming the outmoded census would reflect the reality of our population and accentuate our identity as Americans.”

This is some seriously pie-in-the-sky thinking.

The fact that census data has been used by a variety of actors with their own agendas to underscore our differences and pit people against each other isn’t a sound reason to cut ourselves off from information that illustrates who makes up the country and where and how they live.

I believe that a stable-over-time data set will eventually show what census data has always shown: The U.S. is a melting pot.

The very notion of “the melting pot” has become anathema to a vocal minority who believe that it is somehow synonymous with colonialization, white supremacy and forced assimilation, but it’s just a plain fact: People come here from all over and simultaneously become more like the group they joined and make the group a little bit more like themselves.

Don’t believe me?

Even as some in this country are terrified that a mass Hispanization of the U.S. will irrevocably brown the face of America, Latinos are dropping out of the identity club like flies.

A recent Pew Research Center report found that even though more than 18 percent of Americans identify as Hispanic or Latino, a long-standing high rate of intermarriage and a decade of declining immigration from Latin America are reducing the likelihood that people with Hispanic ancestry identify as Hispanic or Latino.

(For the record, my two sons—who are half-white, quarter-Mexican and quarter-Ecuadorean—do not identify as Hispanic or Latino.)

In fact, “among adults who say they have Hispanic ancestors (a parent, grandparent, great grandparent or earlier ancestor) but do not self-identify as Hispanic, the vast majority—81 percent—say they have never thought of themselves as Hispanic,” according to the Pew survey.

Hardly different than the Irish, the Italians, the Germans and so many others before them.

Sure, to some, it might seem like the census data is divisive. But the only thing that makes lifeless data a political weapon is people who use it to make others feel scared and threatened.

Racial and ethnic data, if it is collected with the same fidelity over time and allows for people to self-identify in more expansive ways, is likely to ultimately tell a tale of people who have more in common than not.

Guest Views: As much as we love to hate air travel, flying is safer than ever

Everyone gripes about air travel. The complaints are universal: bare-it-all security checks; shoving matches over cabin bin space; economy seats increasingly reminiscent of a miniature medieval torture cell maliciously called the “little ease.”

Oh, for those glamorous jet-set days of yesteryear, when fliers were treated like royalty starting at airport curbside. Can modern air travel really be called an improvement?

Yes, in the starkest and most critical terms: You’ll get there in one piece. Year’s-end reports show 2017 was the safest year for commercial travel in aviation history.

Studies by two separate safety organizations—a team of Dutch aviation consultants and the U.S.-based Aviation Safety Network—reported this month that, out of a record 37 million flights, there were no passenger jet crashes in the world last year. The handful of fatal commercial accidents that did occur were limited to either cargo planes or regional carriers operating small aircraft.

This is no small achievement. Harrowing, high-fatality plane crashes, if not routine, were for decades events that took place every few years. If you have lived in this area long enough, you may recall the crash of a Delta jumbo jet at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 1985 during a summer thunderstorm. The disaster claimed 137 lives.

Experts say technology and training have steadily reduced the incidence of these tragedies over the years. The D/FW crash, in fact, led directly to new standards in windshear-detection ability in both onboard and ground-based systems.

At the same time, new safety measures in aircraft construction mean that even in the event of a crash, passengers are more likely to survive. That’s due, among other factors, to better fire suppression and evacuation procedures.

“Cabin safety has improved by leaps and bounds since the 1970s and ‘80s,” said Adrian Young, a senior consultant who participated in one of the studies released recently, in an interview with The Washington Post.

Experts caution that there remain safety challenges in commercial aviation, and that there is no room for complacency in the operation of our nation’s—and our planet’s—complex air transit system. Ongoing challenges include risks posed by human fatigue and the fire danger posed by batteries used in consumer electronics.

But when poker-faced aviation officials assure you that the gravest modern danger to commercial air travel is the drive to the airport, they have the statistics to back it up. Passenger flights operated by major carriers are far and away the safest means of popular transportation.

What about that recent presidential Twitter claim, during which the commander-in-chief took credit for last year’s air safety record?

“It’s not a one-year phenomenon,” was the tactful response to The Post from retired pilot and airline safety consultant John Cox. “It was the work of thousands of people over decades.”

—The Dallas Morning News

Your Views: Even the oil companies know climate change is real

In January 2009, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, gave a speech in Washington announcing his company supported a carbon tax to help fight climate change. The speech was not surprising. In 2006, Kenneth Cohen, vice president of public affairs for Exxon Mobile, had written a letter to The Royal Society in London. In that letter, Mr. Cohen stated, “We recognize that the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere poses risks that may prove significant for society and ecosystems…. Human activities have contributed to these increased concentrations (of greenhouse gasses), mainly through the combustion of fossil fuels for energy use.”

Even though Exxon Scientists knew for decades of the risks posed by the burning of their products, Exxon supported well-financed propaganda campaigns to deny climate change. But they were beginning to see the handwriting on the wall; knowledgeable people knew we needed to act quickly to avert a disaster for future generations. The Trump administration may be temporarily whitewashing the issue, but the truth is well known.

The fossil fuel industry is getting worried. Decades earlier, the tobacco industry tried to deny that smoking caused cancer but was eventually forced to pay billions of dollars in settlements. A lawsuit involving five major oil companies was just filed in New York City claiming those companies have contributed to climate change costing the city billions of dollars in resiliency efforts. This is the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). I hope it is not too late.



Your Views: McCabe is looking out for the people's interests

Before we solve Wisconsin’s challenges, people need to be part of government again. Right now, control is in the hands of a few. That’s wrong. We can have a better future if all of us get involved.

Over several years, clean government been shoved aside. The watchdog that grew out of the 1990 caucus scandals has been neutered. National groups such as ALEC are writing bills, and our right to the ballot is diminished by voter suppression and gerrymandering. Legislators assault local control to keep communities from charting their own course. At the bottom of it all, big money continues to buy more influence in Madison than hardworking citizens can afford.

Facing these roadblocks, we need broader participation in government, not less. The answer is more democracy. We need to elect a governor who actually wants to work with us to solve our shared challenges.

Mike McCabe gives us that opportunity. To date, he has traveled 40,000 miles to listen to the concerns and stories of the people of Wisconsin. As the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, he exposed the big money that crushes participation in democracy. McCabe was part of the formation of the Government Accountability Board, the independent body riding herd on those who subvert the will of citizens.

I’ll vote for McCabe in the Democratic Party primary on Aug. 14. I hope you will, too, because we all deserve good, open government of, by and for the people of the Badger State.


Fort Atkinson

Your Views: Stop treating U.S. citizens like illegal immigrants

No matter what you may think of black people in Milwaukee, you know this for sure: They did not sneak here over the border from Mexico. They were born in the U.S.A. Their parents were born here, and so were their grandparents and great-grandparents.

According to the Constitution, their right to vote is undeniable. Yet the government of Wisconsin has denied it so that the current leaders can stay in power. To their true supporters, the end justifies the means. For others who actually believe the airy justifications for selective voter identification, it is just gullibility.