The 2020 Census, an opportunity to fight for equality and representation

Frederick Douglass made sure to count himself and his entire family in the Census in 1860, the year the Civil War broke out. The US has managed to conduct a Census in times of war and, now, pandemic. The question is, will our communities be counted?

by Regina Wilson, California Complete Count Committee Member and Executive Director of California Black Media

The U.S. Census – which is now underway in all 50 states – is extraordinarily important for California. The nine-question survey is about so much more than just population size. It determines the allocation of elected representatives across the country and how much federal funding individual states – and, ultimately, the communities within those states – receive.

Should our community be left uncounted, there would be immediate and serious financial and political consequences. At risk are billions of dollars of federal funding that California receives each year for programs including schools, health services, childcare and emergency services.

Funding for emergency services is essential – so if ever we understood what that impact is – it is now as we face a global pandemic. As we all continue doing our part to support and protect one another, Californians must not take our eyes off the Census.

During the 2010 Census, the Black community was undercounted by more than 800,000 people nationwide. This means that our communities failed to get our fair share of essential federally funded resources, including affordable housing, school nutrition programs, education resources and much more.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Black communities have been shortchanged. In fact, in almost every Census in American history, our community has been overlooked, undercounted and underrepresented.

The history of Black America is filled with countless men and women who dedicated their lives to fighting for equality and equal representation in this country. Many of these heroes sacrificed their lives in pursuit of a vision for America that even today remains unfulfilled.

Civil rights pioneers like Frederick Douglass knew their activism had to include advocacy efforts centered on participation in the Census. That’s the reason Douglass made sure to count himself and his entire family in the 1860 Census. This was a particularly bold act since Douglass was one of few free African Americans who were able to participate in the Census.

His participation demonstrated his refusal to be overlooked or unacknowledged when major federal decisions would be made based on population size. By participating, both he and his family were recognized by name and were counted. Records show Douglass continued to participate in the Census after slavery was abolished.

Being counted remained essential to the goal of achieving equality for the African American community in the United States.

Today, we know there is much work to be done to ensure an accurate, complete count of Black Californians in the 2020 Census. To be sure, the odds are stacked against us.

One in three Black Californians lives in a Census tract that is considered “hard-to-count.” Many factors determine if a tract is hard to count – two core variables are housing insecurity and living in poverty. Today, 24 percent live in poverty and 58 percent of Black households rent their homes.

It will be an uphill battle, but make no mistake: California’s Black community must stand together and be counted. We are diverse, ranging from Blacks descended from those brought here in chains to immigrants from throughout the African Diaspora and everyone in between.

Though our dialect, skin tone and language may range, our communities are large and extend far and wide across the state. Our collective voice is more powerful than ever. It is up to us to spread the word about the Census to friends, families and neighbors.

As a member of the statewide California Complete Count Committee, I have fought to address equity issues and spent time with my colleagues to ensure the strongest Census implementation rollout possible. I feel we have achieved that even as we face unprecedented challenges. This Census we all are setting the stage for a true California For All.

The simple, confidential nine-question Census can be taken online today at my2020census.gov or by calling 844-330-2020. As a reminder, your responses to the Census are protected by law and cannot be shared with, or used by, any other government agencies.

Answers cannot be used for law enforcement purposes or to determine eligibility for government benefits or immigration enforcement. Census data will not be shared with your landlords.

By telling our stories and being counted, we can do our small part to change the course of history. We have a responsibility to those who came before us and those who will follow us – let us honor their activism and fight for equality and representation in the 2020 Census.

This year, it is imperative we continue the tradition that started with Frederick Douglass 160 years ago: We must all be counted in the 2020 Census.

Regina Wilson is a member of the California Complete Count Committee and executive director of California Black Media. She can be reached at Regina@cablackmedia.org.