February 25, 2010

2010 Census: How do you want to be counted?

Posted in Interfaith at 8:12 pm by chavalah

InterfaithFamily.com just blogged about some new, progressive changes over at the U.S. census, including recognizing mixed-race ethnicity and same sex marriage. It counts to be counted, IFF (and, doubtless, most of us) say. Being counted in the census means you’ve an increased possibility of having congressional representation and federal funding put to use for your racial, religious, sexual orientation, etc., needs.

In today’s diverse society, popular code words for self-identification are “mix-and-match” or “[something] by choice.” The recent changes to the census lead me to wonder…how do I want to identify? I’m from an interfaith family—does that mean I’m part Catholic? Surely I was never raised as Catholic. I’ve never been baptized, confirmed, received communion. Does the fact that I have Christian/Catholic relatives affect how I identify as an individual? (An even more pertinent question, I think, for converts to any religion.)

Of course, the census doesn’t ask any questions about religion at all, due to the murky nature of theology vs ethnicity. That in itself takes away a major part of how I—and countless others—identify ourselves. It’s true, Judaism is not a “race.” I suppose I could identify myself as Ashkenazi/ an Eastern European Jew. But I identify more strongly with being a generic quasi-religious/cultural Jew than I do with my mother’s Russian and German roots. And once again—converts. Should they not be counted as Jews just because their forebears (at least in recent history) weren’t?

I suppose, if it were up to me, I’d like to identify myself to the census as a half Italian-American, half Ashkenazi, full Jew. (Oh, and female, single, 20s, etc. :P) That’s how I’d like to be counted (and is quite different than how anyone else in my family would like to be). But then again, maybe I’m putting too much weight on it. One of the most steadfast lessons of antisemitism, perhaps most notably with the Nuremberg Laws, is that there’s a great difference between how you might see yourself, and how others see you. The important thing, of course, is to be comfortable in your own self-identification.

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