Obama Finds his Box in Census 2010

By Michelle Chen Apr 03, 2010

The New York Times reports that Obama has officially declared himself the nation’s first Black president, via the census form:

The president, who was born in Hawaii and raised there and in Indonesia, had more than a dozen options in responding to Question 9, about race. He chose “Black, African Am., or Negro.” (The anachronistic “Negro” was retained on the 2010 form because the Census Bureau believes that some older blacks still refer to themselves that way.)tt

Mr. Obama could have checked white, checked both black and white, or checked the last category on the form, “some other race,” which he would then have been asked to identify in writing.tt

There is no category specifically for mixed race or biracial.tt

Not exactly monumental news, but it does raise the question of how arbitrary these check boxes are, in light of the racial reality that many of us have grown up with, including one Barack Obama. Of course, the importance of being recognized and counted by the government should outweigh any frustration we may feel at the act of categorizing ourselves in this inherently imperfect taxonomy. But there’s something moving about how everyone in this country is mobilized to participate in the survey and wrestle with the same set of labels, from the head of state to the undocumented migrant. And it reminds us that whatever box we check, no one ever gets it quite right.