This Embarrassingly Racist 4th Of July: The Dance Around The Census Question Elicits An Excellent Rachel Maddow Moment

Maddow’s mad. I watch her show enough to notice when she’s feeling extra-deeply about a thing. She has the skilled thespian’s ability to control her emotions while seeming like she’s not able to control them (or the reverse). It’s part of why she’s really good at television.

Today she was mad-not-mad about a court ruling on the Trump administration’s proposed addition to the 2020 U.S. Census, which would require everyone in the country to report their citizenship status. It’s a tricky story to cover, for sure. Out of context, adding a question to a form might seem like, “what’s the big deal?” With context, one can see how the citizenship question would lead to significant undercounting of undocumented people, most of them People of Color, who would reasonably fear the question is a trick to target them with aggressive anti-immigration actions.

I get to cut to it because I’m a blogger, not a reporter: because the proposed question comes from Trump’s people, it certainly is that latter racist thing. Besides the bankshot-sinister intent to demonize immigrant populations, it’d also serve to distort the numbers for purposes of redrawing voting districts, to strengthen the voting bloc that is isolationist and far-right-wing and angry-bigoted, i.e. the voters who voted for Trump. 

AOC summarizes the shark below the surface much better than I’m going to.

I mislike the phrase “it’s complicated,” but the Census actually IS complicated, I mean, it’s trying to get essentialized data on 327 million people (including the ones not on social media), it’s the main data source for our political infrastructure, and as a biased blogger person, I’ll add that IMO the Census is just totally cool. Like, SO fascinating, I have a crush on it, as an aspirational concept.

I heart the Census because “on paper,” it’s an ultimate mission of the social sciences. In practice, sure, yields debatable results. But let’s stipulate that many sweeping statements from our daily conversation are derived from Census data. Whenever we say charged words like “minority” or “majority” or “rural” or “urban” we’re (consciously or not) drawing on a data point from the Census, which, however approximately, shores up our perceptions of who (and where) American people are, from sea to shining sea. And those perceptions change, as people move and live and die, and the meaning of words like “minority” might also change, by virtue of Census data, by virtue of Our Best Guess.

In uncorrupted principle, the Census is, or could be, about everyone being counted and seen. Including the people without addresses who, IRL, might not get counted by the Census, but are supposed to be. Such a cool premise.

The wannabe Nazis who work in the White House would like the Census to be used to un-see Brown people. And here’s where Rachel got a bit mad, while reading all the characters in a court transcript (as she often does, a charmingly anachronistic device resembling a one-person radio play). The full bloc can be viewed here. The flustered-mad ending flourish happens at around the 39 minute mark of the show.

The detention camps along the Southern U.S. border are a lot of terrible at once, but let’s not lose sight of, they’re fundamentally, intentionally racist. The proposed census question, thunk up by racists, was intentionally racist. The question was struck down in the courts, but Donny rants on as if it’s going to be in the 2020 Census anyway, for no other reason except Donny Trump and his tribe are all really, really racist.

To be sure, we’re all fairly bad at talking about race relations. We have, mainly among white folks, weird stock phrases about being “100% not racist” or “not having a racist bone in one’s body” — as if searching for absolute purity, the most essentially racist behavior, could somehow make one exceptionally un-racist.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say, “100% not racist” (whatever that even is) is not the end state on the minds of most People of Color in their daily lives. In picking my battles, most cases, I can get by with “not violently racist.” Progress/iveness is marked with moments of lessening racism, never fully erasing it (you’d think that’d have been a day for a pretty good party, and yet here we are). We’re far from erasing racism, but we still manage to do some good things along the way. On the other hand, then you have President Donny, who is regressively, massively racist. He’s the guy who has maybe three non-racist bones in his body, like the small bones in his toes. He’s disgusting-dangerous racist, 151 proof prejudiced, superhumanly sexist, and you’d think that’d be rare, but for all his buddies/sycophants.

Don’t be Donny. Don’t be Stephen Miller or Steve Bannon. Vote out anyone associated with them. That’s not sufficient, it’s just a start. The bare minimum, if we are to survive another decade so as to get to the 2030 census, because seriously I’m low-key in love with the Census (concept).

But, back to the over-watching of cable news: At some point, one wonders who on the stage set of the TV-news-o-sphere will be the first to break convention and stop dancing around what they are sorta-kinda saying but can’t really say because of Standards and Practices. That is (this is purely hypothetical), the MSNBC host might just blurt out the unvarnished and obvious observation, “Trump is a racist asshole.” Or the Fox News host will say to the camera, “Our racist president is awesome because racism is awesome.”

They’re both close to their limit.

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