Ranging from the seriously silly to the dourly serious, Americans are playing around with Question 9 of the 2010 Census form: What is Person 1's race?
The question includes the option: Some other race – print race. And that is where the shenanigans begin.
Census workers report literally thousands forms that include, well, creative self-identified races. They include Vulcan and Borg (nods to "Star Trek"), Cylon (for the "Battlestar Galactica" fans), and, yes, NASCAR. (Get it? Race?)
One might assume that the bulk of the NASCAR responses come from the South. But then, what about "Confederate Southern American"?
Kirk Lyons, founder of the Southern Legal Resource Center, put out a YouTube video urging Southerners to write in "Confed Southern Am" on Question 9 "to start the process of giving the Southern community here in America a voice again, so our concerns will be heard and we'll stop being harrased and persecuted because we're proud of our Southern and Confederate ancestry."
"My initial impulse was simply to misidentify my race so as to throw a monkey wrench into the statistics … [but] lying in this constitutionally mandated process is wrong," Krikorian writes. Writing in "American" is "a truthful answer but at the same time is a way for ordinary citizens to express their rejection of unconstitutional racial classification schemes."
The history of race in the census
Racial identification on the census goes back to the country's roots. The original census separated "free whites" and "slaves," and later ones differentiated between blacks, whites, Chinese, mulattoes, and Indians.
Up until 1970, the government determined what races residents could check off. But with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, ensuing census cycles allowed Americans to self-identify their race. The intent was to shift federal policy from a interest in what separated races to what rights are allotted to all Americans.
"The census strives to reflect who we are as a nation of people," writes Kenneth Stewart, a sociology professor at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, in a recent op-ed. "This means the census works to shine light on our similarities and differences, our shared and diverging interests, and issues that bring us together as well those that divide us."
So what happens if you self-identify in non-traditional ways? In the case of people writing down "Confed Southern Am" to fit in the 19 letter boxes, census workers will likely change those to white. In other cases, census workers will call or even visit to determine if a respondent is, in fact, from the planet Vulcan.
The Census Bureau doesn't want to get serious. But if worse comes to worse, a recalcitrant Vulcan could face fines of up to $500 for wrongful disclosure.