By Eddie B. Allen Jr., BET.com
People of Caribbean descent must make themselves known in 2010, says a prominent D.C. advocate.
Dr. Claire A. Nelson, president of the Institute of Caribbean Studies, is working in cooperation with other Black community organizations to urge island immigrants to participate in the coming U.S. Census. A public policy agency, the Institute is a national profile partner, in support of the April 1, 2010 survey.
As discussions about the significance of the next 10-year population count increase, Nelson, a native Jamaican, says that so-called West Indians should step to the forefront.
“Half of the challenge – and this is why this issue of being Black versus African American is important and why we are trying to carry this out, as far as the census is concerned – is where question nine asks about race,” Nelson says. “We want people to be cognizant that the way American policy is organized has a lot to do with the race of the people who respond.”
The ninth question listed on the 2010 Census form asks that respondents identify themselves as White, “Black, African Am., or Negro” or Native/Alaskan.
For the diverse population of African descendants in America, Nelson says it’s key that citizens answer accordingly, rather than ignoring questions or scrutinizing wording. While it’s common for Black and Caribbean citizens, like others of color, to avoid surveys out of concerns for their rights, Nelson argues that everything from safety to economics and private-sector marketing is determined by numbers: “We want to ensure that the U.S policymakers understand there is a Caribbean-American point of view, and that the private-sector understands that there’s a presence of Caribbean people in the Black community.”
Suggestions that Latinos from the Caribbean and elsewhere boycott the census to push the immigration issue are counter-productive, Nelson adds. Some suggest that missing numbers represented by undocumented residents will get the government’s attention.
“We certainly do not support that point of view,” says Nelson.
Today, the Institute of Caribbean Studies promotes the interests of about 5 million island descendants who settled in America before and since its formation in 1993.
Activists like Nelson are encouraging all Blacks to count themselves as "Black" or "African American." She says it is important for her that They say increasing the total number of people of African Descent in America will benefit everybody as opposed to the Black population dividing itself along lines of ethnicity or national origin.
“When I started, it was out of frustration,” Nelson recalls. “…With all of these pundits talking about what should be done in the Caribbean, there were never any Caribbean people talking on the issue.”
To help heighten awareness of next year’s count, the Institute will host its annual Caribbean Heritage Awards on Nov. 13, followed by a “Count Us In” campaign aimed at students and families during Black History Month.
For more information, visit the Web site www.census.gov.