Periscope Depth

and the knocking in my head, just like the knocking at my door

Census workers have been hitting my apartment at all hours. I came home on Sunday to find a “We stopped by to snoop on you” form tucked under my door. Just last week someone rang my buzzer, identifying themselves as a Census worker. And on Wednesday afternoon, a man jogged across the street from a parked car as I entered my building. He said he was a Census worker, looking for people in a few apartments (one of them mine). I told him I didn’t know any of those people and went inside, closing the front door behind me. My building’s nothing but furnished studios, a favorite of cranks and shut-ins. It must be a briar patch for the Census.

They’re after me because I haven’t returned my Census form. And I don’t intend to. I don’t trust them.

Briefly: in 1943, the Census Bureau released to the Treasury Department the names of Japanese citizens in the Washington D.C. area. Not general demographic data, but names, occupations and addresses. Census Bureau chief Christa Jones, when questioned on the subject, claimed that “it was legal at the time.” In 2002, the Census Bureau released neighborhood data on Arab-Americans to the Department of Homeland Security. Jones’ answer for this one: the information was “publicly available.”

These disclosures don’t affect me. I’m not part of a threatened minority group. As a white male with a good haircut and no visible piercings, I have to make a real effort to get in trouble with the law. But I’m not acting out of self-interest here. I simply will not cooperate with a system that aids behavior I consider immoral. The Census is one of the few areas of institutional control I can duck with little risk. So I’m ducking it. They can keep sending folks to ring my doorbell and flyer my mailbox at minimum wage. I do not intend to cooperate.

“You’re being silly,” I can hear you saying. “All those Japanese internment camps and sweeps of Arab neighborhoods are in the past! The Census would never do anything like that today.”

I don’t believe that. Not for a second. I don’t believe that there’s an agency – or a corporation – in this country that wouldn’t serve up names and addresses to the DHS in thirty seconds if they came knocking. I do not believe that the law is an adequate defense against the whims of power. I know that the unemployed people whom the Census pays a pittance don’t mean me any harm. That doesn’t affect me, though. An institution isn’t ten people conspiring to do evil; it’s one million people with no incentive to do good. No one’s willing to pay a fine or go to jail to keep my information private. Except me, I guess.

But maybe I’m being stubborn. Maybe I’m holding to political opinions better suited for someone twice my age with half my education. Young urban professionals who went to the schools I attended aren’t supposed to be paranoid about the federal government. I could be off base. So I’ll make you a deal.

You find me an official Census statement that acknowledges the wrongdoing of prior Census staff, and I’ll fill out my own form. Show me a link on Show me a press release by a Census Bureau chief. Show me somewhere, in writing, where a representative of the Census said, “Yes, we aided in one of the most evil acts ever carried out on American soil: the internment of American citizens on the grounds of their ancestry, not their actions. We carried water for villains. We were wrong and we are sorry.”

Point me to those words and I’ll reconsider. Not before.

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