Thursday, 10 March 2011

Sit Down and be Counted

Yes, our census forms have arrived.

Two, in fact - one arrived for my office, which highlighted that one of the few things it doesn't ask is "Is this a residential property at all?".  Thus, there is in fact no valid answer for this form.  Tempted as I am to write back and refuse to respond, so as to trigger a prosecution for failing to answer a census that offers no valid options for response, we are returning it with a brief note.

Anyway, I have issues with four questions, as follows, in reverse order of seriousness.

First, there is no question about how many dogs we have, or any personal questions for the dog.  How will we know how many dogs there are?  How?  What if government needs this information??  HOW WILL WE KNOW???!!

Second, I am being discriminated against in the form of question 17.  Apparently, question 17 for those in Wales is to ask whether or not they speak Welsh.  It is illegal to speak Welsh outside Wales?  What if I spoke Welsh and was proud of it?  How well do I need to speak it? (I can pronounce Dolgellau* half-decently - is that enough?)  I want to be asked whether or not I speak Welsh.  I may write in the answer "No, not really, if I'm honest".

Third, there is the religion question.  I'm not embarrassed about it or anything, I just think it's none of their business.  But the question is optional, so I won't be answering it.  Of course, if the question will not be answered by all, what is its value?  How will we know...? (etc)

Finally, the question asks for my ethnic group.  Now I have a real problem.  My approach to racial equality is quite simple; I don't care what colour you are.  I care whether you are a decent human being.  If you're rude, or offensive, or boring, or untrustworthy, then I won't wish to be friends.  If you're lazy, or incompetent, or untrustworthy, then I won't be employing you.  Whether you are white, black, yellow, brown, red, pink or green** makes not a jot of difference.  So as soon as I am asked what my ethnic group is, I am suspicious; the person asking is interested in it, in a way that I am not.

There is also a practical issue.  As you go back in my family tree, it becomes distinctly vague, and it does so very quickly.  I seem to be mainly light-skinned, but not as light as others.  Maybe that's because I prefer to be outdoors where possible, and because my preferred driving style is "with the roof down".  Or maybe there is a genetic reason.  I (literally) don't know.

In addition, there is the simple scientific fact that, ultimately, my ethnic background is from the Rift Valley in Africa.  Just like all of you, whether you like it or not.

So my answer to this question will be "Human".

*Doll -geth -lee

**OK, I might object if you're green


  1. I agree with your point about the "diversity" questions. I have been asked to fill forms in which ask all sorts of questions, the purported intention of which is to prevent me from being discriminated. However, there are some questions such as skin colour, ethnic background etc. which are unarguable and others which are more of a matter of personal preference. There is sometimes an option called "rather not say" which I suppose is the closest to the proper answer which is "mind your own God-damn business".

  2. Whenever I've had to fill in such forms I've left such answers blank. They're never compulsorary and they can't refuse you the service (always a public sector one) because you didn't fill it in.

  3. It would be fun to see what happened if we filled out one of those forms, then asked them to state the ethnic group of the person who would be providing the service for us.

    Somehow, I think it's ok for them to ask us, but not ok for us to ask them...

  4. The trouble is many of the statistics are meaningless.
    During my last year at work, our HR department decided to hold a survey of staff. My shift comprised 19 male engineers and a female computer operator/clerk. She thought it a huge joke when she completed the form for me as my shift had apparently met HR's target, we had 5% female, 5% ethnic minority and 5% disabled staff. The joke was that my operator had met all the requirements in one person, she was of Afro-Caribbean descent and had recently had a bad accident and broken her leg! So much for statistics!

  5. The perfect employee for anyone living in PC-land...

  6. Though the flipside of the horribly intrusive ethnicity questions is what you get in France, where, because it's illegal to ask these kinds of questions, everyone happily pats themselves on the back for living in a racism-free society, while having no idea whether they actually are.

  7. Hi Buenosam, welcome to the blog!

    How does knowing the number of people in different ethnic groups tell us whether our society is racist?