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‘African American,’ ‘Jamaican’ or ‘Nigerian’ included in U.S. 2020 census

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For the 2020 census, the United States Census Bureau is changing how it will ask black people to designate their race. Under the check box for “Black or African American,” the bureau is adding a new space on the census questionnaire for participants to write in their non-Hispanic origins, according to a recent memo from the head of the 2020 census. “African American,” “Jamaican” and “Nigerian” are listed as examples of origins on a questionnaire the bureau is testing for 2020.

The change means many black people in the U.S. may have to take a closer look at their family trees to answer what can be a thorny question: Where are you really from? While many black immigrants can cite ties to a specific country, that question is difficult, if not impossible, for many U.S.-born African-Americans to answer.

The bureau has not responded to questions about why it is making this change to both the “Black” category and the “White” category,” which will also include a new write-in area for origins/ethnicities.

For Niat Amare, the write-in area will allow her to be more specific about her black identity. “I’m African. I identify as black. But I don’t see myself as an African-American,” says Amare, who was born in Ethiopia and now lives in New York City. “We can’t just be black as African-Americans. We are black from Africa. We are black from the Caribbean. We’re black from everywhere.”

Mulusew Bekele, the director of program operations at African Services Commitee, says asking for people’s origins on the census is likely to run into a major hurdle: Around the country, there’s growing distrust in turning over personal information to the government. “Are people willing to answer that question given the current anti-immigrant sentiment? That I can’t tell,” says Bekele, who is Ethiopian-American.


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