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Caribbean D.C. Group Claims Clarke Bill Will Fail

CaribWorldNews, WASHINGTON, D.C., Thurs. June 25, 2009:  A purported `census briefing` in D.C. Wednesday, by an organization that was an early supporter of the CaribID initiative to get a Caribbean category on the U.S. Census form, turned into a public attack on Congresswoman Yvette Clarke`s `Caribbean Count` bill, claiming sources say, that the measure is bound to fail.

The briefing had been promoted as one on the Census and email correspondence claimed it was meant `to get consensus on how we shall be asking the Census to read and score our write-ins so we get a Complete Count that meets all parties goals and objectives in 2010.` Yet no Census officials were present for the briefing.

Instead, the event, hosted by the Institute of Caribbean Studies` Claire Nelson and Darryl Piggee, chief of staff of Congressman Lacy Clay, chair of the Congressional Sub-Committee on the Census, turned into a public attack on H.R. 2071, lobbied for by CaribID, and which has also been introduced in the Senate as S. 1083 by Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristin Gillibrand.

Nelson, a proponent of the national Caribbean Heritage Month measure and representative of a group that claims to be all things Caribbean, and several members of a group claiming to be part of a National Count Committee, publicly ridiculed the bill, aimed to give Caribbean nationals a means of accurately counting themselves through an origins, not racial category on the U.S. Census form. She also accused the congresswoman`s office of changing the bill overnight.

Several attendees present at the event told CaribWorldNews that the ICS head, essentially accused Congresswoman Clarke`s staffers of changing the bill overnight, when copies of the bill was presented to invitees and the rationale explained.

She accused the office of changing the bill from 2020 to 2010 when the congressional staffer stated the bill was meant to draw attention to the significance of the 2010 U.S. Census to the Caribbean community, which because of cultural sensitivities and other factors can sometimes be reluctant to complete the forms, several concerned leaders told CWNN last night.

Hours before, on Tuesday night, in an interview with CWNN, Nelson went on the record as saying she was concerned that the ultimate language used on the Census form might be divisive.  She said it`s important that people of African ancestry form alliances with other communities who share their concerns. The Caribbean community is made up of many ethnicities

`There is already a level of disquiet with many people who feel that black immigrants are unfairly advantaged over native African Americans because of privilege that we have now if we continue to push this idea, that we`re Caribbean, we`re different, we`re special, we`re better, it`s going to create further antagonism.  I think we have to be careful how we manage this space of understanding that there is a diverse black community,` said Nelson, who after the interview asked to see the article ahead of time before it ran, a policy completely against journalistic standards. 

She added also that if she did not see the article she did not want to be quoted on or off the record. Since she was on the record and agreed to the interview, CWNN has quoted her, nevertheless.

The divisive claim had for weeks had been rumored in the D.C. area but Nelson had denied it in public. But on Wednesday, the Caribbean organization head made her feelings known, contrary to her previous position.

The bill, lobbied for by CaribID and introduced on April 23rd in the House of Representatives, states that `in conducting the 2010 decennial census and every decennial census thereafter, the Secretary of Commerce shall include, in any questionnaire distributed or otherwise used for the purpose of determining the total population by states, a checkbox or other similar option by which respondents may indicate Caribbean extraction or descent.` It says nothing of a racial category meaning persons will be allowed to clearly identify their race.

A companion bill, S. 1083, was introduced in the Senate by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand on May 20th with the same language. So far, African-American Congressmembers Charles Rangel and Gregory Meeks have signed on as co-sponsors. A similar bill has been introduced for Dominicans but so far there has been no claim that that measure will dilute the black community though there are many nationals from the DR who are also black.

The Wednesday `briefing` turned further confusing when the group haggled over a consensus on what should be done for 2010. The gathering then decided they will simply focus on Question 9, the ethnic category, leaving it unclear how they will be counted as Caribbean nationals.

CaribID was not officially invited to the briefing but obtained several forwarded emails from colleagues. The group, founded a year-and-a-half-ago to focus on the dismissal of the Caribbean community due to the lack of self-identification on the Census, has been working closely with the U.S. Census Bureau in key areas across the country and engaging many Caribbean media partners and groups to spread the message of a write in campaign for 2010 in the hard to reach community.

The message has consistently remained for Caribbean nationals to write in their country of origin under question 8, while ticking `No Not Hispanic` and filling in their ethnic identity in Question 9.
The 2010 census form will be the shortest in history and Question 8 is the only option to write in one`s country of origin, especially since the Caribbean Count bill will not become law by the April 2010 Census.

Census officials agree there is a large undercount of the Caribbean and black community and they are hoping to change that in 2010. In New York City alone, the undercount is 35 percent for Afro-Caribbean communities alone, according to the New York City Census coordinator, Stacey Cumberbatch. This she said, results in the overall city count being lowered, which translates to less funding for the Big Apple.

It is a plight that is evident across immigrant communities across the country, of which Caribbean nationals are fast becoming the second largest, though the accurate numbers are unknown.

As such, CaribID has been working closely with the City Census and the New York/New Jersey regional Census bureau to change that. The group is also working closely with the Philadelphia Regional Census Bureau, which oversees Washington through Pennsylvania, to change that trend for 2010.

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Census` Regional Director, who also oversees D.C., co-hosted a successful briefing with CaribID and the Mayor`s Commission on African and Caribbean Affairs.

This weekend, both the D.C. Carnival and CaribID will partner with the Census at the annual carnival to spread the `stand up and be counted` message. The same will be done with the New York carnival organizers, the biggest carnival in North America, this Labor Day.

The group also recently kicked off a multi-media PSA campaign across the country to spread awareness of the message and is engaging the Caricom Diplomatic Corp to build awareness across their Diaspora groups.

CaribID officials insist it is not about one group or person but the entire community which continues to be ignored and dismissed because there is no means to accurately self-identify on the census form or to measure their purchasing power and economic impact in the U.S. market.

As Senator Gillibrand recently pointed out, `By failing to recognize Caribbean families in our census data, we are failing to obtain a true picture of the people, families and communities that make up New York and all of America. It`s time to make this important change.`