Race and the U.S. Census: ‘Confederate Southern’ Whites Want Separate Category

There is a push among some southern whites in the U.S. for a separate category on the census. The Southern Legal Resource Center is calling on self-proclaimed “Confederates” to declare their heritage when they are counted in the 2010 Census. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the organization is urging white Southerners to declare their “heritage and culture” by classifying themselves as “Confederate Southern Americans” on the line on the form, question No. 9, that asks for race. Check “other” and write “Confed Southern Am” on the line beside it.

In a move that appropriates the language of multiculturalism, the director this organization says:

“In this age of honoring diversity, Southern/Confederate people are the last group in America that can be maligned, ridiculed and defamed with impunity. Using the Census to unite the Southern/Confederate community can be a significant first step to our obtaining rights and recognition that all American ethnic groups are entitled to.”

Scholar Tara McPherson, USC, has written about neo-confederate groups such as this in a chapter called “I’ll take my stand in Dixie-Net: White guys, the South, and cyberspace,” in Kolko, B. E., L. Nakamura, and G. B. Rodman’s edited volume, Race in Cyberspace, New York:Routledge (2000), and in her book, Reconstructing Dixie,  Durham, NC: Duke University Press, (2003). McPherson’s take on these groups is complex, nuanced and theoretically informed by cultural studies.

A key point from her work are important to note here about this move to racialize the census in a new way by “Confed Southern Am’s.”   Although it would be easy to place these neo-Confederates in a group with other white supremacist groups, McPherson cautions that this is too simplistic and facile.   In contrast to other white southern groups may affiliate themselves with a “Lost Cause” ideology that characterize blacks as racial Others who are either loyal ex-slaves who benefited from plantation life or a dangerous ‘cancer,’ the neo-confederates focus almost exclusively on whiteness, albeit a whiteness that is naturalized and taken-for-granted (McPherson, 2003, p.110).

Thus, rather than engaging in overt expressions of racism, the neo-Confederates that McPherson studies adopt the language of multiculturalism in an attempt to place regional, Southern, whiteness as equivalent to African American or any of the other identities now represented in Questions 8 and 9 on the 2010 census.    Why do this?  It’s a rhetorical and political strategy that seeks to undermine moves toward racial equality by de-emphasizing the power and social resources associated with ‘whiteness.’    Once again, the census proves to be useful a lens through which we can view the current landscape of racial politics in the U.S.