Voices for Racial Justice

How can the Census be a Tool for our Liberation? A Roundtable Conversation

On July 8th, a group of powerful Black, Indigenous, People of color (BIPOC) leaders hosted a roundtable conversation on the relevance of the census for BIPOC communities during COVID-19 and what BIPOC communities have to gain from accurate counts of our neighborhoods as we push for racial justice policies.


Participants were Voices for Racial Justice, in collaboration with Common Cause MN, the African Career Education and Resource (ACER) organization, the Minnesota Council of Foundations (MCF), community organizers in Worthington, and members of the Tribal Coalition for the 2020 census. The roundtable was part of the #OurFamiliesCount campaign, which amplifies the stories of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, to ensure that all of our BIPOC families are counted in the 2020 Census.

The conversation explored the following themes: (1) The impact that having an accurate count of BIPOC families will have on our communities when creating solutions to the racial disparities already exacerbated by COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd. (2) Ways that we can use being counted to push for racial justice policies. (3) The importance of working together to build a powerful multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural, and a multigenerational coalition. And (4), the importance of the census for rural communities, as explained by Cheniqua Johnson, who is from Worthington, and was part of the panel: “I see the Census as a marking tool for why we need some of our services. It’s letting people know that we are here too, and there are a lot of us in rural communities.”

This roundtable was also a disruption of the “Minnesota Paradox,” which is already at work with the census. The paradox is explained by the fact that while Minnesota has one of the country’s highest standards of living by many measures, including high incomes, long life expectancy, a large number of great schools, and a rich arts and cultural scene, it is also home to some of the largest racial inequities in the U.S. This point was made clear by Nelima Sitati Munene during the roundtable: “As communities of color, we are one of the fastest growing populations and we know the current systems are not operating for us. It is absolutely important that we make sure that we get everybody counted, or else our neighborhoods are the ones that will be the most deficient.”

We are proud that Minnesota is number one in the nation for the 2020 census count; however, we are concerned that most of the people not yet counted are from BIPOC communities. We know this undercount is due to our historical distrust in systems that is getting worse because of police brutality and the Trump administration’s effort to use fear as the strategy to make us invisible. This was captured during the roundtable by Shelly Diaz, who said “Being counted is going to impact our political representation and the and the economic prosperity for our communities. We have been invisible and undercounted long enough.”

Now, the Trump administration is asking to remove undocumented individuals from being included in the Congressional district maps that will be redrawn in 2021. This is not only absurd and unconstitutional, but also keeps adding to the narratives that promote fear in our communities. The importance of redrawing districts was explained during the roundtable by Annastacia Belladonna Carrera, who said, “Redistricting is just a fancy word for shaping our voting maps. And the information we use for that is the Census. I say that a compromised census is a compromised democracy.”

We will not have another census until 2030, so whatever we achieve this year for the count will impact decisions around housing, education, public transportation, and jobs for the next decade. Once we have an accurate count of our BIPOC communities and develop a good understanding of how to use the data, we have the potential to use the census as a tool for our liberation by creating policies, practices, and processes that center our voices and create communities where we ALL thrive. Fill out the Census at my2020census.gov and stay tuned for more ways to join the conversation and show that #OurFamiliesCount.