‘They’ll Erase Us From the Future’: Stacey Abrams Understands Why We Fear the Census But Says We Must Participate Anyway

Photo: Dia Dipasupil (Getty Images for Bustle)

The yummy, sweet brown center of the transformative, celebratory and “let’s get free”-filled reproductive justice gathering known as SisterSong’s Let’s Talk About Sex Conference in Atlanta this weekend was former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (who was clearly robbed of that honor, let’s be clear).

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With a perfect blend of humor (“I’m a sturdy woman with natural hair—you can’t miss me”) and straightforward organizational aplomb to transform this deeply inequitable system (“Justice is a verb,” she opined), Abrams transfixed the audience of more than 1,100 during Saturday’s plenary keynote session with words that still resonate to this very moment.

Although Abrams zipped between the personal—noting that there is nothing wrong with naked, audacious ambition in women or the fear that comes along with it (“Fear is real; you have to know and name your fear,” she mused)—she was most impassioned about her political work, including making sure that all Georgians are counted in the upcoming 2020 Census with Fair Count.

Abrams noted that $800 billion in federal funds are at stake in the 2020 Census. If our community doesn’t participate, we will face dire consequences on the ground.

“If your community is not counted, it does not count,” said Abrams, adding that if the expected undercount of 1.7 million black people happens, it will cost states 3.4 billion dollars a year.

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“Here’s what that translates into,” Abrams began. “The money that pays for hospitals, that pays for affordable housing…If our people are not counted, they literally do not receive the resources necessary. And as a consequence, we have weaker infrastructure, we have terrible hospitals, we have doctor shortages, we have overcrowded schools. All of those things happen because of the Census.”

There are some very real reasons why we won’t be counted to our actual numbers, some cultural, some structural; but Abrams’ and Fair Count has identified many.

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“[2020] will be the first time that 80 to 90 percent of the census will be done online,” she says. “Now, 20 percent of our communities don’t have access to the internet, another 20 percent can’t afford it. So they will not be counted if they cannot get on a computer.”

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The Hill reports that according to the 2010 Census, nearly 20 percent of Georgians live in “hard-to-count” areas—places where it is difficult to locate, contact or interview residents. Additionally, many of those uncounted are black, brown, renters, non-English speakers, low income, or homeless.

The other obstacle in the count is the righteous fear of the government and its agencies, which historically have oppressed communities of color.

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“The Native American community faces one of the most incredible undercounts every single cycle because they don’t trust the process,” explains Abrams, noting unapologetically: “because they shouldn’t.”

However, we must get in it to win it (“It’s insufficient to call out a problem if you can’t call out a solution,” is yet another one of the gems Abrams dropped on Saturday). Fair Vote plans to come up with new and innovative ways to reach those who are traditionally not counted.

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Abrams then brought it to the black community, in particular, acknowledging our distrust of the systems that can actually disrupt our living circumstances.

“Black men are the hardest-to-count population of everyone, but black children get undercounted because black mamas don’t always want to participate because they don’t want to get anybody in trouble,” Abrams explains. “But if you live in a house with five other people who are not on the lease, you still have to do the Census and all five of those people still have to be counted. Because if we are not counted, they’ll erase us from the future of this country.”

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Abrams also noted that the country is behind in hiring the half-million enumerators (or Census Takers) needed to do the groundwork. Indeed there is an election in 2020, but there’s also a Census, and as Abrams stressed, there are no do-overs.

“The Constitution does not allow for us to make a mistake and fix it later. And so any mistakes that are made are most likely going to be made on our communities,” she said.

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Fair Count is just as important as Fair Fight, her organization which fights voter suppression, Abrams emphasizes.

“Because when you take our resources and depress our voices, then we don’t get the representation we deserve, we don’t get the money we deserve, and they have an excuse to ignore us for another 10 years. And that’s too much.”

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About the author

Angela Helm

Ms. Bronner Helm is a Contributing Editor at The Root. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.