JumpStart, by Robb Armstrong, from GoComics.com
As I’ve said before, and will most definitely say again, racial identity can play a huge part in someone’s life. But that doesn’t mean it has to. I, myself, know plenty of people who have a mixed heritage, some being 99% this and 1% that, others are split right down the middle, who have little interest in dual-culture efforts or the separation of racial background. When people ask me about my ‘ethnicity’, I will most often say that I’m 50% Chinese (sometimes I’ll specify that my family lives in Taiwan or that my recent ancestors were from Manchuria) and 50% white. White? Did they ask me what color underwear I avoid? Why is white an appropriate answer? Better yet, where is white an appropriate answer?
Well let me backtrack to the asking of the question. If you’re someone who’s physical features, voice, or lifestyle do not fit the stereotypical mold(s) associated with your race, then maybe you too have been stumped by the question, “Please check the box that best describes your race.”
Whether it be in the form of an official US census or a project handed to you by a classmate, this sort of question is not easily avoided in the United States.
-Are you of Hispanic or Latino origin?
-What is your race? Mark one.
-Please fill in the bubble with your race. Mark all that apply.
As a bi- or multiracial person what is the best/right choice? If they ask to only check one box, which do I check? I may be half and half but I look more white, and most people assume I’m white? Why is the color (or shade) white an option but Chinese is another possible answer? What about my various European ancestries, where is that box? If I am allowed to check more than one, how much my ethnic background do I need to divulge? Who checks the box that says ‘other’? The choices are usually limited, and speaking logically, how could they not be? Even if the point of the question/survey isn’t gathering racial data or numbers, it may very well have an effect on whomever is attempting to check the box.
But so what? Why does it matter what one survey asks or what a stranger assumes about you? Things like race, they’re just social constructs. Well that’s just it. We live as social creatures, for the most part, constantly planning our days around contact with one another, with society. To some, questions like those above are answered with a swift flick of the wrist and not thought of again until the next survey. But I am writing to reach the audience that raises a brow at this kind of question; those that scan the boxes up and down before marking them.
And if you’re thinking that boxes on a form or survey are just boxes… check again, please.
2 thoughts on “Check, please”
Very interesting post. Not being mixed-race myself, I had never really thought of this sort of problem some people might have. As a person with a mixed-race heritage, do you find that there are divisions within the mixed-race community? For example, do those who are ”more mixed’ (50/50 or 33/33/33/) treat those who are ‘less mixed’ (99/1) differently, perhaps saying that they are ‘basically’ the race that makes up the majority of their heritage? What sort of divisions, if any, have you experienced as a member of the mixed-race community?
Thank you for this post. I find your blog inspirational and strong in tone. As a self-identified Asian American, I think about my race quite often. I do not relate to a mix-identity dilemma but can see the disparities it might bring. When I check a box on applications, I do not have much trouble. I do however, find flaws with the racial categories. I find a simple Asian box adequate. When more complicated terms such as Asian Pacific Islander are present, I find some hesitation. Generalizing different kinds of Asian present some weaknesses in survey methodology. I would note that white privilege is even more prevalent in a liberal art’s school. As winter break draws near, I would encourage you to write about mixed-kid problems. Look forward to future posts!