The dreaded "race" checkbox - Mothering Forums
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Multicultural Families > The dreaded "race" checkbox
USAmma's Avatar USAmma 03:25 AM 09-26-2008
I'm sure this is a tired subject, but it finally happened to my little girl. I enrolled her in a new school last month and on the application it said to choose only one, and it had your standard races listed. They were very broad and there were only like 6 to choose from. I left that blank when filling it out. We got to the school and the admin. assistant caught it and asked me to check one. I was like, okay, white or Asian (I am white, dh is from India). I turned to my 7 yo and showed her the form and asked which one she preferred to check to describe herself. She looked really confused and said she was "just American." I finally checked Asian because she looks more Indian than white, but I felt bullied into it. At the hospital where she was born she was automatically registered as Caucasian because children are given the racial assignment of the mother as a rule. Um, not sure about that one either. My husband was pretty upset that we could not choose two races or just plain "other."

What do you all do? How do you handle it emotionally and how do your children handle it?

chelko's Avatar chelko 03:36 AM 09-26-2008
I am half Chinese and half caucasian. I have always identified myself as Chinese on those forms. My ds is 1/4 Chinese and looks very caucasian, red hair, very pale skin. I've been torn as to what to check for him. I am Chinese, therefore he is Chinese as well, right? But it would be more correct to say that he is caucasian, but it still feels wrong to do so.

Ds is, I think, more strikingly influenced by my culture, because it stands out, iykwim. Everyday is mostly American (I won't say generic, cuz we are pretty far from the norm) but whenever we do something special, it is usually in the Chinese way. What I mean is when we celebrate anything with my family, it is always deeply immersed in the Chinese culture. But that is for special occasions, not everyday.

I don't know. I feel conflicted everytime that question comes up. So, no advice, just more confusion. Sorry.
rhiandmoi's Avatar rhiandmoi 04:13 AM 09-26-2008
That is so weird. As long as I've been filling out those forms by myself I've always had the option of "Two or More Races, Hispanic", "Two or More Races, Non-Hispanic" or "Decline to State". I always fill in ToMRH for DH and ToMRNH for me. The future sproglings will be ToMRH.

OT, but Chinese is a patrilineal culture, so Chineseness officially comes from your father. My mom used to always say that I should try to be Miss Chinatown to get a scholarship, but I'm not actually officially Chinese .
mamacita angelica's Avatar mamacita angelica 08:26 AM 09-26-2008
i remember when i was in 7th grade, and it was the first time i ever had to do this. i was sitting right next to my twin sister for this standardized test, and we began arguing about it. loudly. i said we were latina because of our mother, and she said we were caucasian because of our father. everyone started staring at us stating our cases. i said, we LOOK hispanic. and she said, we SOUND white. and it went on and on like this. it was definitely an argument that eleven year olds have. finally, we decided that she would pick white, and i would pick hispanic, and it would end up the same anyway. but it confounded us for a long time. now, we both always pick hispanic.
Parthenia's Avatar Parthenia 10:32 AM 09-26-2008
First, we acknowledge that filling out forms is not an accurate reflection real life. DH is white, I'm African American. DH refuses to fill out those boxes at all, or he writes in "Viking", and if pressed he marks white. When we were doing DD1's birth certificate forms, he marked that he was a Viking, so DD1 is considered a Viking African American. I think he did that on DD2's birth certificate as well, just to be consistent.

If I'm filling out a form for the girls I check both AA and white. If I have only one choice I choose AA. DH does the same, because I asked him to, and because dh and I have often discussed that in this country, race mostly matters for better or worse when you aren't white, and that DH has the privilege of deciding to be a Viking, where I will always be black, (although I'm kinda fair skinned and the RMV has listed me as white at least twice. When I catch it, I make them change it.)

That said, my older dd looks exactly like me, except she has green eyes. DD2 looks exactly like DH--blond hair and blue eyes. It's not about looks for me. They're both African American and Swedish American, but in the US for many years, you could be 1/16 black and be considered black. This was great for discrimination. OTOH, the African American community that I grew up in embraces you as a black person if one of your parents is black, regardless of skin color. This is also my daughters' community.

Choosing black when we have only one choice is not a slight to my DD's Swedish or Viking roots. It's an affirmation of their African American roots, which may not be apparent on their faces.

That said, when we talk with our girls about "who" or "what" they are, we tell them they are both, and they are first and foremost Human. We encourage them to explore both cultures and decide for themselves.
RasJi7's Avatar RasJi7 11:43 AM 09-26-2008
I am considering telling people "oh we don't do those things" if ever pressed. I intend to leave it blank at this point but my son in still young so I've only had to do it for Birth Certificate so far. They listed myself and my husband as caucasian and i asked them to change his father's to african american.

Your family is beautiful btw. I was thinking your older daughter favors you and your younger one favors her father. Strange to me that Indian people would have to choose asian as a race- do they identify with being asian? This is news to me but I've never had to think about it.

I wonder why the school needs to know. If they couldn't tell me a really good reason why they needed to know then I just might insist on leaving it blank. If the school would get more funding for having certain amount of minority race children then that might persuade me but I can't think of many other good reasons.
EdnaMarie's Avatar EdnaMarie 01:07 PM 09-26-2008
I would stand up for it and refuse to answer unless they had "mixed", "other", or allowed multiple boxes. I would also write a letter.

I know that schools do need to know for funding etc. etc. but screw them. I don't fit in any box and neither does my daughter. My DH is Asian but he looks Middle Eastern, but there's no box for that, and sorry, he doesn't look white! If the teacher does not see how idiotic and what a demeaning exercise it is to continually deny 1/2 or 3/4 of one's ancestry, he can bite me.
bdoody11's Avatar bdoody11 01:18 PM 09-26-2008
My DD is 1/2 caucasian (from me) and 1/4 Mexican, 1/4 Spanish (from DH). We've chosen to check Hispanic (although she looks caucasian). To not feels like we're denying a part of her heritage. However, I would like the option of checking more than one. I don't know, these questions are so hard and there is just no clear cut answer.
Ranni's Avatar Ranni 02:09 PM 09-26-2008
We have not yet encountered this however if/when we do I think we will probably mark Hispanic. I am Irish and DH is Latino. DD1 (4) looks entirely Latina while DD2 (9mos) looks white. DD1 identifies with her Latinaness very strongly and has since she was able to communicate. I remember eating platinos con frijoles y crema one afternoon when she was almost 2, she pointed to the crema and said "mama" and pointed to the frijoles and said "papi". I turned the plate around thinking maybe it was the placement on the plate, nope she repeated the same. When she was about 2 1/2 she said "hey mama I'm brown like my Papi, you're pink". She searches out other "brown" children and makes a point to befriend them, always observing "she/he is brown like me mommy". Now I should say my husband is a very proud Latino man however we had not really talked about race until she began the conversation, we thought my goodness she isn't even 2! When DD2 was born I was a bit worried because it was important to DD1 that she be brown like her and well she is not. She spent some time saying she was brown like her, just light brown and really those aren't blue eyes they are brown. After a few months of that she looks at me and says "Mommy I'm Latina, you're not you are pink so what are you?" I told her I was Irish and she said "hmmmm I think Lili (DD2) is a little Irish too!" It was the first time she acknowledged their difference in appearence I explained to her that they were both Irish and both Latina, she said "ok but I'm going to say I am Latina ok?" Of course that is fine. It has been so very interesting watching her figure this out without suggestion from her family.

So needless to say if I was required to mark only 1 box for DD1 it will be Hispanic!

Ranni
earthgirl's Avatar earthgirl 03:14 PM 09-26-2008
I'm surprised that they didn't at least have an "other". I am biracial and have had to deal with this forever. I mostly don't answer unless there is a biracial/multiracial box. But I will confess to just marking African American if I think it will somehow benefit me, or whomever I'm filling out the form for. I know, kind of sleazy. :
bdoody11's Avatar bdoody11 03:39 PM 09-26-2008
Quote:
Originally Posted by earthgirl View Post
I'm surprised that they didn't at least have an "other". I am biracial and have had to deal with this forever. I mostly don't answer unless there is a biracial/multiracial box. But I will confess to just marking African American if I think it will somehow benefit me, or whomever I'm filling out the form for. I know, kind of sleazy. :
I don't think it's sleazy. My DH does it as well.
IncaMama's Avatar IncaMama 07:14 PM 09-26-2008
yep, i've always hated that. in fact, so much that i decided to do my doctoral dissertation on that. looking at how multiracial adolescents choose to self-identify.

technically, all state and local forms were required to adhere to current census protocols (check all that apply) years ago. i think it was 2003. so if they're still forcing you to check one, they're going against policy.

unless it's a private place, in which case they can do whatever they want. but then they're also not "mandated' to report it at all.
amynbebes's Avatar amynbebes 10:36 PM 09-26-2008
I hate those. I always check both.
waiting2bemommy's Avatar waiting2bemommy 11:22 PM 09-26-2008
I would not have relented, but that's just me. Since I'm biracial and appear hispanic although i have little if any hispanic blood in me, I have dealt with it my whole life. Ds is even more of a mutt than me....he qualifies for like 2/3 of the boxes available. I usually leave them blank unless someone insists that I check a race. Then I matter-of-factly check eery box that applies. Then they say, "you have to choose one." My reply is always, "I' multiracial, so to be accurate, I need to check each race that applies to me. If that's not acceptable, you will have to decide which race you think deserves more merit and choose for me." That usually shuts people up. I don't want to hear a whole lot of blather about rules, because they're stupid rules, and change doesn't come out of submission. My PSAT scores in high school were rejected because I refused to erase the "extra" races I had bubbled in on the test form. I really don't carewhat people think. It is what it is. if they REALLY wanted to be accurate, they would put a box of shades, like in the Paint program on the computer, and have you check the one that matches.
MeepyCat's Avatar MeepyCat 11:42 PM 09-26-2008
Oh gosh. I would totally have refused - we checked "other" on all the race and ethnicity boxes for DS's birth certificate, and if the hospital put racial identifiers in our records, they didn't consult us about it.

I guess there are a couple of ways I might have handled it:
- The "on the spot" way. I'd be surprised to be asked, and kind of off balance, and I might just check a box whether or not it applied perfectly to me and my family. In this case, I'd probably fume and think of perfect things to say later, and I might write a letter, but otherwise, I'd try to let it go.

- The anarchist-hippy-liberal way. "We refuse to help define ourselves according to artificial and arbitrary standards. Fight the patriarchy!"

- The sensitive and reasonable way. "None of these boxes describe our family, and I'm not comfortable checking any of them. If there's no 'other' option, I want that section left blank."

Really, I'm with IncaMama on this one. It's cruddy of them to make you fill that part out.
USAmma's Avatar USAmma 03:34 AM 09-27-2008
Quote:
Originally Posted by IncaMama View Post
yep, i've always hated that. in fact, so much that i decided to do my doctoral dissertation on that. looking at how multiracial adolescents choose to self-identify.

technically, all state and local forms were required to adhere to current census protocols (check all that apply) years ago. i think it was 2003. so if they're still forcing you to check one, they're going against policy.

unless it's a private place, in which case they can do whatever they want. but then they're also not "mandated' to report it at all.
Can you tell me more about the current census protocols? This was an official state or district form (not sure which). She goes to a publicly funded charter school and this was a form about census info. I'm sure it was not put out by the charter school but was a more official form than that.
USAmma's Avatar USAmma 03:37 AM 09-27-2008
Thanks for your support and for sharing your stories! I wonder how my dd's will develop their identity later as they grow up. I was really caught off guard, otherwise I probably would have pushed the issue more. Also this was a new school that I had hand-picked for her because her old one was not working out. I really was trying to be on my best behavior on her first day, KWIM? Next time that happens I will be more prepared. I like this reply: waiting2bemommy
Quote:
I matter-of-factly check eery box that applies. Then they say, "you have to choose one." My reply is always, "I' multiracial, so to be accurate, I need to check each race that applies to me. If that's not acceptable, you will have to decide which race you think deserves more merit and choose for me."

peachweenie's Avatar peachweenie 05:46 PM 10-01-2008
In order to apply for magnet schools in California, you have to choose one race. The magnet schools are mandated have a certain percentage of minority students. Since competition to get into the schools is stiff, we checked the race that was most advantageous for us to get into the schools. I've actually forgotten which we chose!
Mackenzie's Avatar Mackenzie 05:54 PM 10-01-2008
My kids also don't like being forced to choose and get upset that there is not a Mexican American choice. I leave those blank as much as possible and when I do have to fill out, try to alternate the answers so that it balances out...sorta... sigh...
EdnaMarie's Avatar EdnaMarie 06:34 PM 10-01-2008
As for feeling sleazy, I didn't feel sleazy but then I got a scholarship for minorities when I feel that I've never been discriminated against since people generally can't tell what I am and my skin is pretty white. I felt bad about that, but I guess they were desperate to give away money (this was in Western Washington). I never marked anything but "other" after that. I don't like getting money for my race because I don't feel like *my* experience merits it, even though I am not opposed to such things in general.

I would have felt better if I could have gotten a scholarship from a specific tribe, or Spanish-heritage people, or something specific, not just, "You're not white so we'll give you money." That made me cringe.

On the other hand, it does seem like you have to have a schtick these days, so why not "minority"? On the other hand, what does this teach our children?
inkedmamajama's Avatar inkedmamajama 06:38 PM 10-01-2008
ugh-the dreaded race box.

my favorite is when people automatically check it for me. they always get it wrong.

for my kids i choose other or mixed race or i write in an answer.
Bunnybee's Avatar Bunnybee 04:52 PM 10-02-2008
OK, now I am mad too. Just looked at an application for a public school in my area and the box is there. Check only one it says. There is no "other" option! And in small print it says they are required by law to report it. I am also interested in the census protocol. Is what this school is doing illegal? I don't want to choose a race for my children, that is absurd!
CarsonBookworm's Avatar CarsonBookworm 04:23 AM 10-03-2008
I have always checked "other" for DD and for myself.
Bunnybee's Avatar Bunnybee 01:42 AM 10-04-2008
Quote:
Originally Posted by CarsonBookworm View Post
I have always checked "other" for DD and for myself.
What about when there is no "other"? Do you just write it in?
Bad Mama Jama's Avatar Bad Mama Jama 07:04 PM 10-04-2008
i am fortunate that my dd is yung enough not to have to face definitions yet. i don't know how i would handle it. i think i would definitely let her choose what she wants to be defined as. or, if she is anything like me, i refuse to check anything. i don't let them have the satisfaction of making generalizations about black folk based on my answers to surveys and soforth.
~savah~'s Avatar ~savah~ 07:10 PM 10-04-2008
I dislike this question sooo much! I am white and have always checked other and wrote in human. DH on the other hand is bi-racial I'm not sure what he puts down, when we were filling out the birth certificate mine said human and his was blank, the nurse decided to fill it in on her own. I don't know why but having to check the little box irks me, I don't know what I will do for DD when she is older.
reece19's Avatar reece19 07:16 PM 10-04-2008
Quote:
Originally Posted by USAmma View Post
What do you all do? How do you handle it emotionally and how do your children handle it?
I have yet, after 27 years, to ever check a race box. It isn't legally required anywhere I've ever been. When they ask, I just say no for myself and my children.

My mother had this arguement with the social security office when I was born - she refused to pick a race, and they refused to issue me a card - so she chose every race plus other, and wrote a few things in, too. I guess legally I'm everything possible.


(although I did work at an elementary school last year, and when the kids had to fill out those bubble sheets for state testing - the kids who left race blank had it filled in 'for them' by a school admin. The admin just picked whatever they looked like. Made me realize all my years in school of refusing to fill that out were probably useless.)
alisonsvw's Avatar alisonsvw 11:23 PM 10-04-2008
hi
I'm also white with half Indian children... I check Asian too but feel kind of weird about it, they are not oriental.. Or I check other and don't specify on the line provided. race questions suck next time I will write human on the other line
Mizelenius's Avatar Mizelenius 02:15 AM 10-05-2008
If they "make" you check a box, tell them you can't for legal reasons. It would not be full disclosure to check only one or the other. Let them know you refuse to commit a crime.

I always write "human" too, but I'm white. If I were a minority or 1/2 I'd check whatever would benefit me. I think society would owe me at least that much for whatever other $%&# I'd have to deal with as a result of ignorance.
sandsprite's Avatar sandsprite 04:20 AM 10-05-2008
write in
" the human race "
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