I sat in the pediatrician’s waiting room, staring at the new patient form in front of me. I felt paralyzed – unsure of how to answer. Tears welled up in my eyes. I grew frustrated at my own confusion. How should I answer? This is the question that stared back at me.
Filling out forms like this for myself had always been easy. I simply checked the “White” or “Caucasian” box and moved on. Similarly, my husband always checked the “African American” or “Black” box without giving it too much thought. But as I looked at my young son, I found myself at a loss. Which box should I check?
He is not white. He is not black. But at the same time, he does not represent an “Other Race” as appeared to be my only other option. He is a mixture of two races, a beautiful combination of both his mother and his father. Where oh where was the box for “Multiracial”? Why couldn’t I “Check all that apply?”
In a world that is increasingly diverse, questions like this seem to divide us, rather than celebrating the diversity among us. The same good intentions that want to make sure we are serving diverse populations requires us to categorize ourselves. Divide ourselves. Classify ourselves into tiny boxes that don’t represent true diversity.
Admittedly, if I had been filling out this form for myself or my husband, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Depending on your racial identity, you might not either. But my son and daughter won’t be so lucky.
I have a feeling that the creator of this form never intended for the options they listed to cause a mother’s eyes to well up in tears. And that’s exactly why I wanted to blog about it. So many times we simply don’t realize the unintended consequences of our actions.
Perhaps the office where you work has a form similar to this one. Will you do me a favor? Will you make sure there is an option for “Multiracial?” Or at least an option to “Check all that apply”? I understand it may be difficult to quantify demographic information, but if our intention in gathering this information in the first place is to help ensure diversity, we must be careful not to cause more of a divide in the process. To require my children to categorize themselves as “white” or “black” when they are both and yet neither. To ask people to identify themselves as “Other Race” or “Other” –although it remains a mystery to me exactly what that means.
In case you’re wondering how I filled out that form, I’ll tell you. I checked both boxes – “Black” and “White”. Because that is what he is. And I hope he will someday feel pride in what that represents.