Saturday, July 12, 2008

#3 Putting "Black" on a Census Report

(A JAM C) I really don't like it when I have to fill out a form and when it asks me my race, the only options are:

Asian/Pacific Islander
Native American

Some people have realized that there are many people who represent more than one race, and the generously tell us to "check all that apply."  Others, however, choose not to give us that option, and say to select only one.  Honestly, that hurts a little bit.  My mother's side of the family is Portuguese.  For all that I know, there isn't a single black person in that whole line.  To have to choose "Black" when half of my ancestry is white is a very difficult thing to do.  Regardless of all of that, I will always put "black" for many reasons.

1) For the first 13 years of my life, I thought I was black.  I know, it sounds weird, but the thought never entered my mind that I was mixed black and white until I saw a special on Nick News about kids who are exactly like I am.  It probably never entered my mind, because I only have three relatives from my mom's side that live in America.   On my dad's side, I had all sorts of family members all around me, who were very proud of their heritage.  They constantly reminded me of my roots, and I loved being black.  When I found out, I wasn't entirely black, I was pretty shocked to say the least.
After figuring out that I wasn't 100% black, I looked back on my life, and I realized that tons of people asked me what my race was.  Not knowing the truth, I replied "black," and being the innocent little kid that I was, I returned the courtesy by asking them what race they were... even though, it was obvious what race they were.  It was a tough adjustment, but I learned to appreciate my identity.

2) By law, I'm Black.  I don't know if the rules have changed since I last checked, but as far as I know, the United States government says that I'm black.  In fact, if my kids all marry white people, their kids will be considered too.  By law, if you're 1/8th black, and 7/8th white, you're still black.  Hey, I don't make the rules, but that's just the way it is.

3) When people look at me, they may see a black person, but they will NEVER see a white person.  Here's the thing.  If I was put in a group of black people, and you picked random strangers to figure out what race I am, most would probably say black.  If you did the same thing but put me with a group of white people.  I would be absolutely shocked if anyone said that I was white.  Nobody has ever thought that I was white in my life, but plenty of people have thought that I was black.  If I'm honest, most people think I'm hispanic, which is understandable, but that's a different post for a different time.


Caleb said...

No one ever guesses that you're mixed? I have a white-Asian friend, and when she lived in Japan, people knew she was mixed, as they did/do in Australia.

I think mixed people (not just black-white -- I knew a very interesting and handsome guy who was half Indian [as in from India], half Japanese; likewise for my sister's friend who was Vietnamese-Italian) are often the best looking. It's rare to find an ugly one. They seem to get the best of both their parents.

My own children will be white (English-German)-Taiwanese, and as beautiful as my woman is, I know they will be even more beautiful than her.

A ton of my friends are mixed, or their children will be mixed. Maybe it's different in the U.S., but I don't think it's such a big deal in Australia, and it doesn't seem to be with my Canadian friends either. I've heard Australia has the highest rate of inter-racial marriage in the world.

That said, I live in Taiwan (which is actually an interesting mix, and if you trace anyone's family tree back enough, you'll find various Chinese groups, Taiwanese aboriginals, and even Spanish or Dutch), and it's kind of an issue outside the big cities where people are more "traditional". However, there's a not insignificant number of foreigners who have settled down here and I see mixed kids around more than I'd expect. Interestingly, when Taiwanese women marry a foreigner, it's almost always a Westerner (and almost always white). When Taiwanese men marry a foreigner, it's almost always a poor woman from the mainland or south-east Asia (eg. Vietnam, Thailand or the Philippines), so it's harder to pick that the child is mixed.

A Jam C said...

hmm, good thoughts Caleb. Honestly, not many people think I'm mixed here in the USA. I think that as they have more biracial friends they'll be able to figure it out, but as of right now, people don't really guess it a whole lot.

Caleb said...

a jam c: Really? Interesting. Do you think it's because they're unfamiliar with people who are mixed, or do you think it could be because there's a fair degree of variation in skin tone for black people to begin with? For instance, I knew a British guy who was half Sri Lankan and half Austrian, and I probably would have picked him for just being a fairer skinned person from the sub-continent since there's a fair degree of variation in skin tone there too. Maybe it's just easier for me to pick mixed east-Asian people because, like a guy I saw the other day, they'll look fairly Asian, but then have one or more features (often their noses) that are distinctly non-Asian. Maybe I'm just far more familiar with east-Asian features in general.

I think familiarity definitely has something to do with it. For instance, whilst I'm not really that familiar with black people (although I can recognise east Africans fairly easily), I am much more familiar with Asian people. Occasionally, it's hard to tell east-Asians apart, but I never think a south-east Asian is east-Asian. My mother thinks they all look (and sound) the same though.

Another interesting question I have for you is how well can you tell different Europeans apart? I lived in a few different European countries for a while, and I think I'm reasonably good at getting it down to a region before I hear them speak. I think there are quite distinct looks regionally (also, the way they dress -- eg. if there's way too much leather and gold, they're almost certainly Slavic), but again, some people couldn't tell, probably through lack of familiarity more than anything else.

Anonymous said...

My biracial friend sent me this website...I love it! In regards to this post, I have to agree with you - many people just see me as black and NEVER as white. Around here (Indiana), I've been seen as: black, Mexican, Cuban, Middle Eastern, Indian, Native American, and Egyptian.

An interesting aspect from my standpoint is many black people I run into can tell I'm biracial, but not the white people I meet. I would assume that black/white interracial dating/marriage/children is more prevalent with blacks than whites, but that's just my opinion.

Allison said...

I get Cuban and PR a lot. I have lots of curly hair, so that's where that lands me. One of my brothers has hair like mine, but his skin is very light, and for awhile I'm not sure he knew he was black (see point 3 and think opposite). My two youngest sisters are twins, one with red hair, one with brown, same texture, braids and/or perms from age 3. No mistaking that they're black.

I agree that more black folk know we're mixed than white folk do. My favorite question (insert sarcastic eye roll here) is "what are you mixed with?"
Some people, of course, are afraid to ask...they think they'll offend. I got a physical and left the office with my paperwork only to get home and find out that the (white) nurse had checked the box for "Alaskan Native." Really???? Wow...

Anthony said...

Lately people have been guessing Arab/Middleeastern, so now I just say Egyptian and no one can tell the difference.