I have been filling out a lot of forms recently: school forms, medical forms, insurance forms, new social media account forms…and I have become aware of something rather curious. Being multi-racial, particularly, the race section of the form has always been…a “close enough” experience. You can’t simply check the Black-xican box. And it is this section of the form that has become curious.
Now, forms have displayed the curious section for a while, I just make no claims of extreme awareness to the mundane. That being said, what makes it curious? One day I was filling out the latest form and I had to ask myself…why is “Are you of Hispanic or Latino decent?” a separate question from “Which race or races do you identify with? Check all that apply.” Well of course I had to find the answer.
Right, I choose to express my race with the phrase “Black-xican.” My father is African-American and my mother is Hispanic/Latina. Black-xican is a name I have given myself, please don’t go around calling others of a similar racial mix this…it tends to be fairly personal.
Anyway! I have been a Black-xican all my life and I usually went about filling out the forms with a sort of “meh” attitude. I check an assortment of boxes, as it pleases me, depending on the form, never really thinking about what I was checking. Here is the problem with that: aside from the issues that always come from a sort of teenage, youthful angsty-ness, I found a government website that explains how the afore mentioned questions should be answered and according to that, I am doing it wrong.
The Form: Hispanic/Latino
Let’s start with the first question. Now there is a lot of formal and general arguing that goes on when it comes to “labeling” people from different areas or cultures. This will not be one of those arguments. For the sake of civility and curiosity, let’s look, solely, at the description the government website provides.
Hispanic or Latino: a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.
So, according to this, Hispanic/ Latino is not a race! “Regardless of race.” Welp, that explains why it is separate from the race question. Apparently, it is a cultural/ ethnicity question. Ok, let’s accept that and move to the next question.
The Form: Race Selection
Right, race…tough subject matter to talk about…lots of questions: what do you call the races? What are the races? What came first: the categories defining human divisions or the assorted forms of competition? Argue amongst your selves; get it out of your system…Cool. Now let’s look at the definitions that the government website offers:
American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community attachment.
Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
So, this seems as reasonable as it ever has…in fact most people sort of assume this when looking at these selections on the form.
Sarah…what makes this curious?
Riddle Me This
I use the term Black-xican to explain my race…but according to the logic of the form, Black-xican isn’t a thing. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word…I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Let me explain:
The “xican” part of the term is the part that I used to denote my maternal ancestry or the Hispanic/ Latino part. According to the form, that isn’t a race, that is an ethnicity. But the “Black” part is an acceptable race label…according to the form.
“MY WHOLE LIFE IS A LIE!!!”
So what am I?
Now, we just have a simple…convoluted and ridiculous, math problem. Yes, math. Here is what I thought: (X/2)+(X/2)= X. Or in English, half my race (Hispanic/Latino) plus the other half of my race (Black) equals all of me. That math works except, according to the form I am no longer dealing with the same variable, X, or race, but I am dealing with X (race), and Y (Ethnicity).
Math: Hispanic/ Latino
Now I have (Y/2)+(Y/2)= Y. Well, I know one half of me is still Hispanic/ Latino. What is the other half? For as asinine as it may seem, the other half is obviously Not Hispanic/ Latino! That is the only other option on the form, either you are or you aren’t Hispanic/ Latino. And, lucky me, I am both.
Math: Race Choices
Strap in, party people! This is where it gets even more…acrobatic, for lack of a better description.
Now, one half of me is still Black and that one is easy: Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. My father’s father’s father etc, is from Africa somewhere, though slavery and poverty don’t make for the best ancestral record keeping. That being said, what is the other half, I mean, Hispanic/ Latinos aren’t raceless.
My mother’s ancestry comes from Spain and Mexico. But there was not a “Spain or Mexico” option on the list…or was there? If I go directly by the form definitions:
Mexico is part of the North America, and the people of Mexico are generally considered indigenous. Another way of saying indigenous is native…yup that’s right, I am saying if you are Mexican filling out the form then: American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community attachment. You know my family does do a lot to maintain “cultural identification thought tribal affiliation or community attachment.” My tribe is as big as my Grandmother’s family, I think the last count was 215 people, that was ten years ago and I can name most of my first, second, third, fourth etc. cousins. With Thanksgiving approaching (ignoring the irony) we only just recently decided who would make the enchiladas and who would make the menudo. Does any of that count?
Fine, Sarah, but what about the Spanish part?
So, following the same sort of logic: the Spanish part would be White! White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. Spain is in Europe. Well isn’t that exciting!
What does it add up to?
When you put it all together, ethnically, according to the forms, I am Hispanic/ Latino and Not Hispanic/ Latino. And racially, according to the forms, I am Black and Native American/White.
I am not sure I know what the “so” is. I started this investigation because I was annoyed that I had to separate my Hispanic/Latino and Black origins. But this has led to more than I ever imagined.
As always, my investigation has led to more questions than answers. I know I am not calling for some sort of form reform. I doubt I would be able to conjure up a better form than the ones currently in use. If it were me, given my sense of humor, I would just offend people. For race, I would probably just ask “on a scale of Coffee, Black, to Milk, how brown are you?” and then have pictures of assorted coffees of assorted dilutions. For ethnicity…it would probably be an elaborate BuzzFeed-esk test that amounted to a sort of quipy conclusion. Despite how much I love coffee (so much!) and despite how much I love BuzzFeed quizzes (my love life would be Beauty and the Beast if it were a Disney movie)…I would offend people.
Is this an identity crisis? Maybe? Does it give me more to think on? You bet, for example, why is Hispanic/Latino the only ethnicity they (who ever writes the forms) list? For that matter, why is it the only ethnicity they have been able to clearly define? I don’t know. Why don’t I jus check “other”? Well, even though the forms are not all encompassing I would rather be counted as something than not be counted.
There is only one thing I can think of to say when an investigation has been logically executed and deeply considered, and despite the interest it has generated, has left no answers…
“Definitions for New Race and Ethnicity Categories”<http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/reic/definitions.asp>