What are you really?

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Photo by Hannah Hunsinger.
Race categorization arbitrary, outdated

By Rachel Luchmun

Black history month is a time to stop and reflect on the horrors from the past, in the hope that they never happen again.

The plight of black people, in the United States and elsewhere, is not only a show of what horrors humankind can commit, but also a promise of hope: after all, the condition of black people has significantly improved, with the abolition of slavery and the creation of diverse associations and laws to help black people to gain an equal footing. We want to be so careful that black is increasingly being replaced by African-American.

So let us reach around and give ourselves a pat on the back; by wanting to stop inequality for minorities, we have boxed ourselves in complicated concepts of race that still emphasizes differences based on appearances.

Let’s face it. Whenever there is an application or form to be filled, there always comes the question of ethnicity and race. Here at the college, ethnicity is classed as “Hispanic” or “non-Hispanic” and race options are “White,” “Black or African-American,” “Asian,” “American Indian or Alaska Native” and “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.” You can check as many as you wish.

I am aware that the college is made to have those choices by the state (at least, that is what I gathered – the nifty web link they provided on the admission form is broken) but really, for a place that advocates diversity and welcomes international students, has no one realized that this selection is close-minded and off-putting?

The most strikingly annoying thing about this classification is how arbitrary the notion of “race” is. Skin color (white and black) is tossed in with geographic locations (Asia, Pacific Islands). Does that mean Asians and Pacific Islanders are of a color different from black (under which every shade of brown also passes, apparently) and white? What about white people who were born and raised in Asia? People with ancestry so mixed their skin color changes dramatically with the seasons?

Things are slightly better now than when I first applied, when I was forced to make a choice, and a choice of only one. As a brown-skinned African with an Indian last name and a lot of mixing along the way, I found it very difficult to pick. With the term “Black” being synonymous with “African-American,” as just an African I found it hard to define myself as such.

I get it. There might be diversity quotas. The college needs to know how “diverse” their student population is. Some organizations only offer support from people of a particular descent. I get it!

But is there really no other way for all those organizations to get their data, if only through an “other” choice that acknowledges the fact that the United States’ construct of race does not cover every possibility?

Contact Rachel Luchmun, news editor, at rluchmun@jccc.edu.

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