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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Painting race in black and white limits diversity

Race, like most terms, is not merely black and white — symbolically or in terms of ethnicity. The world is growing, and with it a new age of diverse and fantastically unique individuals is emerging.

No longer do most romantic relationships remain within the confines of skin pigments; people are pushing aside the old stigma and are creating a new age of racially diverse individuals.

However, this simple change has made it more difficult for people who periodically fill out a form or two, whether it be for jobs or academic purposes, to pick a race.

While the ethnic background question often used to allow only one box to be chosen, most forms now feature more boxes with the option to check multiple boxes as well.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the race categories were mandated by the Office of Management and Budget in 1997. These options include white, black or African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander.

However, while some forms do offer the chance to pick multiple races, UH’s are not among them. On the UH Faculty Self Identification Form, hopeful faculty members are encouraged — but not required — to fill out the application form to be used only “for the purpose of monitoring the effectiveness of the Affirmative Action Program.”

Under the “Race/Ethnicity” option, there are the usual numerous racial categories, but faculty are asked to “please select one.”

In addition, on the UH Student Identification Form required to gain admission, under the subhead of “Ethnic Background,” the only options are American Indian/Alaskan Native, African-American/Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino and white/Non-Hispanic.

While this would not be considered a major offense for one of the most diverse campuses in the nation, it should be noted that these are the only ethnicities mentioned — completely negating an “other” option.

This seems odd, especially since the 1980 census added the new category of “Some Other Race” to the mix.

According to an article by the Pew Research Center, 6.2 percent of census respondents selected “some other race” in the 2010 census instead of picking a particular race.

The article continued by stating that while this percentage may seem small, it is actually a large percentage when looking at the population as a whole.

With the “Some Other Race” option, it is obvious that the U.S. Census Bureau was attempting to adapt and be accommodating, but it just seems to be a placeholder to deter the difficulties that will most presumably arise when the bureau tries to make this question more inclusive.

When it comes down to it, one cannot blame another for not wanting to shrink their race into the confines of a square box.

Media productions senior Vanessa Phillips is part of the population who does not identify with the races shown on such forms.

“I don’t check any box, to be honest. I’m Puerto Rican, so on the outside I would check ‘Hispanic’ as an ethnicity, but then they would break down the race with being either black or white, and I really don’t identify as either one,” Phillips said. “My skin color would be white … but I don’t identify as a white American. Then my ethnicity is Hispanic, but I can’t identify with such a broad thing. I’m not Mexican, I’m not Cuban, I’m not Spanish. So I just don’t check anything.”

In order to fix the discrepancy, the Bureau plans to expand the selection choice by allowing subsections of race. People would be offered a line to supply more detail about their origin, according to the Pew Research Center.

These divisions could include German, African-American, Mexican, Navajo, Asian Indian and Samoan.

The Census Bureau is continuously attempting to improve the accuracy and reliability of its race and ethnicity data as well as stating that “the racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically or genetically.”

With the added subheads that the Bureau plans to enact, it is evident that they are aware of America’s changing demographics.

National Geographic celebrated its 125th anniversary with an October 2013 photo issue. Featured inside the magazine was a series of photos taken by Martin Shoeller called “The Changing Face of America” that depicted what the average American could look like in 2050.

Gone was the expected face of “blond perfection,” and instead, in its wake, were numerous photos of Americans with dark skin and light eyes, curly hair and light eyes, light skin and dark eyes — a plethora of mixed races that reflected the adaptation of the world.

As an addition to the photos, National Geographic asked the models to self-identify their race before stating the race they check on annual censuses. The majority of the checked census boxes were a belittled and simplified version of all of the pieces that make up a person.

Personally, I have always been among the many who consider these race boxes to be confusing. Stuck in a warp of different ethnicities and heritages, I had no idea how to categorize myself. Told to stick to the generic and simple “white” option to save time, having the option to choose multiple categories would have made the decision much easier as a child.

However, although my skin color could be categorized as “white,” my ethnicity is not white, and I am not in favor of being narrowed into a small box.

With the way the world is changing, an alternation ethnic categories is required.

Hopefully, someday, no one will have to feel like their heritage is not being properly represented.

Senior staff columnist Kelly Schafler is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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