On Race

cookieA few days after T. was born we had to visit an audiologist to have his hearing tested (he’s fine; the equipment in the hospital wasn’t working so he couldn’t get his routine infant hearing test until after we were discharged). As I was filling out his patient information questionnaire in all its Scantron glory, something hit me. No, not the absurdity of some of the questions (why yes he does smoke and chew tobacco, doesn’t every baby?). There on the sheet was a question asking about his race. All the standard options were there – “Caucasian, Black/African American, Hispanic, Asian, or Prefer Not to Answer”. For me it was always easy; I just marked “Caucasian” and go about my business. But what do I mark for him? I’m not so sure now.

You see, T. is biracial. I am caucasian and his mother is black. Should I fill in both on his form? In truth I want to jot down a paragraph about how “race” is purely a social construct with no genetic basis and how I don’t want him to be defined by bubbles on a Scantron form. But I have neither the time or the space for that so I just marked “Prefer Not to Answer”.

This experience got the wheels turning in my head. How will he identify himself (ideally he’s just a boy)? How do I want to present the idea of race to him? I certainly want to instill the thought that race is just one of many social phenomena used to classify different groups of people. But today’s society places far more importance on race (usually in a negative way) than I want. This is all a new experience for me being the “normal everyday white dude”. What racial challenges will he face as he grows up? Am I prepared to handle them?

If anyone has any experiences or advice please share in the comments!

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8 thoughts on “On Race

  1. The fact that you are asking questions and confronting the issue in your head has already put you leaps and bounds ahead.

    Other than that, I can’t offer you any other advice at moment. I am learning from you.

  2. I was successful in putting “human” down for the race question on the hospital birth certificate. I didn’t get away with it on the state form. My kids are Colombian/hispanic-caucasian. They seem comfortable with both cultures/races and I encourage them to use what they can to their advantage…”As _______ as you wanna be”. In the system we seem to have a hard time leaving, using it to one’s advantage is not necessarily a bad thing.

  3. Unfortunately, you (and he later on in life) will have to deal with such questions/surveys etc. I think, however, the importance lies in how you raise him to feel about himself and his family. I think I can tell by your blog that you are well on your way to figuring that one out! As you may know, over my long teaching career, I have run into bi-racial families. As long as those parents are there to help their child with issues that they may face in society (school is one of those unfortunately) then the child will be ready to meet the world face on. I would expect no less from you and your lovely wife, Chris. It’s just another one of those special things that occur in a parent’s life, so get ready; there’s lots more to come.

  4. Oh how I hate those questions that force you into one category or another. I face those forms with a huge annoyance because they are so outdated. Sometimes there is an “other” category like we are something from another planet. Sadly if you check both boxes they usually only take one of them anyway as those systems don’t allow for multiple answers to one question. My favorite answer to the “what are you?” Question (and yes, people are that ignorant and vague) is simply “a girl”. There is some hope however as some questionnaires do have a “biracial” option.

  5. In OP, we have bi- or multi-ethnic options on most forms for school and services. Is your family somewhat unusual in Peoria? One of the many things I love about my community is the diversity.

    • I’m not really sure how usual or unusual my family is in Peoria. The city is quite diverse by default with the international industry located here (Caterpillar and a large health care industry).

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