On almost every form you fill out there is a question about either race or ethnicity. College applications, job applications, census forms, the list goes on. Usually, there is a list of races for you to categorize yourself: Caucasian, African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaskan and Other…
What’s an “other”?
I have pondered these choices as I have applied to colleges and jobs, filling out anonymous surveys, or when I have to simply answer the question, “What’s your race?”
Webster’s Dictionary defines race as “a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits” and ethnicity as “associated with or belonging to a particular race or group of people who have a culture that is different from the main culture of a country.”
I’m an “other.” That doesn’t sound too great, does it? It sounds demeaning and insulting. Imagine growing up in a society where you are considered an “other.” Going through the trials and tribulations of life knowing that you cannot fit in. Knowing that on paper you are not in the popular categories, and then looking at the world for answers, only to realize you don’t fit in anywhere either.
I have never really traced my ancestry, mainly because it is extremely hard to do. My parents are Trinidadian, and solely identify with that culture, but I do not. They recognize themselves within that culture, as many of you all identify with your specific culture. My ancestors are from India, but I am too removed from the culture to identify with it; maybe it is because I did not grow up within that culture, and have really only experienced it as an adult.
I have always been told by my peers that I have been “white-washed”. I don’t speak with a Trinidadian accent; I speak like a damn New Yorker. I dress like a white girl and I indulge in Starbucks far too much for my wallet’s liking. (I’m stereotyping, I know.)
I am as American as the rest of you. But I still don’t know what race I am, because I don’t fully conform to the specified categories that are listed on most forms. Race is not just simply checking a box on a piece of paper, it is far more complex than that. While it may seem like an easy way to categorize people, it becomes more complicated when people don’t identify with a particular race, or they are multi-racial.
Race is used in various applications; college applications, job applications, internships, etc., the purpose is for employers or colleges to understand the backgrounds of the people who are applying, and in most cases, choose a candidate who will make their campus or company more diverse. However, many are wary of putting their racially identifying name on their application for fear that they will be rejected, simply based on their background and not their qualifications. There has been a push by UK companies to remove names from job candidate’s applications in order to increase the chances of minorities being hired. Efforts like these, to reduce the use of race as a defining factor of one’s character, are a step in the right direction.
That said, the issue of race continues to bother me. While many understand my circumstances, the empathetic nods and the “I know how you feel” don’t mean anything to me. I still feel like I am being judged by the way I look, because I am different from those around me, and on paper, I don’t belong to any category.
So, I will forever remain an outcast. I have taken my inability to fit into societal constructs as a blessing. I am not limited to one school of thought. My mind is open to all opinions and ideas. I can see things from all perspectives if I tried hard enough. I am culturally aware of my peers and understand what makes them unique. I am also able to learn more about different cultures and use that to my advantage. In the globalized society that we live in today, it is imperative to understand the cultures and uniqueness of all. By doing so, we can become more tolerant, and less ignorant, especially in light of the last presidential campaign, we must take this opportunity to appreciate the differences in each other, instead of using it discriminate.
After all, we are all part of the human race.