Thursday, June 2, 2011

What If I Don’t Want to Check the “Black” Box?

Not a real picture, in my day, we used typewriters for college applications.
While applying for college I would come to the part of the application that said, “Select Race/Ethnicity” and my mother would say, “Black/African-American” and I would say, “Nah I’m not going to check that.” My mother would argue with me and tell me I was being stubborn and that I should take any advantage available to get into college. Well, I applied to thirteen schools, I was admitted outright into twelve and waitlisted to one, and later got into the school during the second round or so of admissions. I wrote my college essays on, Living in a Colorless World. My thesis: We can only tell our race because of the ways that others view us. And so, I only wanted a colorless world. While some people wish that race didn’t exist or that we appreciated everyone’s differences, I just wanted to get rid of the entire system altogether. So when I sat down to do my college essays I didn’t want to associate as an African-American in order to somehow get into a college.

And if you’re wondering, I did this on my FAFSA too, my applications for Howard, FAMU, and Morehouse, and all my scholarship applications as well. And perhaps my name gave it away or my college essays about living in a colorless world. However, I sat and thought about those HBCUs, all of which I was admitted to. They admitted me without me indicating my race on a single application. But forget all that, each of the PWIs that I applied to, admitted me without being able to add me to their diversity statistics for the academic year. I sometimes wondered if they ever counted me as a result of affirmative action, but I know I did everything in my power to practice what I preached and I’m just not sure how they could add me to those statistics.

Some years later when asked to do the Census, I elected to not select a race once again. And I think I was in college because I told someone about this and they BERATED me about the Census being used to designate resources and make sure that the programs were appropriately allocated to communities. But I would not be moved, I refuse to select my race/ethnic origin on the Census. First, I think the Census is racist as hell, but also because I just don’t see why it’s all that important. I have my point, respect my point of view.

And now recently as the real Dr. J continues to urge, (I almost wrote “force”), me into business school, she keeps sending me all these things for MLT and Consortium. I found all the materials in a cooler I needed for my cookout this past weekend. And it got me to thinking… Each time my mom would send it, I would say, “Nah ma, I don’t want people thinking that I got in because of the color of my skin.” Because somewhere inside of me, I believe that they let those people in because top business schools know that people will recruit those students from them, giving them diversity numbers and placement too.

What I’m thinking is that I wonder if there’s something wrong with my approach. I don’t even hang around all Black people, I have never even noticed race as much as my counterparts. I was recently at a wedding and we were 75% of the way through the reception before someone turned to me and said, “Have you noticed you’re the only Black guy here right now?” I’m so used to not paying attention to race that in a lot of ways, I don’t even think I need to indicate it. I don’t agree with people who pick and choose when they want to use their race and only use it when it’s advantageous. Neither am I the person who acts like there are social injustices every day, I’m quick to point them out. I’m just a Black man who made a decision not to check the box.


Tunde said...

i'm trying to think of what i wrote my college essays on. wait, i didn't write them. i had one of my friends write it for me. she was a way better writer than me. it all worked out though. i definitely got into every school i applied to (about 8 or so) and got full ride offers to 5 of them. i believe i did check the black/african american box though.

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate you not checking your race on the Census. I am a former Census worker and I know too much about the whole process. The only thing that matters is that you are counted where you are--race is truly not necessary. They always told us you could be Eskimo or whatever the correct word is if you wanted to be--that is your business. All we wanted was for you to be counted in your community on Census day. Sorry for going off on a tangent but I felt it at that moment.

Jubilance said...

In general I'm a box checker - I don't go out of my way to not indicate my race. My first name will give ppl a good idea that I'm a POC anyway.

In life I live outside of "Black ppl box" most of the time, but it doesn't bother me to identify myself as Black for stats & whatnot.

Mrs.Brightside said...

It has been my experience that sometimes you have to let the system work for you and then work it. I didn’t think about the fact that I was a diversity point for my boss when he hired me until I had to help with our yearly accomplishments report and my name was under diversity. But out of being a diversity point I had three months of expense free living and training that if i so choose to I can take somewhere else. I go to meetings every week and sit as the only Black and sometimes only woman in the room. The few times it was brought up foreign visitors made mention of it. Once a guy from Turkey looked at me and said black pepper wtf right?

The main thing is being able (not necessarily actively doing it but having the ability to) to prove that your skin doesn’t matter and you deserve to be there no matter how you got there. If someone wants to give you a step up because of your skin I say take it just don’t let them hold you back because of it (your skin color or that you go a step up).

Anonymous said...

Dr. J, do you feel that there is a problem with what youre doing? I actually don't think there is anything wrong with not checking the box and there are times that even I dont.
For statistical information I am supposed to collect race information from the clients I work with. However, many times they do not want to check the box and they have that right. On the other hand, when I submit the data to my supervisors, I have been told not to leave it blank and that I should "guess" their race and put it in myself. I refuse to do that, its unethical and goes against everything I stand for.
Everyone must have the right to NOT reveal their race/ethnicity.

As far as living in a colorless world, I feel that is unrealistic. The world consist of different colors and we shouldn't deny that. Everyone is not the same and that should be acknowledged and celebrated. The fact that you are oblivious to being the only black male at a gathering doesn't meant that you have to see the world as colorless, it just means that for you, color has no barriers.
For some reason most of my friends are Asian...the rest white. My very bestfriend is Asian we have been friends over 13 years..she's my sister. We always talk about color, race and ethnicity. It gets really deep most of the time but we agree that yes im black and she is Asian, but so what. To say that I dont see color would be untrue for me but the fact that I see it does not put limitations on any aspect of my life.
I know what you mean about not noticing other's race. I am the same way and I actually hate describing people by their race... "that black guy" "the white women" However there are so many people that are obsessed with the whole race thing. When people constantly talk about race, I have to remove myself from the equation. I hate hearing it.
I try my best to see people as human beings and not put labels on them whether its race or any other label. Thats actually how I have been treated all my life, I've never been the "token black girl" in the crew. I am just a girl who happens to be black, thats it.
At the same time I love being black, my friends respect me for who I am and vice versa. It's really funny, every year, when they call to wish me happy chinese year. :-)
But yeah there were definitely times in my life when I did not check the box because I did not want to be chosen or even NOT chosen because of my race.

Awesome post.

redlady821 said...

That's funny because I can clearly remember checking other when I was filling out my college applications. Sometimes I would check several boxes because there are several different races in my family background. I didn't want to just check black. It's funny how you made me think of something so long ago.

These days, I just check black or Afrian American. It hasn't hurt nor hindered me from what I can tell.

Nice write Jackson.