I'm sure we can all agree that a universal problem many mixed-race people have to deal with are those demographics boxes that are on pretty much every form/application/sign-up sheet. Now, with college just around the corner for me, I've been filling out a lot of those demographics surveys for internship/program applications, standardized tests, etc. I find that every time I open those forms, I'm always thinking about those demographics sections before I even get to them. I'm asking myself: will this be one of those more open-minded ones where I get to check as many boxes as I want? Will it feel like a section that hasn't changed since the 60s, where I can only select one box? Will ethnicity and race be recorded in one section, or will it be separate?
Those demographics boxes on the U.S. government census do have a history , and have been changed many times over the course of that history. It all started in 1790, when the only categories were "free white males, free white females", "all other free persons", and "slaves". And during that time, up until 1960, a person's race was determined for them by census takers. People couldn't select their own race until 1960.
For a while there, the race census basically functioned to make sure whites were separated from all the "inferior" nonwhites. Because, you know, we can't be going around mistakenly giving priviledges to nonwhites. For example, in the mid-1800s, some race scientists thought that multiracial children who were both Black and white were genetically inferior, and used statistical evidence from the census to back up their theories. In the 1850 census, the category "mulatto" was included, defined as someone who was Black and at least one other race. But throughout most of history, people who were both white and another race were counted as the nonwhite race.
The category "Indian" was added in 1860 to identify Native Americans. In 1870 the first category to identify Asians was introduced as the category "Chinese". The option "Other" was first offered in 1910, and Asian racial categories were later expanded. Between 1960 and 1990 some Pacific Islander categories were added, but it wasn't until 2000 that the category "Pacific Islander" was included. In 1930 Mexicans were counted as their own race, but Hispanic groups weren't counted as options again until 40 years later when the census asked for "Hispanic origin" separate from race. Finally, it wasn't until the year 2000 that people were allowed to choose more than one race category.
In 2010, the Census Bureau wanted to combine race and ethnicity into one, so that Hispanic people could select "Hispanic" as their race and origin. However, that did not recieve approval.
Even though it is way past 2000, I still find that sometimes I am only allowed to choose one race. Usually on those forms there's an option for "other" and another option for "more than one race" or "multiracial". Something like this:
I always choose"more than one race"/"multiracial", but it's so frustrating because then I know whoever is looking at this form doesn't actually know how much I'm contributing to the diversity of their program. Like, whenever I see statistical diversity information for schools or programs, it always looks something like this:
And I know that I will be part of that tiny maroon "more than one race" slit rather than the "Asian" and "Hispanic" sections. But I want to be part of the "Asian" and "Hispanic" sections because I want people to know my actual identity.
But then there is sometimes when that "other" or "more than one race" option is taken out completely. My sister actually ran into a very interesting and extremely frustrating incidence that had to do with that. She was signing up for some sort of school activity and the form she was filling out said to pick only one race. That simply baffled me because this was a sign-up for a kids' activity and statistically, the majority of children today are multiracial. So what did these people expect all those mixed-race kids who were signing up, to do? Anyway, on that form there were options for both "Asian" and "Hispanic", so my sister, who was in the fifth grade at the time, was very confused.
My mom went up to the lady at the desk and told her that my sister identified with two races, and asked if my sister could select both those races. Nope, the lady insisted that she had to only choose one. She said "pick the one you identify the most with". But, lady, my sister doesn't identify with one of her identies more than the other. She is equally both!
Another problem I often run into, specifically being half Hispanic, is this race versus ethnicity issue where the geniuses who make the demographics categories want to separate the two. So there's one section asking if I identify Hispanic or Latinx or not, and a whole different section making me choose what race I am, not including Hispanic or Latinx. I mean, I do get why some demographics sections are formatted like that: so that people who identify as both Hispanic and a specific race can express that in the survey. And I think they should! But they would still be able to do so, no matter how the demographics section is formatted, if the surveys would just let us select more than one box.
My problem is, in the cases where ethnicity and race is separated, I don't really have a choice but to check "yes" for Hispanic, then select the "Asian/Pacific Islander" box as my race. But when I do that I feel like I'm saying that Asian is my only race, yet my family is still from a Spanish-speaking country. So it feels like I'm unable to identify a very central part of myself. Then I get to thinking, if I wasn't Japanese, and only Puerto Rican, what box would I even check in the race section?
Basically, I just wish all surveys would put the race and ethnicity options in the same category and let us check as many boxes as we want. It is extremely important to me that race surveys are made as inclusive as possible. Most of the population no longer fits into a couple of categories, and they really never did. We should all be able to let the world know what our entire identities are. If that expression has to come through checking some boxes, those boxes should let us express that.