Which Box Do You Mark?

National Geographic Changing Faces of America

By Gabrielle. Portraits by Martin Schoeller for National Geographic.

Last year, I was at the Mom 2.0 conference, and Karen Walrond (you might know her as Chookooloonks), and I had a discussion about how she felt about the term “black”. She said she prefers it, because she’s not from Africa and doesn’t identify as an African-American. She would be fine being called Caribbean-American because she grew up in Trinidad, but Caribbean-American doesn’t seem to be a common usage term.

I was thinking of that conversation as I filled out a survey from our school district this week. The survey asked what race or ethnicity my children identified as. And since we live in Oakland, and since Oakland is unusually diverse, there were like 20 options to choose from, or you could fill in your own. I checked the “white” box.

Checking that box reminded me of a conversation my high schoolers had with me not long after we moved here. When we registered, we learned the high school was 10% white, and wondered if our kids would stand out for their whiteness. After a few weeks, our kids said their classmates were curious, but it wasn’t about our kids’ whiteness, it was because they aren’t some sort of combo. Apparently, much of the student body at the high school identifies as multi-cultural or dual-race. Their friends and classmates are Chinese+German, or Filipino+Mexican, or Vietnamese+Arabic, or African-American+Balinese. Our kids felt boring being white+white.

My kids asked if we were really just white and I felt apologetic. Hah! I told them my dad’s side is Jewish, and reminded them my older brother is a Navajo. I asked them if that helped, but no, that didn’t really change things. So I went back further. I told them their ancestors came from Scotland and Sweden, from England and Germany. But no, that didn’t help either. At the end of the day, they still felt like white+white.

Something about it feels like progress to me — I mean them feeling out of the ordinary being white+white. It hints at a future where everyone is so mixed together that we get to choose what culture we want to identify with, which culture we want to celebrate, instead of having it, and all of its baggage, assigned to us at birth. It also aligns with what my kids have been taught in their high school biology classes: there is no such thing as race at a biological level. It doesn’t exist except in our heads. It reminds me of the National Geographic article about the changing faces of America.

Thinking about this also reminds me of how much America really is a melting pot. When I lived in Normandy, my local friends simply identified as French. But here, almost anyone I talk to identifies as an American, plus also as some additional ancestry.

And now I’m curious. Do you identify with a particular culture or race or ethnicity? What box do you mark when you’re surveyed? Or, if you don’t live in America, are you ever asked to mark a race/ethnicity box? Do you ever get mistaken for being a race or nationality that you are not? How about your kids? Do they identify differently than you do? And if you’re black and live here in the U.S., but grew up in a non-African country, how often are you called African-American by mistake? Or do you not read it as a mistake and think of the term African-American in another way?

P.S. — I’m unclear on how to make it happen, but I would LOVE to have more diversity among the Call It A Day and Growing A Family and Living With Kids series here on Design Mom. Whatever your race or ethnicity or nationality, I hope you will feel welcome to share your stories here! We want to hear your voices! It would be amazing if this blog reflected the very diverse community I see around me every day. 

116 thoughts on “Which Box Do You Mark?”

  1. Thank you for opening up this extremely important question! Love the photo grid at the top of the post as well. What a fascinating and enriching experience your kids are having at their school–gotta love the East Bay!

  2. both sides of my family were German, and while my husband has an English name the majority of his family were German – Prnnsylvania Dutch, specifically. I used to think my heritage was boring and very “white” until my dad began opening my eyes to the lives of my ancestors, even the ones so “American” that they fought in the revolution. And my husbands PA Dutch family seems to have all kinds of fascinating foods and vocabulary. I now embrace that cultural heritage and recognize that no ones cultural background is really “boring”. I have been mistaken a number of times for other nationalities because I have curiously teardrop shaped, very dark eyes.

  3. I love this!
    I’m white and my husband is Chinese and our daughter is mixed race. I love that she is growing up in NYC and that there are so many other people that look like her. I would love to be able to protect her from feeling different or isolated from anything, let alone race.
    We previously lived in London and she was an “exotic” rarity.
    May multiculturalism and a focus away from “race” continue in our world!

    1. How peculiar – I live in London and have always experienced it as extremely multicultural. In fact, when I was a student it was a frequent joke that a couple of us were ‘weird’ or ‘boring’ because we’re just white not mixed race, and only have British heritage (I get you, Blair kids!). And more than once I’ve been on holiday with friends and had a weird “why are so many people staring? is my skirt tucked into my pants? erm of course we want to sit together?” only for everything to become clear when someone finally asks why I’m caucasian and they’re all ethnically Chinese – that’s never drawn attention in London.

      It’s interesting how different two experiences of the same city can be! I guess it depends where you are and what you’re doing (my multicultural experience probably got a boost because I first moved here as a student and that’s where I met my local friends – my university was roughly 50% non-white or mixed race).


  4. I think you should strike France and write Normandy, a not very diverse area where you’re either french or a Brit. In Paris, for example, many of us identify as multicultural and multiracial.

    1. Yes, I think of Paris as being quite multicultural even though I have not spent much time there…yet. Perhaps it’s just because of the great variety of tourists from all over the world that flock to great cities like Paris, London and New York but what struck a chord with me was the Museum I came across in La Defence which traces the history of Vietnamese immigration to Paris and France in general. As a mixed race Aussie kid who went to school with the Vietnamese “boat people” it struck a chord with me and opened my eyes to the enormity and complexity of human migration patterns . There was more “clicking into place” when years later I visited Vietnam, where of course we found many French tourists.

  5. Hi, this might be a sensitive question, but why is there only one white box out of the 20? Why does the curiosity stop at white, but continue on in detail for the “other”?

    1. I actually don’t really know why. How does it work in other parts of the world? If you live in Europe and fill out a similar survey, would the options be “Black, Asian, White, etc”? Or would it be categorized by country?

      1. Yep, that’s interesting. When we lived in the UK and I filled in the same questionnaire, we had Irish traveller, Roma, White British, Other white heritage etc., it was a lot more detailed.

        1. I’m speculating here (I’m also Canadian) but I think it has to do with white privilege and non-white non privilege. If you are white, you are at an advantage, so the powers that be don’t need to worry about you? if you are non-white, there is more interest in tracking you.

          Again, this is speculation. Interesting topic.

          If the questionnaire asked about ethnicity of “white” people, I could check off half of the continent of Europe. My brother has traced our family tree (a 20 year project) to William the Conqueror and beyond. He has an estimated 1 000 000 descendants, so I’m sure that I’m related to at least some of your readers!

        2. Agree with the detail for UK forms for white background. It’s been awhile so I’ve forgotten the options, but I had to select ‘other white’ as I am white-Australian (not indigenous Australian) ie. basically a British/Irish background.

  6. Love this! I actually have a very unique mix. My mother is Russian and my father is from Africa. But based on my looks, a lot of people mistake me for someone of Latino decent. I actually came to the United States with my family as a baby being born in Africa. I don’t mind being identified as an African American because that’s technically correct but since I could remember my mother has always told me to make sure I acknowledge where I came from and what I am mixed with. So when asked I tell them both. Which is something I instill in my daughter who is a big ol’ bag of mixed. On my side she is Russian and African and on her fathers she has creole, Puerto Rican and Irish roots. Needless to say, no one ever believes she actually belongs to me!!! Lol! It’s also sort of comical to hear here name each of the races/ethnicities she is mixed with when asked. It seems the list never ends.

  7. I always take great pride in marking the ‘Other’ box. Half Chinese, half white. It makes me so happy that multiracial and multicultural is becoming the norm!

    1. I’m half black half white – 4o years ago that was not so cool. In my town I might have been the only mixed kid but in the city I live in now it feels like the new norm. Tons of mixed kids! I love it. And I love to be a frontrunner for the new multicultural society.

      (my kids are black, white and native american – the prefect mix if you ask me – but i’m hoping one of them marries someone Asian!)

  8. This is something I think about a lot. I look white, but I’m actually German and French-Canadian on my mom’s side, and full Chilean on my dad’s side. My dad came to Canada as a refugee when he was 13, and is full Chilean AND looks it. My sister as well as all of my cousins (who are all half white/half Chilean) all look hispanic. I look white. People seem to get quite upset and even offended when I claim to be South American because I don’t look it. If I try and discuss a certain cultural tradition or food, I get scoffed at because “you’re white, get over it”. I find it very interesting that people like Jessica Alba, who is just as Latina as me, is fully embraced as a Latina because she looks it. I find it hard to publicly embrace my heritage because of the way people react.

    Sorry for the ramble, this issue just hits close to home!

    1. Tamara, I find your experience so fascinating! It’s amazing how much we as a society depend on looks as we make racial judgements, when looks clearly don’t necessarily reflect the reality of our heritage at all.

    2. When you speak of Chilean….you could be of English or German ancestry as well as the native Chilean Indian. The English settled the northern part of Chile and Germans settled in the Southern portion. So looking Chilean doesn’t explain how your father looked! If you visit Northern Chile, you see cobbled streets whereas in the south you see chalets. There are plenty of blue eyed, blondes and redheads in Chile who are native Chileans…..

  9. I echo your desire for more diversity in the series on the blog, and I applaud you for asking for more! I am often discouraged when I take a look at the blog community that I frequent and see how white washed it can be.

    Also, I’m white, and pretty much just identify as that–I’m not sure of my ancestry. My little brother is still in high school and he is experiencing what your high schoolers mentioned–wishing he had “more” in terms of his ethnicity, it’s such an interesting (and encouraging in some ways) development.

  10. Love this so much. Sounds like a wonderful place to live! I grew up in Houston, which is very diverse and mixed. I miss that now living in other places.

    I’m plain old European ancestry white/white. But I’m Muslim sooooo I’m sure most people mistake me for Arab or something. My husband is from India. He doesn’t really know which box to check because Asian, while correct, seems a little inaccurate. Our kids are bi-racial “other.” My son looks white and my daughter looks Latina :) I guess we are just a big confusion to people, ha!

    I love that this is the changing face of the United States. And I always wish that humanity’s beautiful diversity would be reflected in our media and entertainment. Thank you for you commitment to diversity. It’s one of the reasons I read your blog every day!

    1. “I love that this is the changing face of the United States. And I always wish that humanity’s beautiful diversity would be reflected in our media and entertainment. ”

      Such a great comment, Sarah! And I fully agree.

  11. Well, being Brazilian it’s a little confusing as well. I identify with being Latin but not Hispanic. Since I’m very fair skinned if it’s between white and Hispanic I’ll check white or other. If Latin is an option I check Latin.

  12. I am white but ny husband is half Mexican and half Persian. I never quite know what to check for my kids. Especially the hispanic/latino question. For race I usually put other even though Persians are Caucasian. My sons look like their dad, dark hair, olive skin dark eyes while my daughter is more fair with nearly blond hair (still has brown eyes)

  13. Super interesting topic! I grew up in the East Bay, born and raised in Fremont. I am white/white and felt like your kids do when I was young, Gabrielle. My best friend was Chinese, and my older sister’s boyfriend (who I admired) was also Chinese. I envied their culture and traditions. I was always fascinated with Native American culture, as well.

  14. Great post, Gabrielle! It caused me to remember listening to Pete Seeger’s “Rainbow Race” with my son when he was younger. Living in Vermont, one of the whitest states in the union, I often ponder race. I’m white, my husband is Japanese. My son used to dislike looking at all different from his buddies, but has come to relish all parts of his ancestral background, particularly his Japanese heritage. We’ll see how his younger sister’s attitudes develop. As you noted, it is my hope too that this becomes more and more of a non-issue as we evolve as a people.

  15. My brother was a census-taker in 2010 and he complained about there being SO many different options for Asians, for example, you could choose Japanese or Korean or other things, but not for whites. Just a white box. And yes, for the record, my family white+white and I married a white, so our children are white+white, but also Canadian+American which is interesting. But I also have an unusual look about me, so many people ask what my roots are, and when they guess, it’s usually a blend of really small eastern European countries + north Africa. Nope. I’m Irish.

    1. Heidi brought up something similar in a comment above. I seem to remember hearing that the census used to ask categories more by country than in racial groups, but these days it seems to be a mix. (Although maybe that’s just in my head. I need to relearn my history.) I wonder if the census reflects the culture. So whatever groups we’re commonly identifying the year the census comes out, make it on the list.

  16. I live in Los Angeles (born and raised) both my parents are white. Growing up race was pretty mixed. In the past 15 yrs I find myself being the minority. I am surrounded by so many different cultures. I really enjoy it but at the same time I feel a little isolated. Especially in the instances of schools (where we live it is mainly Armenian) I find that a lot of cultures tend to stick with people of their own. When I visited Europe I felt like there were more people like myself, it was interesting

  17. Pingback: Design News / Which Box Do You Mark?

  18. We are plain old white white…Swedish and Norwegian on one side, Scottish and English on the other. My daughters were born in south Texas and made up half of the 1% white at their school. Their glowing blond hair was easy to spot on the playground amid their Hispanic classmates! A few years ago we moved overseas to a school with 60+ nationalities. They are still part of the minority but no longer feel so because there is no dominant race.
    As far which race box, my grandmother had a good point when she complained there was no choice for “human”.

  19. I’ve worked in research for years and when collecting demographic data it’s all subjective and separated into race and ethnicity. A lot of people would get confused and would mark “other” and put hispanic as a race, even though it isn’t considered a race but an ethnicity. I was always fascinated to see how people identified themselves. The question is subjective and should reflect how they perceive themselves and many times my preconceived idea of their race and ethnicity was different from how they identified themselves.

    1. “The question is subjective and should reflect how they perceive themselves and many times my preconceived idea of their race and ethnicity was different from how they identified themselves.”

      That sums it up so neatly. Thanks, Lara.

  20. I have never been asked what race my children are. Sometimthes i have to fill out papers where i get ask what nationality my kids are. My experience is ,that people in Germany are very careful about using the term “race”. Even my kids know that race doesn’t exist. Of course that’s the result of our history (colonial era, the 3.Reich).

  21. Thanks for sharing your childrens’ experience at school. My husband and I are both of German heritage (primarily) but basically just identify as American, and my kids are white+white in a very diverse area. My children aren’t school-aged yet, but their elementary school is only 6 percent white. Almost all of their friends are Hispanic, Asian, black, or mixed race of some sort. I am happy that my children are growing up in such a diverse community (I also grew up as a “majority minority” as a white girl in a very predominantly Latino city). I do wonder if my kids will feel “boring”, though, and I wonder what their classmates will think of them. (Right now my oldest is 3 and he and his friends don’t think of race at all, other than to talk matter-of-factly about their skin color sometimes. )

    Personally, I am sometimes asked if I am from Chile or Argentina, particularly when I have my son at soccer practice (where almost everyone else is an immigrant or first generation American from Central or South America). I take it as a compliment that my Spanish is decent enough that I can be mistaken as part of the group where my white+white-ness makes me an outsider.

  22. Well this explains things. My daughter (1st grade) is creating a heritage box and we have NOTHING to put in it!! We are pretty German on both sides with some Irish mixed. But our family’s entry to America was 4 generations ago – so we are so distant. We have no traditions that we keep except celebrating Christmas and Easter and even those celebrations vary greatly from year to year. Our foods are all over the place except the turkey for Thanksgiving – which is AMERICAN!! Only a handful of recipes I make that have been handed down. I’ve been feeling bad – like we’ve lost something. But now I see – maybe we’ve gained. Maybe I should send the box empty and make a point ;) Thanks for sharing this. It is a tricky topic and your honesty and candor is so healthy!

    1. We had a similar experience when my kindergartner had an assignment to make a heritage poster around Thanksgiving. She was supposed to talk about where her family is from and make a family tree. We have several ancestors that came over on the Mayflower, so that required going back to many generations to get them over the ocean. In the end, she had the most detailed family tree (we went back 6 or 7 generations to get the majority over the ocean) and she pasted on pictures of things from England, Wales, Scotland, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany. She is one of only 3 kids in her class that have pretty straight European ancestry. We actually live on a US military installation in Japan, and I love the diversity. It just sort of made the assignment trickier for us.

  23. Hi,

    I’m Canadian Muslim, born in the DRC (partially raised there) and my ancestry is Indian (Gujrat–a state in Northern India) although I have never really lived in India and only visited once.

    My kids identify themselves as simply Canadian Muslim and I have to often remind them of their Indian heritage/culture :)

    I actually do want to share in the Living with Kids series and once I get my pictures together, I will def. send your way. What is the Call it a Day series about? Couldn’t grasp the concept somehow….

    1. Yes! Please do submit your house. That would be great!

      As for Call It A Day, the idea is to share the day in the life a family — even the basic stuff like school drop offs, and meals, and bedtime routines. I always find it so interesting to get a glimpse of how other people go about their day.

  24. Beautiful.

    I’m pretty white-white, similarly to the heritage you described to your kids.
    On my husbands side my kids have a great grandmother who was full- blood American-Indian, an Ojibwe born on a Chippewa reservation. She married a Candian-French man, and as the story goes as a young mother, received a knock on her door. Men representing the government were there seeking her signature, to sign off on her Indian heritage. She was assimilated they suggested. She was terribly intimidated, had little education, and was alone except for babies – and she signed something. This was not an uncommon story, we’ve been told, when some work was done by the United States government to relief the ‘debt’ level owed known American Indians. Many years later her professor daughter (my husband’s aunt) made it just about her life’s work-to no avail-to have Grace’s heritage reinstated officially.
    Not quite the exotic heritage of some, I know. And I’m also not keenly bent on deciding there were good guys and bad guys in this story. But we think about it a lot, and it’d be cool to find the real paper trail someday.
    Meanwhile we are major Green Bay Packers fans, as they represent the land of our ‘mothers and fathers!’

  25. None. Living in Denmark and Switzerland the question is hardly ever asked. We’re asked if our kids are multi-language, and that’s about it.

    I am not sure in which cases it is relevant to know the race/ethnic origin of a kid? For a physical description, e.g. in a passport it is useful, but in all other circumstances I can come up with, race information will not offer valid information about the family and even less about the individual child.

    1. “race information will not offer valid information about the family and even less about the individual child”

      I agree. Just reading the comments on this post, there are so many examples of people that look like they come from one country, but were raised in a totally different part of the world.

  26. I would just like to say from an anthropological perspective, that their is only one “race” (the human race) but a multitude of ethnicities. I really wish people would stop using race to describe what is actually ethnicities. I feel the world race separates people from one another when in actuality it should unite us.

  27. I’m an American expat in the UK, and often see on surveys here two options for white: White, British or Irish and White, Other – which is kind of weird to me, conflating race and nationality in a way that’s not necessarily done for the other races listed. It feels odd to identify myself as any kind of “other” given that I’m also as white as can be, with German and British ancestry but many many generations back on both sides. My husband is half-Chinese half-Scottish, but his Chinese father was born and raised in the West Indies, so there is no link to Chinese culture at all.

  28. A friend of mine is Mexican and married a Korean guy who was adopted into a white family as an infant. That family’s heritage is Italian/German. Her husband in particular struggles with the ‘box’ because he found it hard growing up in an all-white town with no one that looked like him. The kids are a gorgeous mix but if you look at their big family photo with all the cousins, they really stand out!

  29. I check the box for “2 or more races” being half white, half Korean. My favorite quote that describes being a mixed person is this one:

    “I am not ‘half Japanese’ and ‘half Lithuanian Jewish.’ When I’m singing a Japanese folk song, I don’t sing with half my voice, but with my whole voice. When I’m taping together my grandparents’ Jewish marriage contract, worn by time but still resilient, it’s not half of my heart that is moved, but my whole heart. I am complete, and I embody layers of identities that belong together. I am made of layers, not fractions.”
    -Yumi Thomas

    I’m not a fraction. I’m made of layers. Perfect.

    I love being of mixed ancestry. However, society at large really does seem to fixate on it once you let the cat out of the bag (living in California makes it interesting though). I’ve even had people ask me straight to my face, “What are you?” Literally. What am I? A human being. Usually people mean well, but it’s still baffling to me to ask such a direct question. I’ve actually had a person call me “exotic-looking” which…? Not sure how to respond to that one. Another thing I’ve personally had to deal with is the fact that the races you belong to might actually think you ARE a fraction. Ex. You’re only half Korean, so you can’t possibly relate to Korean culture in the same way.

    Another thing I’d like to bring up is parenting children of mixed race. My parents were the best. However, I think it was hard for them to scaffold me for how people (outside my races and inside my races) would react to me being of mixed race because, well, THEY weren’t. They had no idea, so they never even brought it up. But I was highly aware of it; aware of it at my Sundays-only Korean class where everyone else was “full” Korean except for me, the “hapa.”

    The reality is the parents of a mixed race child (who isn’t of mixed race) will NEVER understand what their child goes through in terms of figuring out their identity (which I did, summed up by Thomas). But I think it’s very important to talk about that with your child, too.

    Off-beat: It’s really cool to hear there are so many mixed race students at your kids’ schools! I went to school in Southern CA and my experience was totally different, although there were a few of us. One of my best friends is half black, half Mexican and although we come from completely different cultural backgrounds we’re very much able to connect over the struggle being mixed sometimes comes with.

  30. I’m from Spain and we are never asked to tick any boxes to describe our ethnicity, though the country is now more ethnically diverse tan it was. I always feel that it shouldn’t matter one way or the other what one’s ethnicity is. I have had to tick boxes of this kind in the States; I tend to choose “non-resident alien” where available, or otherwise just boring “White”.

    1. It matters because there are MAJOR differences in how different races live. It’s really important to be able to say things like, “African-American women experience a wage gap that’s even greater than White women.” Or “X% of our failing schools are predominantly in minority neighborhoods.”

      Only white people have the luxury of thinking race “doesn’t matter.” It very much does matter, and we’re not going to solve these inequalities by pretending we’re all “one human race”.

      1. Angela, I agree that there are major differences in how different races live, but the differences can depend on which country we’re talking about. And I agree that saying “race doesn’t matter” is a privilege. But Sofia says it “shouldn’t” matter, and that’s not the same as saying it “doesn’t” matter. Currently, I don’t know how anyone could deny that race matters very much. Especially in the U.S..

        In the future, if ethnicities are more mixed together, it doesn’t mean all the world problems will go away. I suppose statistics will have to use socio-economic descriptors, or geographic descriptors, instead of racial descriptors when pointing out inequalities.

  31. Love the post. I am white and my husband is black. We don’t really use the term bi-racial with our kids, we tell them that they are black like their Dad (and check the black box). I know some people feel that this ignores or erases their “white half,” but I don’t worry about that. My daughter wears her hair in cornrows, so even though she is quite light-skinned, she will be perceived as black. My son, because he has my hair texture, is racially ambiguous. We talk about race often with our kids (four and seven) and often get wonderfully direct questions as they try to understand the concept. Like, “If my skin is brown, why am I black?” “Are you black too, Mom?” And, because they know SO many interracial couples, confident statements like,”Moms are white and Dads are black.” I am grateful to live in an urban area where they do see so many non-white faces. Thanks again for the post.

  32. This reminded me of reading an article about the US medical system and how patients are asked for their race at some point (presumably when signing up for a GP-type doctor? I’m not sure, I’m only familiar with the UK system) and how the practice should be stopped. The reasoning behind the question is that some ethnic groups are more prone to certain illnesses – eg sickle cell anaemia.

    But current scientific opinion is that everyone is such a mix of ethnicities, especially in the States, that it makes the question irrelevant. People who identify as wholly white or African American or whichever will often find that their DNA actually indicates that they’ve got a good percentage of ancestors from somewhere unexpected. So it encourages the idea that we’re more different than we actually are.

    1. It’s tricky. My brother was having the hardest time finding a diagnosis for an illness he had, and when the doctors found out he had Jewish heritage, they were able to figure out what the illness was. Somehow we still need to learn our family histories, even if we don’t identify as a particular ethnicity or race.

  33. Definitely an interesting discussion! I identify as white + Native American, but I always mark just “white” because Native American usually indicates you are an official member of a tribe (and thereby receive many of the benefits that come with it.) It always makes me a bit sad because I wish I could confidently mark it!

  34. As a mixed race (Half Chinese, half Irish) person born in the late 70s and growing up in a small, mostly white, town in Ontario my brother and I (along with the approximately seven other mixed kids in town) really stood out. It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties when I was attending a People of Color Conference for teachers that I sat in a room with more than 30 people who looked like me! Living in Toronto now, mixed race people, especially kids, are much more common and I don’t get asked as often as I used to. Over the years I have been shocked at the number of strangers on the subway or in a store who think nothing of asking me about my ethnic background. When I lived in the States I would sometimes just say I was from Canada. As an actor in my mid 30s, I’m finding it hard to book things like commercials because I’m neither white enough or Asian enough. In terms of checking boxes there was a time when it was a “Pick only one” situation and I had to choose white or Asian.

  35. Gabby you probably know where I’m going to go with this… but if we’re talking about diversity I would also love to see more people and families with disabilities included. I know it has nothing to do with race, but when talking about racial issues there are always so many parallels to the world of disability. A lot of disabilities are very visual and therefore discrimination can be and is a problem. Then of course, just like many people have said above in terms of race, sometimes you can’t tell a person has a disability (or at least not immediately) and there are difficulties that come with that as well. And while disability isn’t always genetic (like race) it certainly can be in many instances.

    The one big difference I see with this idea of race vs. disability is that we are embracing racial diversity and really celebrating it–just like you’re doing here. Which is great! I think we should embrace and celebrate it. However, people with disabilities are not embraced and celebrated in quite the same way–we’re getting there and it’s getting better all the time, but on a global level it still has a long ways to go. 20% of the US population has a disability of one kind or another, yet we don’t see near that percentage represented in the media, or in this case on blogs. I for one would love to see more of this type of diversity represented. Just like when talking about race it can sometimes be tricky to strike the right balance, but one step at a time.

    One more comment about the race thing as well…while I think it’s wonderful to be embracing this multicultural and ethnically diverse world around us, I think we should also feel happy/proud to be just white+white as we’ll—I’m not saying this in a white power sort of way, which is unfortunately how it always seems to sound, but I do find it a little sad that suddenly being white seems to equate with uncool, boring, etc. If we don’t want to shame our body types, I would say we should be careful not to do it with our heritage which also ads to how our bodies look. I’m not saying you are doing this…but just an interesting juxtaposition that I’m reading between the lines in this post and other places.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Miggy. You expressed some of my same feelings in your last paragraph. We should all hold our heritage in high regard.

    2. Yes. Agreed. I would love to see more light shed on the experiences of people with disability. I know I could do more here. Thanks for the reminder.

      P.S. — In case you missed it, our first Call It A Day post featured a family who deals with Type 1 diabetes and it was so informative!

  36. Thank you so much for always being so willing to engage in conversations about race/ethnicity/culture on your blog. I appreciate that so much! I would like to recommend the book, Witnessing Whiteness. It is a really fascinating books that explores the history of how Whiteness became a race. I also want to challenge the idea that we are “just” white. As a white person myself, I completely understand the desire to feel more “diverse”. But, I have recently learned how privileged it can sound to make such a statement. This isn’t a criticism, just some food for thought:-) Love your blog!

  37. Being from the Caribbean and black/ white, I understand Karen’s preference in terms of identity. I recently noticed that I was marked as African American on some paperwork from my doctor’s office and was not sure if I should have said something and left it as that.
    I’ve come across many funny ( to me) assumptions about my ethnicity: from Native American( when I wear my hair straight) to Arabic, with Latino , African American, white(??) thrown in the mix. My kids look very diverse as well and was recently asked why my youngest was so blonde( thought I was the nanny).
    Growing up on a small island with all shades of skin and hair ( dark skin cousins with grey eyes, red heads, blondes, etc.), I never came across that line of questioning and was taken aback at first (what do you mean ‘ what race am I?’, I don’t know.). I do not feel African American because I am not African. My mom is black, my dad is white. I am black and white if color or ethnicity is needed to define me.
    At the same time, our island culture manages to have strong European influences and very strong African roots( in the dances with drums, the ‘tales’ very close to Brer Rabbit’s ones, the food, etc.)., which makes it hard to separate ourselves into a sub group.

    As someone else said above, at the end of the day there is only one race: the human one!

  38. I’m “white” but I have also been blessed to be a part of a family that celebrates our cultural heritage. My heritage is mostly British/Scottish/Welsh/Irish along with Hungarian. And I grew up with stories of my ancestors coming to America and forging their way here. We’ve also tried to keep some traditions (like making my great-grandmother’s rolls or Schnecken- a German/Hungarian dessert). I think we should all celebrate our heritage and our ethnicity, regardless of what that might be!

  39. i am white, and also live in oakland. my daughter is in a classroom and elementary school that is incredibly diverse. i just filled out that same form! i find it to be one of the greatest gifts we’ve been able to give our children, to live and learn in a truly diverse (race/class/background) environment. it is not what i grew up with – not that where i lived was all white, but it was definitely the majority. i love that you are engaging this topic here. if you write more about this in future or if you’re looking for diversity and since you are in oakland, i also highly recommend a local mom allison briscoe-smith. she has come to speak to our preschool co-op twice on the issue of talking about race with kids. here’s a great article she wrote awhile ago. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/rubbing_off/ she has a preschooler and elementary kiddo; her kids are biracial, and she had wonderful insight on raising kids in diverse settings but also talking about race. anyway, long winded comment! thanks for this post.

  40. Such an interesting topic! I live in Dublin, and my husband’s parents (African American father, white mother) moved here thirty years ago when you could count on one hand the number of black people in the country at all! Their mixed kids experienced more curiosity than racism, but now that there are many more people of other races in the country and many more mixed race couples, we get a lot of questions about race and a little more generally racist comments.

    Since my half-African American husband didn’t grow up in America and never learned in school about African American history like we do, he really doesn’t identify as African American at all. He identifies as Irish over anything else, despite the fact that he is technically African American (and American for that matter!). We had a weird moment when we were first married where I remember trying to explain to him the concept of the one drop rule. It was a little surreal!

  41. My heritage is primarily Hungarian (my mother) and a Western European mix (my father). My husband is of Irish and Spanish decent. Because our last name is of Spanish decent – and notable because of a 1980’s television actor (ha!) I often hear things like, “You’re not what I expected” or I’m expected to speak Spanish and people are often offended that I can’t. (To be fair, my maiden name is German and I can’t speak German either. )

    I realize my children will be categorized based on their last name from all sides much differently, than say, a person with an English last name. We will do our best to represent ALL parts of their ancestry so they understand where they came from. And hopefully teach them Spanish too…because hey, life skill! But when it comes down to it, they’ll check “white” when it comes to checking boxes….although I’m hoping some day we’re ALL beyond checking boxes.

    1. Yes! I commented below before I read this, but my husband (Hispanic with a very Hispanic name) gets the Spanish thing all the time even though he doesn’t speak it. I also wonder about my daughter getting categorized based on our last name.

  42. My mom is still angry that I wasn’t allowed to mark “African-American” on any forms growing up. She’s a white African (descendants from Scotland, England, Germany) born in South Africa as a 5th generation South African. She identifies herself as African and holds very strongly to her culture and background. But of course since we are ethnically not considered “African-American” I cannot legally identify as such on any forms. My mom really struggles with many American, what I’ll call “blacks” for purposes of distinction here, being allowed to identify as African when they possibly don’t have a connection there and for her and her children not to be. It’s something I understand as the point on these surveys is ethnically and ethnically I’m a Euro-mutt. But as she’s moved to America and has tried to hang onto her identity I knwo she finds the terms and the way “African-ism” is discussed to not include her and her experience.

    1. Hey Shannon! I am a white Zimbabwean, of British and South African descent. I left when I was fifteen and have spent the last fifteen or so years living in Ireland and in Quebec. I have freckles and red hair. Every couple of months in those past 15 years, I have had people ask how it is possible that I have white skin but I am from Africa. I just blew a little French 9 year old’s mind on Tuesday with that fact. I confused people in Ireland that I was not Irish, as I could be thought of as having very “Irish” looks too! At this point, who knows what box I would check…

      1. Hi Jen! My mom was born in South Africa but soon afterward the family moved to Zim (right outside of Harare) so she actually identifies as Zimbabwean :) My cousin is still there living in Bulawayo. And I’m sure my mom can relate to everything you are describing. I myself growing up got a lot of questions from other kids about why I wasn’t black if my mom was from Africa.

    2. Also South African living in America – who struggles with the African American issue. Given the American propensity to describe themselves as “heritage-American, I can think of no other description for my children than white African american.

  43. “It hints at a future where everyone is so mixed together…………”.

    This comment makes me feel very sad. I have always liked the diversity of the world, so to think that one day we may all be the “same” doesn’t seem like progress to me. :(

    1. I guess I see it differently. When I see the portraits at the top of the post, I still see lots of diversity. I don’t see sameness. But I do like the idea that racial profiling, or stereotyping based on skin color or eye shape or hair texture, could disappear.

  44. Didn’t get a chance to read all of the comments yet, but my kids are half Mexican and half white (almost completely Danish ancestry). I tell them to fill in whatever box they feel fits them best, or none at all. There is a lot of guilt and angst over this process. As if they are letting down one parent or the other. Despite our constant reassurance that they absolutely are not.

  45. Thank you for sharing this exchange with your high schoolers. Like you, I’m excited by the fact that they find so much value in their classmates of mixed race/origin/background. What a great opportunity for them to be in such a diverse school district!

    I identify as white, my father is 100% Albanian, and my mother is German, French, and English. People often ask me if I am part Asian, because I have almond-shaped eyes. The funny thing is the almond-shaped eyes are an Eastern-European/Albanian trait! I’m very proud of them.

    I sometimes lament the fact that I don’t have a strong cultural background, but then I remind myself of the amazing stories of my grandparents escaping a dictatorship to come to this country, and on the other side, that generations of my family were here as fur traders when our country was just beginning. Perhaps your kids would enjoy hearing the stories of your ancestors. What a fun project that would be, too!

  46. I am part Hispanic, part Native American and part Caucasian, and I identify culturally with being Hispanic, it’s the culture in which I was raised. That’s the box I usually check. I also usually get comments or looks because I don’t look stereotypically Hispanic. I really look forward to the day we no longer find it necessary for each person to identify as some kind of Hyphenated-American.

  47. I am 1/2 Japanese (Okinawan to be exact), 1/4 German and 1/4 Danish. My father was born and raised on Maui and my mother in Ohio. They got married in the 60s when it was still illegal in some States and they did experience prejudice on the mainland as well as in Germany because of their mixed marriage (my father was in the US military while in Germany). I check multi if available, if not I check Asian. I grew up with Asian friends and family in Hawaii and took part in many Asian cultural events/customs but I wouldn’t say I feel I’m more Asian than White. In Hawaii, being “mixed” is not unusual, even 30 years ago (I’m 46). I remember reading about how “hapas” (half white) could have identity issues in other parts of the country. I never felt that way and in fact always felt special being Eurasian in Hawaii. It is a good thing if this generation is interested in diverse backgrounds and cultures.

  48. It’s not only American to grow up in a Meling Pot! I grew up in Frankfurt which is the German city with the highest rate of citizens without a German passport (around 30%) and I went to a school with a very high diversity. And I felt SO German – in the way that your kids feel white: boring. I envied the other kids for their strong cultural background and I learnt so much from going to school with them.
    There is a raising fear of to many foreigners in Germany at the moment and it is impossible for me to even slightly relate to that fear, because how boring would Germany be with only Germans around.
    Although my school had to deal with a lot of problems like drugs, violence and kids just not showing up, until today I feel that it was just generally a problem of underprivileged kids getting zero support. And under those underprivileged kids were a lot with German origins. I later went to a school that was very ‘white’ (only German kids) and I felt as if I couldn’t breath. It just felt wrong.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top