Check All That Apply

So many of us place such an exhausting amount of importance on what we identify ourselves as. While it is important to have our own identities and what makes us feel unique, it also almost seems limiting at times.

From birth we are subject to all these identity boxes. Boy or Girl. Straight or Gay. White or Black. Hispanic or Latino. Check all that apply.

Not only does forcing ourselves into boxes limit our scope as a society, but it also limits the people who can express their identity with words. For a while there was no Q, questioning, or A, asexual, in LGBTQA+ and not many people understood what it means to be transgender either.

Some aspects of our identity are things we do not choose. Contrary to popular belief those who identify somewhere on the LGBTQA+ spectrum are not doing so out of choice. I do not know anyone who would identify on this spectrum just so they could overcome the barriers placed in front of them because of it or having to constantly explain their identity to people who refuse to understand it.

While my identity crisis is not as complex as that of others I have known, I have always had an issue with the way people try to identify me. My issue? Race. So often this is a hot button topic and often too taboo for some people to address. My problem is that I don’t see race like others do. When I fill out a survey or form for school I am always asked if I am Hispanic or Latino. I check the box, and the next question is always:

Despite your answer to the previous question, what is your race?

The options are either White/Caucasian, Black/African American, or the different races that fall under Asian, Native American/Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. I don’t fit into any of these categories. So how am I, a Mexican American, supposed to fill this out? I have always faced some kind of internal crisis when I see this question, and thousands of questions begin soaring through my mind whenever it comes up.

I just answered your question, what the hell else do you want? None of these fit me, should I leave it blank? Should I check other? I already hate this questionnaire.

Prompted by this feeling, I had a discussion in one of my classes at university about what my race actually was. My professor and fellow classmates addressed the idea that in fact, there really is no such thing as race. Race is a social construct formed to help divide people into groups, or as I like to see it, forcing them into boxes. I had a high school science teacher tell me that all ethnicities stem from the three main races, (White, Black, Asian/Native/Pacific Islander). However, this idea seems outdated and resistant towards societal change.

I love the idea of a working definition. Something that can be defined many ways and always needs context. This, in my opinion, leads to less miscommunication. Defining my version of a term to you would probably help you understand my reasoning behind a certain situation. This idea also offers complexity and may not be logistically viable for all situations.

In this realm, I would find it beneficial to eradicate the term race from all languages, though that idea is slightly far fetched as many people find the term important to our society. I would then suggest that we adjust our definition. The idea of race and having only a small selection of identifiers as options excludes a vast amount of citizens from this question. Race is a socially constructed term, we really do not have different races but rather different ethnic backgrounds.

My ethnicity is very much important to me and is also the best way I can identify myself on questionnaires or in conversations. So why not change the conversation? If we find a dire need to identify someone by their ‘race’, for whatever reason, why not let them define their identity how they wish. In some aspects, I would understand the question of Why even put people into boxes based on this? However, this undermines a strong self empowerment that most people feel in association with their ethnic background.

This topic, as simplified as we may try to make it, is complex and hard to understand in all aspects. By no means am I suggesting that my ideas are the end all be all or the perfect solution to a long lasting social problem. Simply, I am offering a different viewpoint that may or may not help other people critically analyze the lens which they use to address race. It is important that we are all aware of our lenses and the experiences that have formed our ideas, not to change them or suggest that they are wrong, but to be aware of our inherent bias in the world.

[fruitful_sep]

Miranda Briseño is 19 years old and in her first year at George Mason University. She is currently a double major in Government and Sociology with concentrations in Public Policy & Social Change, respectively. She has a passion for helping other people and is determined to do so with a career in the government.