A Question of Race: What Do You Check?

Census season has long been over but it doesn’t mean that checking off your race when you apply for work, fill out surveys and file for health insurance stops. For most the decision as to what box you mark on questionnaires is black and white, as clear as day, the sky is blue the grass is green, but for myself it’s a little more difficult, and though it is the last thing most often asked when applying for a job it is probably the one I take longest filling out.

It’s really not a subject that comes up very often, in fact most of time when my friends and I touch upon the subject of race it is done to bash each other with colorless humor that is more ubiquitous in Southpark than of three intelligent life-long New Yorkers, but alas we are all human and fall victim to are short comings even if it is for cheap laughs at a friend’s expense.

I am light skin, white in complexion with small wide eyes, straight brown hair and most frequently speak without a New York accent and consciously struggle with my a’s and r’s on a daily basis. It’s hard enough being a New Yorker in a world that expects linguistic perfection, that sees the regional diction which I was raised around classify my intelligence as uneducated or remedial at best, tack on growing up in a bi-lingual family specifically one where I do not meet the stereotypical standards that is most unwittingly embraced as the norm and there is a whole other bag of potatoes you have to deal with.

So when I was questioned by my family recently as to why I often do not check “Latino/Hispanic” my argument was the same as it has been for friends and strangers alike. “Why would I check off something that I do not understand or something that I am not?” I am not “Hispanic” I do not come from Hispaniola, I am neither Haitian nor of the Dominican Republic. I am and have always will be a New Yorker, an American, a member of my community, a man whose family’s origins does not just come from and island which refuses to accept its position in history as the 51st state in the union but which may stake its perennial claims to Spain and France. I am not “Latino” by virtue of growing up in a household that only spoke English, where being bi-lingual was only embraced in my grandmothers’ homes, homes that contain very white aunts, uncles, cousins and matriarchs.

The one thing that I have come to learn from my time at University and visiting where my grandparents were born is that it is all about who is white, who is black, brown, and yellow there as it is here and when I have asked my friends who are born there what they check as their race they come to the same conclusion as me, my friend Jose once said “I am what benefits me”

I draw my conclusions, as to who I am that day from logical deductions and with the power of LinkedIn at my fingertips I can find out what the HR generalist is or recruiter is or at least build a general picture of the department in order to recognize where; while both true, my check mark will fall for that position.

In a country where no one wants to do anything for people who are bi-lingual yet still wants something from them, their skill of another language, their vote, I chose to shed myself of the artifice and try to my best to understand what it is that I truly am in this country. I am white, I am a New Yorker, I am Protestant, I have an above average understanding of the Spanish language, though I do not look like the kind of person who would to an uneducated eye, I sometimes eat Rice N’ Roni, my grandparents are from a bi-lingual common wealth, my family has never been immigrants they have either been citizens of Spain or of The United States so to compare myself with nationals from Central and South America is wrong and because of that I find myself confused as to what box I should check.


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