The Politics of Self-Identity

On the forms asking for race I always check other and write in “human.” Since we all really are members of that race and the others are just constructs that are not genuine scientifically speaking, my act of civil disobedience reflects my personal view. Oh sure, it defeats the noble purpose of assuring that a given provider of services, etc., doesn’t discriminate based on the arbitrary observations of bigots. Still, as a Caucasian married to an African-American with children from our union, it seems the right thing to do. All the more so given our experiences in elementary school. My son had some learning disabilities that required/entitled him to some assistance. That assistance comes with governmental regulations that require an annual Individualized Education Plan. That in turn requires a periodic meeting with a whole host of school officials–a special education person, a representative of the principal, a social worker, a psychologist and some ordinary teacher. The telling thing came when one of the people, either the social worker or the psychologist I believe, asked whether our son identified himself as black or white. This being the 80s, perhaps she might have been excused for failing to foresee the commonplace adoption of the mixed-race perspective among those who are members of that group. We said neither. She persisted, insisting that he must eventually come to self-identify as one or the other. We basically, without rancor and not in so many words told her that she was full of fecal matter. He’s in his 30s now and I am unaware of his choice, if any. Undoubtedly there are many who still feel the same way as she. But that is their problem, not his. Our daughter, on the other hand, happily considers herself among the “mixed” group. Neither has had a problem with living with that perspective.

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2 thoughts on “The Politics of Self-Identity”

  1. Great post on the human race issue John. We all know why they ask that from voters, so they get a broader scope of which minorities are voting for who to arm themselves for the next elections – who to appeal to. 🙂

    1. Oh I know there are some good and some not so good reasons for the question–one of which is legally mandated. At the same time, we have to start somewhere to stop it. The Southern Poverty Law Center has its Teaching Tolerance program for American schools as well as their annual “mix it up day,” to promote kids sitting at lunch tables “mixed up” rather than self-segregating themselves by race, clique, etc.

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