What Box Do You Check?
Ah, the eternal Mash-Up question: When it comes to race, what box do you check? For many of us, our choice is clear. Black! White Hispanic of Cuban Origin! Samoan! (All options on the 2010 Census, btw.) For other Mash-Ups, figuring out what box to check can be a frustrating, if not identity-crisis-inducing task, weighted with impact across politics, academia, finance, and of course, family. If you can’t find the right box to check, how can you represent you?
Our Nigerian-Filipino-American Mash-Up Rose Espiritu dives into this issue and more in her documentary “Mixed Up,” which investigates how parents in interracial families influence the racial identity of their kids. Turns out, sometimes we check what we know. Sometimes we check what we aspire to be. And sometimes, we check things just for the hell of it. You do you, Mash-Ups.
What box do you check? Tell us!
When I was in elementary school, I didn’t have that ‘other’ option. There was White, Hispanic, Native American, Black and Pacific Islander. I didn’t know what to choose. But as a kid I wasn’t really concerned with race — I was only concerned with having fun and watching cartoons! So sometimes I would check Hispanic because I knew my dad was from Cuba. Sometimes I would check White. And since I was raised in Hawaii, sometimes just for the hell of it I’d check Pacific Islander.
I grew up in Utah, which is predominantly white. I always assumed I was Caucasian. When I started having to answer those forms, I was never really sure what to do, because my mom isn’t white, and she’s half of me. So I would sometimes put other, but I never really know what to put. I still don’t.
I usually check African American when filling out a form. I hope that whoever sees that will eventually get to see me, and then I can share with them why I identify as African American. My pride for my Black culture comes from my dad. He’s a very strong person. He takes pride in everything he does and being Black is one of them.
I identify as Black because I grew up in the South, and we always had the one-drop rule. Growing up, my dad always explained to me that although my mom was a white woman, the world would always see me as a Black girl. We live in a society where race is learned. If people see you as Black, then that is what you begin to identify as.
Anica, Cape Verdean-White-Black
I either put Black or other. When people ask me specifically about my background, I do say that I’m Cape Verdean. But there is always some confusion as to where that is or what that means. I like to not being like everyone else.
Angelica, Black-French-Native American
I am Creole and Black. I identify as African American most of the time. It’s changed a lot as I’ve grown up. I used to tell people I was Puerto Rican because they assumed that’s what I was, and it was most comfortable for them to hear that as my response. I always found myself making sure that others were comfortable with who I was and what I was racially.
I check mixed or other. I was with a Black friend the other day, and we were with a lot of Black people. He said “This is great. I’m comfortable here.” In that moment I realized I’m never going to run into a bunch of people who are half-Mexican and half-Chinese and feel “comfortable.” [Editor’s note: Come hang with us, get comfy.]
I check other. I’ve been told I should check Asian. Some people think I look Asian, and others say I look mixed. I embrace being mixed and that’s how I categorize myself. It took living in Japan for 9 years to be able to start owning my Japanese identity. It’s cliché to say that when your multiracial or multiethnic that you have the best of both worlds. Because it’s a lot of work to get to the point where you can actually capitalize on the best of both worlds. And until you’ve spent a sufficient amount of time in each of those worlds, it’s really hard to claim them as your own.
Akello, French-German-Native American-English-American
I check white.
I’m 25 years old, and there are still people that walk up to me and say “What are you?” It got to the point that I just say “I’m human.” I avoid that question now because I don’t box myself like that.I think one of my dad’s biggest regrets in life was not teaching me enough about Pakistani culture. It took time for him and me to realize that I can’t just be one particular thing. I can’t just be you, Dad, and I can’t just be you, Mom. I’m not Black. I’m not Arab. I’m both. So now I check both.
What box do you check? Tell us!