Filling out official documents should be an easy task. Box 1 asks me for a name, followed by an address and telephone number. Next, my date of birth. My pen is in constant motion until I hit that one line that always gets me – the line on ethnicity. Identifying ethnicity on official documents is all too often unrepresentative of one major group. Biracial individuals and others of mixed ethnicity should not have to choose one race over another to describe their ethnic backgrounds.
So many official documents neglect the fact that mixed-race individuals are just that – mixed – and have a mother of one ethnicity and a father of another. When filling out information, these individuals are not fairly represented. A lack of ethnicity choices on applications is not only unjust, it is also insufficient. Forms should either provide a box for all those of multiple races or avoid the question.
Florida’s Voter Registration application is one of the documents guilty of under-representation. Line 13 asks the applicant to “Check only one” when identifying race and ethnicity. The choices are oversimplified and grouped into ambiguous titles: American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black (not Hispanic), Hispanic and White (not Hispanic). Individuals who are, for example, half black and half Asian, are left with few options. Ultimately, that individual’s pen has to check just one.
This type of question on documents may not seem that important, but it impacts one of the fastest-growing groups in the United States. In 2000, the US Census Bureau had to change the options in reference to ethnicity because the old documents were not representative enough of the rapidly growing and diverse U.S. demographic.
In 2000, the bureau added “Hispanic,” “not of Hispanic origin” and the option that biracial individuals find more welcoming -“other.” With these new options in place, the data collected for the Census discovered that more than 6 million people in the United States identified themselves as being multiracial.
Therefore, why are some official documents and applications still insensitive to the actions taken by the U.S. Census? Being forced to choose one ethnicity leaves biracial and multiethnic individuals with a sense of only half-belonging.
Sean Lennon, son of John and Yoko Ono Lennon, told Marie Claire magazine that being English and Japanese leaves him being seen as Asian in America and white in Japan, a state he describes as lonely at times.
This is a situation many multiracial people deal with on a daily basis. I have experienced firsthand what it’s like to be forced into classifying myself as one race when all I want to do is check two boxes. My father is white and my mother is Filipina. I am Mestiza as it is said in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. When I am asked to classify my race on a document that lacks multiple choices, I feel forced to choose between two cultures that I equally represent. It’s like a fork in the road where both destinations are part of my destiny, but I can only live one.
In such a rapidly diversifying country, official documents of any kind should not limit one’s ability to properly identify his or her identity.
Anna Peters is a junior
majoring in mass communications.