Research Position – scarletthief

Why Can’t We Choose Our Race, Too?

Self-identifying race has never been more important to Americans than it is now because it is more than a source of pride in ones’ history and family – it is a choice that allows people to access more opportunities in society. However, self-identification of race encounters more opposition than self-identification of gender in America. As a society, we accepted Bruce Jenner identifying as a woman in 2015. However, we simultaneously shunned Rachel Dolezal, a Caucasian-born woman, for identifying as African-American in that same year, resulting in her forced resignation as the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Half of the Millennial generation acknowledges the idea that “gender is a spectrum” instead of just male or female; cities and public establishments have created no-gender ID cards and bathrooms to accommodate for all genders. So what makes choosing our race so different when race and gender are ultimately very similar in regards to how they develop in people and the advantages gained from claiming to be one or the other?

We are constantly confused by censuses, college and scholarship applications, and work applications that require race identification. The reason being: How do we know what race we are?  Race can be based on whether a man looks African American or on the blood of his African American ancestors. According to D’vera Cohn’s article, “Millions of Americans changed their racial or ethnic identity from one census to the next,” applicants tend to change the race they identify as such as Americans who identified as Hispanic and “some other race” in the 2000 census, who then identified as Hispanic and White in the 2010 census. Determining a person’s race is only the beginning of the difficulties of racial self-identification. America’s diversity explains the reason for the 2010 census including an option to check multiple races and a final option for “some other race” if someone couldn’t choose one of the listed races. Race can’t be defined as easily as black and white because our nation is filled with so many colors. By solving this dilemma of racial identification, proper respect toward one’s race can be given and exploitation of racial benefits can be prevented.

Let’s begin with determining what race is. While race is characterized by the looks of the individual, it can also be determined by blood. In American history a man was deemed Black by society if they had even a drop of Black blood in them and didn’t have to look Black to be considered Black. This was called the “one-drop rule.” Even if a man had White parents, White grandparents, and White great-grandparents, if his great-great-grandmother or grandfather was African American, he was considered Black. Institutions such as schools or factories during this time of segregation had the power to identify applicants’ races despite the wishes or appearance of the applicants.

Contrary to the original use of “one-drop rule,”the rule could be applied by applicants to gain the societal benefits as a person of color in scholarships, college admissions, or work institutions. Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren claimed to be 1/32 Cherokee Indian which in some cases would allow her to have the same health care and education benefits Native American tribe members have, but she looks Caucasian. She, despite proof of her relations,  isn’t considered Native American by us because her appearance doesn’t match her Cherokee claim. Race isn’t just how we identify ourself, but also how society identifies us.

On the other hand are mixed-race college applicants who face the moral dilemma of selecting the race most likely to get them accepted. Natasha Scott, the child of an African-American father and an Asian mother, applied to the University of Virginia in 2011 solely as an African-American to improve her chances of being accepted, but felt guilty about it. By claiming to be solely Black, more educational and most likely monetary opportunities were open to her. When posting her dilemma on College Confidential, none of the commenters mentioned putting only Asian yet many either said to choose African American and Asian or just African American. She is both races, but in this case, chose to be the one most beneficial to her.

Self-identifying race shouldn’t be something that can be changed depending on the situation, but in cases like Natasha Scott,  she isn’t lying about her blood relations as she is part African American. While Natasha Scott can identify as either race, can non-mixed-race college applicants also have the ability to choose a race they have no relation to? Given the freedom to self-identify race, an applicant can earn college scholarships only eligible to certain races such as scholarships solely for African-Americans. We see this as unfair to real African-Americans who are eligible to the scholarships since no scholarship means no education. When we have the ability to choose our race we consider our family, our environment, and our situation.

Likewise gender has its advantages despite the benefit not being monetary. A man who is transgender is able to enter an otherwise prohibited area – the women’s bathroom. Transgender and intersex individuals can also gain an advantage in activities like the Olympics. In Layden’s article, “Is It Fair for Caster Semenya to Compete against Women at the Rio Olympics?” he mentions how intersex competitors may dominate in women competitions because of how the excess testosterone aids in certain muscular development. We feel that the glory and respect given to an Olympic medalist should be fairly rewarded and loathe competitors who cheat by claiming to be female.

Race and gender in general are similar by how they develop in humans.  Children don’t begin classifying people into different races until around 10 years old according to Art Markman in his article “Categories, Essentialism, Race, and Culture.” If the children grew up in a politically liberal area, they believed in classifying people into racial categories as oppose to children who grew up in politically conservative areas who believed that categorizing races was wrong. The development of racial identity in children stems from the environment and the members of society surrounding them. An example would be Lacey Shwartz, mentioned in the article “Family Secret and Cultural Identity Revealed In ‘Little White Lie,’” who grew up with white Jewish parents in a white community. Despite her African American features, she identified herself as white because of the community and people she lived with. Similarly, in the documentary Somewhere Between, four Chinese-American girls were adopted by Caucasian parents and grew up thinking of themselves as White. They compared themselves to a banana that was yellow on the outside and white on the inside.

Gender identity development is similar to the development of children’s racial identity because they both develop from their environment. Girls who grow up surrounded by princesses, dresses, dolls, and other female stereotypes are likely to identify themselves as female once they are old enough. If boys were surrounded by similar princesses, dresses, dolls, and such, they would also be likely to identify themselves as female if they weren’t told they were biologically males. Parents are encouraged to help their daughters or sons to develop a healthy gender identity by exposing their child to both genders’ activities, clothes, jobs, and to alternate gender roles such as male nurses or female firefighters. Gender identity in children develops through exposer to gender roles and activities in their community like racial identity.

We should be able to self-identify our race if we can self-identify our gender based on the similarities between race and gender. However, self identifying race and self identifying gender have a major difference. When self-identifying as a specific gender, people usually look like the gender they are identifying as. If a male identifies himself as female, he uses she, her, hers to describe himself and alters his appearance to appear female. In this case, the person matches his physical appearance and we accept her self-identification. On the other hand, claiming one’s race isn’t as easy because the rules for determining race are fuzzy, which allows institutions to dispute applicants’ choices. An example of this would be in Garcia-Navarro’s article “For Affirmative Action, Brazil Sets Up Controversial Boards To Determine Race.” 27-year-old Afro-Brazilian diplomatic applicant Lucas Siqueira was denied a Brazilian diplomatic position because the government “race commission” decided his looks made him Caucasian. Regardless of how he self-identifies, others will determine how he is treated in his neighborhood, at his school, and by prospective employers. The main point in the article was that his claim did not match his appearance. We aren’t confused when gender is claimed because the claim matches the looks, but since we can’t tell  if applicants  are the race they say they are if they don’t match the physical characteristics common to the race they identify as, racial self-identification is less accepted.

We can’t choose our race since society has to agree with the choice of the individual. Racial self-identification is important to us because there are benefits and opportunities available in our education and work institutions only accessible to specific races. Racial equality has a fine border now that most of America is mixed-race. Gender is considered a spectrum by many Americans and we are less inclined to place women and men into their stereotypical gender roles because of the concept of gender equality. If all genders are equal, then identifying as male, female, or otherwise matters little.

Works Cited:

Millions of Americans changed their racial or ethnic identity from one census to the next.” Pew Research Center. 5 May 2014. Web. 31 October 2016.

On College Forms a Question of Race, or Races, Can Perplex.” The New York Times. 13 June 2011. Web. 31 October 2016.

For Affirmative Action, Brazil Sets Up Controversial Boards To Determine Race.” NPR. NPR, 29 Sept. 2016. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

Layden, Tim. “Is It Fair for Caster Semenya to Compete against Women at the Rio Olympics?” SI.com. Sports Illustrated, 11 Aug. 2016. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

Markman, Art. “Categories, Essentialism, Race, and Culture.” Psychology Today. N.p., 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

Minority Rules: Who Gets To Claim Status As A Person Of Color?” NPR. 16 May 2012. Web. 31 October 2016.

Norris, Michele. “Family Secret And Cultural Identity Revealed In ‘Little White Lie’” NPR. NPR, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

On College Forms a Question of Race, or Races, Can Perplex.” The New York Times. 13 June 2011. Web. 31 October 2016.

Riben, Mirah. “Being Blackish: Race and Self-Identification.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 June 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

Wong, Curtis M. “50 Percent Of Millennials Believe Gender Is A Spectrum, Fusion’s Massive Millennial Poll Finds.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

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