Monday, August 25, 2008

Multi-ethnic checkboxes needed here

I make it a point to introduce my family as mixed-race. I have always been Irish AND Italian. My wife has always been Inupiaq. So my children are Irish AND Italian AND Inupiaq.

Families are strange things. We identify ourselves by culture and race. But culture is very different from ethnicity/race.

I think of my family as genetic and cultural vegetable soup. Take some carrots, onion, garlic, and potatoes. Next you throw in celery, corn, green beans and tomatoes. Spice it with lemon-pepper, salt and chicken broth.

What do you get? It is a mixture that tastes different than any of the individual ingredients.

But strangers who meet my kids generally approach them as "native" or "half-native". (It can be a point of interest or pity on their part.)

On the surface, my kids are identifiable as multi-ethnic. Especially when they get dark brown in the summer. They look like gingerbread with a ginger father. And so they "see themselves in others' eyes" as multi-ethnic.

Very-very-rarely someone will treat my kids as "white". That usually happens to my daughter when she starts using 50-cent words like exhilaration and vigorous to describe why she likes cheerleading.

The perception of adults is reflected back from adult to child. I can see the influence on my kids expectation of themselves.

What am I'm trying to say? Just that other peoples' perception does make a difference to the way that children view themselves.

Therefore, schools (and parents) must be very careful to acknowledge and value every child - regardless of race. Take this case in point:

Child's school enrollment isn't black or white - ParentDish
In the section where it asked what race/ethnic group the child belonged to, none of the available options fit 10-year-old Kenny. Lovelace was asked to choose from Asian/Pacific Islander, Black not Hispanic, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska native, or White not Hispanic. Since Kenny is biracial with one white parent and one black, Lovelace checked both Black and White boxes.

That didn't go over well with the secretary at the Kenosha Unified School District's Educational Support Center. "She handed the form back to me and said I had to pick one, otherwise, someone would pick his race for me," Lovelace said. District policy dictates that if the race of the child is not indicated by the person filling out the form, an "observer identification" must be made. By that logic, Kenny Lovelace looks white, so he is white.

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