The Checkbox

Here is one feeling I’ve never been able to properly explain, but I will try to explain it today.

Imagine you are filling out some government forms. Most of the time, on these forms, you are not permitted to check off more than one race box.

When you fill this form out, what is typically an act of regurgitating facts becomes an intentional choice.

“Who do I want to be today?”

“Will one choice influence the outcome of this form more favorably than the other choice?”

Do this exercise once.

Then do this exercise hundreds of times.

Read about complaints about affirmative action and read about how academic institutions identify potential “at-risk” students.

Then do it while applying for a scholarship.

Read the research report about two identical resumes, one with a “white” name and one with an ethnic name, getting vastly different results.

Then do it while applying for a job.

Read the news about North Carolina gerrymandering in order to ensure some districts had fewer black votes.

Then do it while you’re applying for a new voter registration now that you’ve moved to another state.

Hundreds of times, I have had to strategize  my identity; very clearly playing race politics. It weighs heavy on my heart, because in all circumstances I feel like a fraud.

Am I a person of color who uses whiteness as shield against the world’s fury? Should I be ashamed for lying all these years and not embracing my non-white ethnicity with more vigor?

Or am I a white girl who pretends to be a person of color in search of community? Am I a Rachel Dolezal as I cling to my palabok and my tinikling?

I walk this line in which I exploit my whiteness, wearing it like a shroud of safety, and yet, want deeply to be accepted by my people. I look Hispanic, my ancestors have a very Filipino last name, and if we were to go by numbers, more of my bloodline resides in the Philippines than they do in the United States. I want so deeply to belong, but I have not struggled like them. I have not been killed like them. I have not been shamed like them. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of racist comments in my life – how my sex organs are supposed to be different from a white person’s, how, as an Asian, I’m “supposed” to be subservient housewife (or otherwise can “provide services” for “fye dorrah”), how my food “might have dog in it.” I’ve been asked to speak Spanish on behalf of my colleagues (which I can’t really, I am not of Hispanic heritage – what Spanish I do know is from living in Jersey City). The list goes on. But I have always, ALWAYS been able to choose that box on the piece of paper. I have always had white privilege.

That is the biggest difference between me and my friends – the choice of a life in which you aren’t hurt; the choice to hide like a sheep in wolf’s clothing; the choice to forego the struggles in a very selfish interest. They cannot remove their skin or their heritage. Even in becoming “westernized” they risk losing all that brings them joy and love – the flavor of mom’s cooking, the songs from grandparent’s lullabies, silly nursery rhymes to remember names of body parts, celebratory dances, all the dressings of nostalgia. These are small trappings, but what is life but a smattering of scents, songs, and memories? What is even worth living for if we do not have these gems to cling on as we close our eyes to sleep?

Maybe the guilt can go away over time, but in the end, all I want desperately is to belong, somewhere. And frankly, my friends do, too. Maybe in that much we can seek solace.

Where’s the box for that?

 

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