I work in the public school system. (I know, I know…). In the People’s Republic of New England, as well as across the United States, there is apparently a new thing this year that requires schools to collect racial and ethnic data on every student in the building. This is not optional. Don’t worry, assures the paper, all information will be kept confidential.
Given the current flux of people moving around in this country, legal or not, I suppose I can see why, from a statistical standpoint, why that data might be wanted now rather than waiting until the next census is taken. Here’s my problem, though. In post-racial America*, the only racial/ethnic data that the government is interested in is whether or not a student is or is not Hispanic. If the student is not Hispanic, they would like to know if he is of Asian, African-American, American-Indian or Alaskan Native, or Pacific Islander descent. For all others, please just check “white”, because, well, screw you, Europe. As I’m going through these sheets, some parents have checked off multiple ethnicities and races because, well, again, post-racial America, y’all. The problem is that the computer only accepts one answer for each student. So when I’m staring at a kid’s sheet that looks like a multiple choice test, it’s been suggested that I look at the kid’s picture, decide what race/ethnicity he best represents, and go with that. (Though being the federal government, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it turns out the schools get more money for having more minority students.)
Here’s the kicker. Go back to the “about” page and take a good look at that photograph. Blonde hair, hazel eyes… gotta be some brand of European, right? I certainly couldn’t check off any of those boxes indicating I was a racial minority. Well, except, I could. Enter Exhibits A and B:
These are my cousins, and for privacy’s sake, even though they gave me permission to use this photo and I blocked their faces, we’ll call them Sandy and Olivia. Sandy and Olivia are sisters, and they are the closest thing to blood sisters that I have. Our fathers are brothers, and our mothers are sisters. Yes, brothers married sisters. It’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds. We’re talking pretty much same exact gene pool. Anyway, Sandy looks like me, with the blonde hair and dark eyes. Just like our mothers’ side of the family. Olivia on the other hand… well, face it. Anyone could, and understandably would, look at her and think she’s Latina. Nope. Half-Polish, quarter Slovak, and a quarter Scots and Irish. Ever hear of the black Irish? Yup. Bunch of Spanish traders come up the western European coast, decide Ireland is as nice a place as any to settle down (or at least find a warm bed on land for a night or two), and voila! The black Irish are born. You can find us in Scotland, too. Olivia is living proof of that.
Technically, then, I could just as easily mark “Hispanic” on my own theoretical ethnic/racial sheet as I can “white”. Not even “Caucasian”. Just “white”. I have Spanish ancestry, after all. We melanin-challenged individuals are so discriminated against.
*If we’re in a “post-racial America” as was much hailed with the election of the first half-black president, why are we even wasting trees on all this? And trust me, it’s a lot of trees, judging by the stacks of paper on my desk.