Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Mark One Race Only

In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau allowed people to check more than one racial category on the census questionnaire for the first time.

6.8 million people checked more than one racial category. 868,000 checked Asian and White.

So, what did these 868,000 check before 2000?

My family never talked about the mixed-racedness of its children. Growing up, the fact that I was of mixed-racial heritage was always just that, a fact. To me, it seemed normal that I couldn't talk with my Korean grandmother; it seemed normal that I ate rice with every meal, whether bul go gi or hamburgers; it seemed normal that my parents didn't have the same skin color. That was just my life. It wasn't until coming to college, until last fall, really, that I began to realize that yes, growing up as a person of mixed-racial heritage has impacted me in ways I wasn't fully conscious of as a child.

And, being here in Korea, studying mixed-race issues with my Mom as translator, has led to some long overdue conversations about race.

She asked me, as we transcribed my first interview--a man who railed on the Korean government(update later!)--if I felt like a, "second class citizen" in the U.S. Her phrasing was a bit dramatic, but I did my best to explain my deal, talking about the invisibility of mixed-race people in American society and culture, how until 2000, the U.S. Census demanded that mixed-race people choose only one race. And I asked her, what did she check for my brother and me on the 1990 census, the year I turned four and he turned three?

"White. You both looked white. Your last name was white. And you spoke English."

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