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Does Race Equal Skin Color?

Posted: 02/28/2012 4:10 pm

By Aurelie Mathieu
Florida State University

When filling out any type of application, the check box for race always comes up. Although most of them state that it will in no way affect your chances of being selected for that particular program, it does bring in a lot of questions.

I was born and raised in Haiti where I lived for 14 years. Never did my identity as far as my skin color confuse me as much there as it does in the United States. My family comes in all different skin tones imaginable; that's why I never questioned the fact that I'm the lighter one out of my 3 siblings. Being an independent country for over 200 years now, Haitians integrated enough to become just one race: black. It really astonishes people when they find out I'm full Haitian; as if we fit a certain mold that I just do not seem to fit. My dad has brown skin, my mom has fair skin; I was born lighter than both of them. I'm a complete recessive gene; I have brown hair and green eyes whereas the rest of them have black hair and brown eyes.

When asked for race, the only one that fits me is black although most people may not see it right away. It is the dominant side of me and that's the person I grew up to identify. Frequently, people come up with their own philosophy to try to understand who I am but shouldn't I be the person who knows me best?

Recently, I had to go get fingerprinted. I was given a questionnaire that asked me multiple personal questions including race. Like always, I checked black. This time I so happened to have my hair straightened instead of the curly afro I usually rock. When the worker came to enter my data on the computer, he would not stop looking at me after looking at my answer.

"I see you put black, was that a mistake?" he said.

"No, I am black; I'm Haitian." I responded affirmatively.

"Well I can't put that," he stated. This moment had a really big impact on me. It was as if he had the power to confuse my identity, as if he knew more about me than I knew about myself. Then I gathered my thoughts and said:

"Well you can't put white, that surely is not what I am." There was a brief pause and all he said was "okay."  As I glanced at the computer, I saw him type "unknown." He did not want to hear what I had to say. He was determined not to check black. Since when did race equal skin color? If there was a box that said Haitian I surely would check it because that's the one that fits me best but there isn't. If they asked me for my skin color, then maybe I would be able to consider checking white but since I am not Caucasian, I just cannot allow myself to do that. There should be more categories if this question needs to be asked. My race seems to be pretty rhetorical to me; it varies by audiences although my story never changes. As the rhetorician of my life, it's up to me to decide if I want to adapt to different audiences or just connect with the audiences that accept me for who I am. Virtues vary by audiences but it seems like people are more focused on vices.

When it comes to applying for colleges and jobs, the check box will always be there but it is not always mandatory to check it. It may determine how you will be identified or placed but it should never change your identity.

Never let others define you. You have spent years building your identity and one person should not have the power to change that. Your confidence should be enough and if people cannot accept you, for who you are, then just let them be. You know who you are better than anyone one else in the world and you should never forget that.

 

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