Thursday, June 15, 2006

Who Am I?

The Befuddled Muddled Mutt writes in with an interesting question...

I’ve been reading this minority debate with interest. While I have never used minority status to get into college before (I tend to check ‘other’ and leave it at that) some of the schools have great minority scholarships. BUT, while there are nice little boxes to check of ‘black,’ ‘Hispanic,’ ‘native or pacific islander,’ etc., what is lacking is an ‘all’ or ‘my mother was a raging psychotic who never took her medications and one of her major delusions was race and ethnicity’ button.

So, depending upon the mood of the only parent I know, I am black, Hispanic, German, full-blood Dutch, German, Cherokee, Mohawk, etc. I know that to claim Native American you need to be registered with the government, and that’s a whole other political debacle. So I’m wondering if I apply for scholarships not knowing, they’re gonna look at me when I get there and say, “What the hell?” On the street I’ve been everything (meaning, I’ve been asked if I’m any number of ethnicities), and if you go by comfort level I’m everything, and I consider myself to have no ethnic ties in terms of background, although I identify with the literature of certain cultures/traditions over others.

So, is it worth it to apply for minority status when who knows if I’m technically whatever ethnicity is on the endangered lists? Do I just forget about it, apply on the strength of my writing and to fully funded/mostly funded schools (yeah, I’m leaning toward that, but interested in the opinion nonetheless)? I don’t feel like doing a genetics ancestry test just yet.

This is a complex question to say the least, BMM. I'm way out in man-facting left field with this one. In fact, I'm outside the ballpark.

I mean, if you don't know one parent (I'm presuming), how do you go about proving ethnicity? And would you have to prove it? Could you just look like that ethnicity? Is that enough?

We're diving into both legal and ethical territory here, BMM, so I'm not going to casually man-fact. I'm going to say: I don't know. And I'd be careful if I were you about claiming to be something legally, if you can't prove it.

Anyone have some practical or experienced advice on this matter? BMM and I would appreciate any insights.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that this person is a troll. If you don't know by now whether you're a minority or not, then you're not. I mean really, do you know how ludicrous this sounds? You don't know any aunts or uncles, cousins or other relatives? Amazing how your alleged lack of identity only becomes relevant when you want to apply to graduate school and qualify for minority scholarships. I'm betting that you just want to get over. But to answer your question, I've heard of a white South African ironically checking off the box for African-American. To say the least, it was not pretty when the school found out. Almost all of the minority scholarships at the graduate level are administered by the graduate college and involve special orientations etc. So at some point you will be face to face with someone and it may be uncomfortable for you if you can pass as white. At the very best, if they feel fraud is involved (no known minority lineage), they'll rescind your acceptance and scholarship offer.

This is the information age, you know! If you really wanted to know, you could use your mom's social security number to track down your relatives. LOL. I've seen plenty of people like you. I bet you think that this is what being a minority is about: sunshine, roses, and free scholarships!

Anonymous said...

A practical solution? Yes--tell them you're gay.

A better question: is Tom allowing page-long questions now? Did that mixed man set his off with a "--". This has rocked my blog faith.

Anonymous said...

An immigrant South African is an African American. Charlize Theron and Dave Mathews are African Americans. I guess this makes schools uncomfortable even as their anthropology departments unmask what a sham these categories are anyways.

They should just go by financial need.

Anonymous said...

So these categories are only shams when scholarships are given out, but not when minorities experience discrimination while driving, shopping, renting apartments, buying houses, you name it. And most of the forms list African-American/Black to accomodate differences in terminology, not so that white South Africans that have been the beneficiaries of apartheid for decades can get assistance?

Tom Kealey said...

Seriously folks, I'm not going to tolerate yet another flame-fest on the blog. Especially about race.

If you can't avoid making ill-informed accusations about other posters, then please don't post at all.

I think the original question is pretty clear: the mother's race is known. Both the father and his race are unknown. It sounds like this issue has been relevant throughout this person's life, not just now.

In any case, the question is: What advice can you offer? Not: What abuse can be rained down?

If we can't be civil about our comments, then I'll change the blog to name-only comments. I'm really angry about this. This blog is place for help, not for abuse.

And to the second poster (anger now aside): The question was just an extra paragraph long. I give some leeway here and there when it's relevant. Thanks for noticiing though.

BMM said...

Wow anonymous people, chill. I am not a troll or a fraud.

It's quite easy to be without legitmate family or sense of lineage, especially as people interwed/intercopulate all the time, and when they move from state to state, change your name constantly, play the 'let's run from the whatever' game and in general run away from the voices in their head.

I know someone who did the African American thing for undergrad, and was less African looking than I, and was ostracized for it. I, on the other hand, was a huge part of my black and latino group in highschool, and in undergrad told I couldn't join because my skin wasn't dark enough.

So I guess the answer is discrimination still runs deep in academia and based on skin colour, not lineage.

And yeah, I've gotten discrimination FOR being everything BTW, no roses here. Well, once, but the guy was sweet, said I looked all exotic. You should have tried to get a job after 9/11 in NYC as me. I'm white enough until people get scared and stupid.

And to answer the first Anon, which was the major wow-WTF-do these-peopl- still-exist type person I've seen on this great board, it's quite easy to not know you're a minority, because it's something you have to be told by others. Why would I think, "oh geez, am I marginalized by society and not valued as much as others?" There have been times when I felt like one because of such actions, but does that mean I get more than followed in stores and harassed by transit cops?

Basically, just like there will always be people with a worse life and that are better writers, are there people 'more of a minority' that deserve the help more.

Legit moral dilemma with possible ramifications. Don't trivialize how one fits into the college's notions of race and identity, even if we are all enlightened enough to realize race doesn't exist and ethnicity shouldn't matter.

Anonymous said...

I really doubt that a school would ever require you to prove your ethnicity, or would rescind an offer just because you don't "look like a minority". You won't be the first mixed race student to ever matriculate at their university. I mean I'm no expert on this but it just seems wholly inappropriate for someone in the administration to question your race, or make you prove your "authenticity." If they do you should certainly tell them to go to hell. Native Americans have to be recognized by the government to apply for land and federal benefits, and in the case of tribes to be recognized by the U.S. government as sovereign nations. Unless it is a government scholarship I don't think any proof would be necessary. And for any other minority how could they expect you prove something like that? Any scenario I can think of just seems too perverse to actually happen.

On the other hand, I don't think you should claim an ethnicity that you don't identify with. That's just unethical anyway you cut it. I think they would rescind your scholarship if they found out you KNOWINGLY deceived them and didn't self-identify, with the ethnicity you claimed to be.

And just to go back to the subject of abuse. I don't think this person's posting would have elicited such abusive responses if it hadn't started with: "While I have never used minority status to get into college before..." Though I will give this person the benefit of the doubt and assume it was unintentional, I couldn't help feel slapped in the face when I read that. It comes across as totally self-righteous. I'm black, I applied to college, and MFA programs, and I checked a box in both cases. Does that mean that I used "minority status" to get in? Did I not apply to MFA programs based on the strength of my writing? Cause I thought I did. I'm really sick of reading and hearing this same sentiment over and over again. I heard it hundreds of times when I was applying to college, but it has surprised me most to hear it so often during the MFA application process. I applied to 8 schools, and I got into 1. I'm not saying that box checking is an irrelevant act, but this process is so frustratingly unpredictable across the board, that I don't understand the attention paid to it.

Anonymous said...

I really doubt that a school would ever require you to prove your ethnicity, or would rescind an offer just because you don't "look like a minority". You won't be the first mixed race student to ever matriculate at their university. I mean I'm no expert on this but it just seems wholly inappropriate for someone in the administration to question your race, or make you prove your "authenticity." If they do you should certainly tell them to go to hell. Native Americans have to be recognized by the government to apply for land and federal benefits, and in the case of tribes to be recognized by the U.S. government as sovereign nations. Unless it is a government scholarship I don't think any proof would be necessary. And for any other minority how could they expect you prove something like that? Any scenario I can think of just seems too perverse to actually happen.

On the other hand, I don't think you should claim an ethnicity that you don't identify with. That's just unethical anyway you cut it. I think they would rescind your scholarship if they found out you KNOWINGLY deceived them and didn't self-identify, with the ethnicity you claimed to be.

And just to go back to the subject of abuse. I don't think this person's posting would have elicited such abusive responses if it hadn't started with: "While I have never used minority status to get into college before..." Though I will give this person the benefit of the doubt and assume it was unintentional, I couldn't help feel slapped in the face when I read that. It comes across as totally self-righteous. I'm black, I applied to college, and MFA programs, and I checked a box in both cases. Does that mean that I used "minority status" to get in? Did I not apply to MFA programs based on the strength of my writing? Cause I thought I did. I'm really sick of reading and hearing this same sentiment over and over again. I heard it hundreds of times when I was applying to college, but it has surprised me most to hear it so often during the MFA application process. I applied to 8 schools, and I got into 1. I'm not saying that box checking is an irrelevant act, but this process is so frustratingly unpredictable across the board, that I don't understand the attention paid to it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for jumping in on this, Tom. I'm Latina and have gone back and forth on this issue throughout my career as a student. Debates about race and ethnicity are crucial when it comes to discussing CW programs, so let's try to come up with some real advice for this person. My best bet is to go with your gut. How would you feel accepting a minority fellowship? If you'd have no problem accepting and a school would have no problem awarding, then go for it. I think reading the writing of someone who has lived this experience would be interesting and illuminating, and I think programs out there would feel the same. Seeking out diversity means seeking out alternate lenses to view experience. Don't we want that? If you're still on the fence, contact the programs where these fellowships are offered, be honest, and ask. Can't hurt, right?

Anonymous said...

You'd be surprised that they actually do try and check your background for those minority scholarships. Both my parents were born and raised in Kenya, but I dont quality as African American (though Ive been a US citizen since birth) because my grandparents aren't african. Conversely, my family history is pure Indian (from india) but I dont even qualify for that because my parents aren't from India. Screwed me over both ways.

Anonymous said...

"Conversely, my family history is pure Indian (from india) but I dont even qualify for that because my parents aren't from India. Screwed me over both ways."

Last I checked, there are no benefits to being Indian as far as "minorities" are concerned. Asians, especially in California are considered overrepresented in academia.

I should know; I am Indian. And if you are north Indian, you may technically be classified as Caucasian(as my anthropology professor clarified to me). Funny, I get treated like a minority, and look like one, but I don't meet the criteria. I think in the case of Indians, they are sort of this super-minority, who have very little in the way of political clout, because they are insignificant in terms of numbers. And the "model minority" myth has only aggravated this problem for those Asians who are in need.

Frankly, I am against all this multiculturalism crap myself. It serves to undermine open-minded dialogue and fair criticisms, in the name of political correctness. Financial need, I think, is an excellent criteria for determining who qualifies for aid. There has to be another way of ensuring some level of fairness to these decisions.
In the case of an MFA, I doubt anyone can get in without the creative writing skills that programs look for in every sample. I was talking to the MFA pro. co-ordinator at NYU the other day, and was told that, they don't look at anything you've sent until after a decision is made after reading JUST the writing sample.

Dan said...

I would list myself as Native American.

Keep in mind, while you do have to be registered to make such a claim as part of a particular tribe, you don't have to do so to write it on an application.

If your mother tells you you're Native American, and you don't know who your father is, then what to do? Are we to do a genealogy study to fill out a grad school application? I think not. It's not your fault they ask. And it's not your fault they use this. If it works to your advantage and you have a plausible case, use it, particularly if you look exotic. I would.

That doesn't necessarily mean I think it's fair for universities to use ethnicity as a selection criteria. But we're talking practicalities here, not theories on public policy.

There's a short story/novel/essay/memoir in this, by the way. A search for identity prompted by ethnicity-driven public policy. This is fascinating, flamers be damned. Maybe I'll write it and beat you to it. ;)

Anonymous said...

Anyone read The Human Stain? Great book.

Anyway, I don't have much to add here, except to say that I think this is fascinating, how society draws these ethnic lines (like the old but oft-cited "one drop" theory, meaning one drop of "black blood" makes you black, etc.) and what havoc it wrecks on simple identity issues. As the anthropologists say, race isn't biological, but we're in a culture in which people build walls between these constructed categories.

Write about this in your statement of purpose. It's perfect for the SOP.

AiA said...

In terms of how much to reference one's ethnicity/multiracial background in personal statements or otherwise, I feel mentioning it in the context of your writing is a good basis. For example, if you're Indian but write about white, American protagonists, maybe highlighting your Indian heritage isn't the best idea. I'm half-Indian, and write a lot at and about that grey area between races. My history as a halfbreed interests me, so I write at it, so I'll probably discuss it a little bit. So, yeah, happy writing y'all.

Lucky Brown said...

I, personally, wouldn't feel comfortable claiming an identity that I'm not aligned with.

I think if you have no qualms with it, then let's say after you do it and get accepted--the community may reject you even if you have a legally legitimate claim. It would probably not be considered socially or morally legitimate by most people.

Lorna Dee Cervantes said...

I'd cut and paste from your comments and response here and end that part of it with the paragraph that ends on "certain cultures..." naming the authors who have influenced you and to whom you experience a certain affinity. Then I'd go with just what you know and do, and why you want to study there with that particular faculty, in your SOP.

And don't choose anything but the best to send as a writing sample.

And continue to check "other" -- maybe even including a question mark rather than an "X" in the box "black". (I hate it when I only have one choice: your son or your daughter? But the son always rises, and culturally, I am Chicana as I grew up in the barrio not a reservation, my "tribe" having been legally terminated (interesting play on words); my "community" belongs on the "wrong side of the track" to most. That's how you know it is a community, it's what you make when you just want to relax from all the historical excrement.

As for the other, "endangered lists," a term I find objectionable on a lot of levels, please see my comments on the thread you're responding to in this post, the "minority debate" that occurred when a woman asks a simple question: Where can I go to get a genuine CW education and experience?

Thanks for your honest, interesting, and direct question.

Shopping Blog said...

javascript:void(0)There is not going to links of london uk happen such a difficulty that you can't find cheap links of london bracelet an identical topaz jewelry according to your costume. cheap links of london charms It is monitored that besides the reality that it's a links of london watch uk great present to gift, it's also preferred by many people just for the links of london ring uk sake of an inclusion to their own jewelry collection. However, links of london necklaces uk if you'd really like to satisfy your partner and guarantee that she adores your present on this special date.