Time We All Stop Providing Data on Race
Five years ago, I published a post, “Call Me White,” that describes how I came to use the adjective “white” to describe myself. If I use terms like Black and Brown to describe others but don’t apply a skin-deep descriptor to myself, I’m normalizing my own condition, when in fact, people with beige skin are a minority in this world.
Since then, in social conversation, online, and in print, I regularly refer to myself as a white guy. It’s not a group of humans I’m thrilled to be associated with, but as long as we continue to describe each other by race, it’s the apt label for me.
Recently, however, my ‘formal’ behavior has diverged considerably from my social convention. I no longer ‘x’ the box for ‘white’ on any form or data collection. I check ‘other’ or ‘N/A’ or, leave it blank.
I boycott the box.
Why? Because race and ethnicity are artificial constructs, created quite recently in human development, and historically used to misinform and divide, rather than unite us. Race checking keeps proliferating. I’ve been asked my race on government forms, health forms, financial forms, consumer surveys, and personal questionnaires. I imagine the form-makers justify their existence by proclaiming how a person’s race enhances the quality of data sought. Meanwhile, people who identify with a particular race may be keen to check their box, in the endless pursuit of fair counting. But why are we counting race in the first place? The truth is: race is an invented parameter; we can make it irrelevant.
I’m not agsint all box-checking; I still check any box that can matter. Whether I’m male, female, or transgender could be relevant on a health form. Socio-economic data is relevant for consumer research, as well as to the IRS. In fact, depending how severely the Supreme Court guts Affirmative Action, socio-economic data is likely to become the preferred—and more accurate—indicator of who we are in this society
Call me a white guy to my face I’m good with that. But don’t expect me to buy into the statistical game of racial pigeonholing. I boycott the box. I hope that you will start boycotting as well.