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Racial Labeling and Stereotypes
I distinctly remember my first encounter with the mysterious box, I slumped in my desk, sullenly listening to wiry little Mrs. Force, my third grade teacher, read the long, meticulous list of do's and don'ts that always accompany standardized tests. The new box blended in quietly with the others at first: name, address, social security number. Yet there it was, the box marked race in vile green capital letters. Below were choices, concise words to supposedly sum up an important aspect of one's self. "Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, or other" I read to myself. Later, of course, as test writers struggled painstakingly to be politically correct, the options changed. The choices became "African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic-American (or perhaps even Mexican-American), Asian-American, and Native American. Only "other" remained unaltered. It was the tiny oval next to "other" that fascinated me. How could you tell if a person was "other"? I scanned the room, filled with skin tones varying greatly in hue from a subtle glow of peach to a rich mahogany. The colors held no answers. I surveyed the less intriguing boxes one last time and proceeded to bear down on the bottom bubble with the finely sharpened point of my number two pencil.
It was only a moment later that Mrs. Force began her trek around the room to confirm the correct filling in of bubbles. She soon made her way around to the last row of the alphabetical seating arrangement and approached my desk. Her beady eyes scanned my answer sheet until they lit upon the race box. "You," she said, pointing to the box, "are white." She picked up my pencil, erased my graphite scribbling, and filled In the "correct" oval. I wanted despera...
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My culture, whether I like it or not, is today's American culture. That doesn't mean that I want to forget about my roots; it just means that they are not what makes me "me." To not be thought of as white is, I believe, a high and mature compliment. I do not want to be thought of as white. I just want to be a person, like anybody else. That doesn't make me less of an individual. I don't strive to "blend in." An individual is made up of a personality, ideas, emotions, and a sense of identity independent of the race concept. We live in a nation, and in fact a world, of "others." Unfortunately, it is also a world filled with stereotypes that must be carefully and completely dismantled one idea at a time. For ten years now I have proudly battled misconceptions in the race box, armed only with my trusty number two and convictions of a metal much stronger than graphite.
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