What Box Do I Check?
Remember when you were setting up for a test or final and some of them had you fill in your name, age, and all that? Had you check the box to confirm your race too? Growing up, whenever a scantron didn't have a multi-racial box, I would get kind of stuck. Most didn't even have an option for 'Other'. Which naturally I would at the least check. But I remember sitting at that section of the scantron at a young age confused.
"If I check Black or African American will my mom be offended?"
"If I check Caucasian how will my dad feel?"
These are never questions I asked out loud, rather questions that would continuously pop up in my head while staring blankly at a scantron sheet.
I vividly remember one day in, I think, it was third or fourth grade. I asked the teacher whether I should leave the section blank since it didn't have a box for 'Other'. She asked what my race was and I told her. I also asked if I could check two boxes and she told me that it was better I check one because I didn't want the machine to read the scantron incorrectly. That sucks, I thought. I then decided for myself, that whenever the situation came up again I would just switch between the two. Thinking that way it would even it out.
In middle school I had a few classmates advise me to think about what I would be classified as before the civil rights movements. Some even used the term slavery. I mean, yeah back then I'd be classified as a specific race regardless of what I truly was, but it was the 2000's now. Isn't that a weird way to put things? Granted, I don't think they were ever serious but in a way they seemed accurate in a way? Keep in mind my mind was still young.
Throughout high school, the issue of having to choose one or neither quickly disappeared. Multi-racial popped up on just about every general information section of a scantron. But every time I was able to check that box, I had a sense of pride. I even smirked while checking it. I liked being able to. I felt different in my own way and liked it.
My mom tells me stories about the days when I was an age that no grown adult can remember. Being in line with her, and other toddlers asking if who I was with was my nanny. She always said I had such an attitude towards them when I told them that she was my mom. Like: "How the hell could you think that she was my nanny?!" I laugh every time I hear that story. I laugh because it shows me that even at a young age I had an instilled sense of pride about who I was and who my parents were. To me it was normal to have darker skin than my mom. Duh, because my dad was African American. It's got to be somewhat in the middle right?! But as I grew up and gained ore friends I realized that for most of them, it wasn't a normal thing. They would ask questions about it. Not in a bad way, but in a way of curiosity. Naturally.
I never had many problems throughout grade school with it, except for one incident during our short residence in New York. I was a first grader trying to fit in with the kids on the school bus. Being the new kid, of course, I needed too. I don't remember a lot as a first grader, but the handful of things I do remember affected my life in some way. This was one of them.
I befriended two fifth graders that let me sit in the back of the bus with them one day. They were brother and sister. On cloud nine because as we all know, the back of the bus was where the older kids sat. "The cool kids". The next day I was excited for the ride to school and my ability to head straight to the back where I sat the day before. As I got on the bus, I went to the back where I had sat the day before only to find a backpack in that spot. As I asked him to scoot it over to sit, he looked at me a shook his head no. So I quickly looked around the other seats for an opening, only to find none. As I turned to walk to the front before the bus started back up and also so I didn't get in trouble, the brother of the two, tapped me on my shoulder and told me the reason why I couldn't sit with them that day.
"We're not friends with you today, you can't sit here. You're white today. Tomorrow you can because you'll be black again."
No alterations in that quote might I add. They lived down the street, so it was evident that they has seen my parents waiting outside for me when I got home the day before.
This trend continued, and as much as I hate to say it, I followed along with it. It must've been the incredible need to feel accepted in a brand new place. It continued until one day it must've hit me harder. I felt embarrassed and angry. Back and forth from the front where the younger kids sat, to the back where the older kids were. Accepted one day, denied the next. I lost it on the bus and as a result I had to sit on the big plastic hump in the front of the bus next to the driver. Supposedly I was causing a "ruckus". That day was just it for me. I can't really say if I had caught on to what was happening or not. I don't think I did because of how young I was. I think it was more being embarrassed and not being considered an actual friend to really anyone in the area.
I can say that was really the only true issue I had with being bi-racial growing up. And don't get me wrong, that is light compared to what majority of people go through. Trust me I know that. But personally, that was just a part of my life that was a little dark for me.
Of course there were jokes in high school that I would generally coin myself laughs. But that was well past the point of any confusion about who I was and what it meant to be what I was. I didn't care. If you can't laugh at yourself, then you need to reevaluate. But I never disrespected myself or my family. I think about that time on the bus often. I compare how I felt during that span with how I feel now. How I feel about who I am.
Yeah pandas are dope, funny, and goofy. And that's half of the reason why I love them. The other half is simply because of their look. They're black and white, just like me. Our family's group text name is 'Panda Fam'. We flaunt that shit. Y'all better know!
I know now that beyond being white and African American, I have some Italian in me. British and a bunch more small percentages just like many people. I am every part of every family member and ancestor that came before me. Many family members fought through struggle, while some didn't. Many of my relatives came from different countries to establish their lives in a better country, while others had been established here. It's a mix. I am a mix. Like we all are. I just happen to physically show a certain mix a little louder than others. I feel proud to have so many different parts of the world within me.
I walk around with my wife and we point out interracial couples. I always joke that "they're about to have some little KJ's!" It's accepted more each year within our society. With all of the steps we take backwards as a world, steps forward do truly take place. We can't lose sight of that. It's hard to see the good sometimes when there is so much bad around us. It is a wild time we live in right now. Where other people are finding their own sense of pride with the box that they choose. Or confusion about not having a box to check that's specific to who they are. I know how that feels. It's weird. The more we worry less about the things that don't concern us or affect us, the better off our world will be.
I know..... That's just not how humans are. Things will always be a certain way. But progress can be made so that everyone can feel somewhat accepted in life.
You really at the end of the day, just have to say F*%! Em! I am who I am and that's that.
Create your own box.
That scantron machine will be okay. Shoot if the machine shoots out an error, your teacher can hand grade that thing anyways. It'll be okay.