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Please begin with an informative title:

We went to the ER Friday night, for a long ordeal of tests and re-tests.  My husband was having chest pains and we needed to get it checked out.  Luckily, all the tests showed that he's fine but it's a wake up call that we need to pay more attention to stress management and heart-healthy behaviors.

Early in our stay, a nice woman came by with a rolling computer cart asking about our insurance.  We gave her our info, and she asked some other standard questions.

One question was difficult to answer.  It was about my husband's race.

The options were : White/Caucasian, Black/African descent, Asian descent, and other.

Then there was the question of ethnicity: it was an open fill-in the blank instead of choosing from a list.

We were at a loss at how to respond.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

My husband is Boricua, a Puerto Rican colonial mix of European, African, and Taino ancestors.  Looking at him, he might be light-skinned African-American, he might be Filipino, he might be Samoan or Pacific Islander.  

His first response to the lady's question about race was "I'm Hispanic, Latino." That wasn't an option for race.  How about "Other" for race, "Hispanic" for ethnicity? No, her supervisor had criticized her for that.  How did other Latinos usually respond?  As either white or black, with Hispanic as ethnicity.  

The woman with the cart said her supervisor suggested she simply make her best guess as to the patient's race/ethnicity, but she was appalled at that suggestion.  It's not always obvious.  

I have a friend who has a Japanese grandparents, a Russian surname, and was brought up in Brazil and considers herself Hispanic.  

Sometimes the race question is fairly easy - I'm a pretty standard Irish-American white person.  But for an increasing large portion of society it's not obvious, not easy to select one.  

Race is more than where we come from or who our ancestors are, but how we self-identify and how others perceive us.

I'm thinking about this especially in light of violence towards young black men, who because of their appearance are perceived as threats; in light of violence towards transgendered persons because somehow their appearance is seen as a threat; in light of how we discount all sorts of people we perceive as "other," as different from ourselves.

One of my Puerto Rican friends is dating a man of Haitian descent.  Her family doesn't want to meet him because he's "black."   Her family certainly has African ancestors, but because his skin is darker than theirs, he's to be set apart and scorned.  

The nice lady with the cart needed a one-size fits all answer to fill out her form, probably to meet state reporting requirements.  My husband eventually chose black/Hispanic.  He doesn't really self-identify as black, but he doesn't really self-identify as white either.  

Are you multi-racial, multi-ethnic?   How do you respond when questions like this come up?

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Tracker on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 06:59 AM PST.

Also republished by RaceGender DiscrimiNATION, Invisible People, and Community Spotlight.

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