“What does this tell you?” is the question posed by one multi-racial/ethnic student in the recent New York Times article, when confronted with surveys attempting to gauge her race.
This is an important question that perhaps go neglected when we fill out forms and check boxes that best corresponds to our personal hertiages, characteristics, traits and positions (such as ethnicities, height/weight, eye colour, income). These things that have come to shape us are then reduced to a count for complex algorithms, calcuated to support one policy over another; provide evidence for this study and not that one; and to unequivocally “demonstrate” how diverse we are as a school/organization/country. Data about race and ethnicity tells us what we want to hear the most – that we are moving in the right direction in terms of how we approach and treat race.
Ethnicity and race are variables used strategically. While I diligently fill out forms and check off the “appropriate” boxes I think about the importance of being able to illuminate systematic differences in diseases prevalence, or injustices and discriminatory practices, that may not otherwise be revealed. I rarely think about how the introduction of increasingly complex race variables can also be used to hide these very same concerns.