That one off-handed comment is the impetus for my blog. And contrary to how it may seem out of context, it wasn’t said in a tone of malice. I’ll explain the backstory and the rest of the conversation shortly, but first I’ll explain why I’m starting a whole blog because of one comment.
The fact is that one comment is one of many I’ve heard for as long as I can remember. At some point after joining Facebook I decided to post conversations like this because most of the time, they’re funny. Plus, a part of me always hopes that reading these conversations from the perspective of the person on the receiving end might just open people’s eyes to what it’s like to look different, or in my case, to often be perceived as a completely different ethnicity than I actually am.
Also, maybe it’ll plant a seed that that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t have to choose one ethnicity we identify as. Why do things have to be so black or white? Why do people have to be so black or white? It’s always seemed to me that life is mostly some shade of gray.
So welcome to my blog, where I’ll post conversations as they happen and ones that already have. You can decide for yourself whether things really are black and white after all.
Now back to the quote at hand. Picture this: I’m doing a telemedicine call before getting tested for COVID-19. It was supposed to be on Zoom but I forgot about the appointment so the Urgent Care employee called me. That matters because she can’t actually see me during this conversation.
Once we establish that, yes, I might have been paranoid about symptoms when I requested the test two days prior, she assures me it still doesn’t hurt to go through with the test to be safe.
Say no more. This risk averse ball of nerves LOVES to do anything in the name of being safe not sorry. I mean this is the girl who, as a child, would start to cry when her friends would do something that MIGHT get us in trouble. There was nothing more terrifying than the thought of getting in trouble when I was a kid. My face would start to tingle, I’d feel nauseous and I’d whine I didn’t want to go through with any plans that might result in a reprimand. It’s truly astonishing I wasn’t on every other kid’s speed dial when they were in the mood for raucous fun.
As an adult, my preferred mode of operation is still pretty risk and trouble averse. Which brings us back to my conversation with the equally cautious Urgent Care employee. She began to take the information they’d need on file before I showed up for my COVID test in a couple hours. The conversation went like this:
Employee: How do you identify as far as your race?
Me: Black and White
Employee: Oh. Okay. *pause* Sorry, you’re throwing me off with both black and white.
Me: *Anticipating this is one of those times I don’t have the option to mark both* If I have to choose one over the other, I usually just identify as ‘Other’
Employee: So are you saying you’re 50% Black and 50% white?
Me: *Pause* Mm, Yes.
*Sidenote: I paused before responding because in addition to being risk averse, I also tend to be very literal. So I paused before saying yes because according to the AncestryDNA test thing I did over a year ago, I’m NOT 50/50 black and white. Nor are most mixed people. But for the sake of this woman’s sanity and time, I figured it would be easier to just say yes and not give her a full percentage breakdown of my heritage. You as the reader of this blog post, however, did not escape as unscathed :-D*
Employee: But non-Hispanic?
Employee: Okay. If you have to choose would you say you’re more of a White non-Hispanic or a Black non-Hispanic?
Me: Neither, I say I’m mixed.
Me: *Sensing she might be starting to get a little flustered* I would much rather you just mark me as ‘other’
Employee: Okay! *Sounding relieved the ever so slight awkwardness was over*
DISCLAIMER: I included this on the Facebook post and I think it’s worth mentioning here because one of the downfalls of writing is the lack of tone. But since people often impose tone, I want to be clear that at no point was this woman’s tone of voice snarky or rude. She was simply the lucky gal who got to ask a seemingly innocuous question about race on an intake form.
That’s the interesting thing about race. It SHOULD be an innocuous question. Or at least I wish it were. But at a time when racial tensions in the United States are at an all-time high or are being completely blown out of proportion depending on who you ask, it’s not surprising that even our paperwork won’t allow for any gray. You’re either/or, but certainly not any combination of the options. There’s no room left for the gray in between. Or maybe that’s what the option of ‘other’ is. The nebulous gray area that shifts and adjusts to fit between the hard edges of black and white, trying to soften those edges like water does to stone. It just takes time and patience. So. much. damn. patience.