Identity

So I’ve been fascinated that my son always looks at photographs of Asian kids and says “Hey, that’s me!” Recently he’s also started pointing to younger Asian kids and saying that those children are his sister. I couldn’t figure out why he identified as East Asian, but recently had the epiphany that presented with three choices: North European, West African and East Asian, yeah, the Asian box is the one we check the most. I totally commend children’s books for having diversity and trying to represent every major genetic group. The problem is there is a lot more diversity than those three groups. We don’t have beautiful ebony skin or super curly hair, so West African is definitely out. We don’t have super round double lidded light colorer eyes or brilliant colored hair, so North European doesn’t work, while the East Asian kids share our half moon dark eyes, my son and I both have broad Asian faces and my daughter has a little button nose. My hair is black and super straight. Really, we look West Asian, but that intersect of China, Russia and semetic countries is not something in the U.S. is really thought about, let alone in books.

The point of all this is it made me think about my own identity. Obviously I consider myself Jewish, but that is not a literal box that can be checked on all those silly forms one fills out in life. I remember once in middle school telling my parents that I’d checked the Asian box, because I clearly wasn’t white, black or Hispanic. They were pretty shocked and instructed me next time to check white. In fact, that seemed to be the default, we weren’t black or Hispanic, so choose white. Why wouldn’t you want to choose white, right? It seems like the one with the most positive connotations. All my dollies were European looking. I always wanted to red headed ones, but the truth is I can’t remember my mother every buying us dolls that didn’t look European. The one black barbie, my treasure, I’d traded a kid at school for. I’m not sure I’d ever actually asked for a black Barbie, but I’d certainly never been given one before. This is something I never thought about until we were buying a doll for my niece an I picked out one I thought was nice and my mother asked me if they had any that weren’t brown (I guess it was some Latinax line), we ended up going with a then obscure Monster High doll. Unconsciously, my parents taught me to identify as white.

This doesn’t really work though when your older sister feels she’s constantly being racially profiled at airports and boarder crossings, or when every time you travel people refuse to believe you’re Americans because you don’t look American, or taxi drivers are always asking where you’re from. Even stories of how as babies people asked what adoption agency my mother used (Mother Nature’s genetic diversity :P). I never felt that my parents ever implied that one genetic group was better than another. It just wasn’t a nuanced topic. We had three choices: West African, North European or East Asian, so my parents picked the middle one.

As the forms got better and I’ve gotten older, I have always checked Mixed Race, Other and written in Jewish.

I don’t know if such forms exist in Denmark, but I will let the kids self identify as Asian, I will continue to buy them dollies representing every genetic group I can find represented, because goodness knows what their children will look like and know that with all the Danish-foreigner marriages here, they fit right in and hopefully if they have to check a box, there will be more options than I had!