Mixed race can mislead

By Olivia Garber

When I was a senior in high school, I was one of 48 finalists in a statewide scholarship… When I was a senior in high school, I was one of 48 finalists in a statewide scholarship competition. The actual scholarship wasn’t much — only $500. The program  was more about the prestige of being named, essentially, one of the top all-around students in Nebraska.

During the awards ceremony, where the committee handed out the eight scholarships, I noticed that every non-white student received one. Well, every non-white student except me. Granted, I’m only half non-white, and my name doesn’t exactly signal “child of Asian immigrant.” Still, I wonder if I would have won had I chosen to write my essay on my illiterate Chinese grandmother instead of my insatiable quest for knowledge.

I’m not saying that those minority students weren’t well-qualified for their scholarships; I’m just wondering if they had an edge.

This is what The New York Times asked in its June 13 article, “On College Forms, a Question of Race, or Races, Can Perplex.” Students with more than one heritage often agonize over the best way to represent their race — combine it the right way, and it could mean the difference between an acceptance letter and rejection.

“It pains me to say this, but putting down black might help my admissions chances and putting down Asian might hurt it,” one student interviewed for the story said.

As someone who’s mixed-race, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t tried to use my diverse genes to jump ahead of my pure-blooded peers. After simply checking “Asian” in high school (in Nebraska, that’s a plus), I saw the advantage my parentage gave me as awareness of mixed-race people began to rise. Whenever an application asked how I was going to promote diversity — which it always did — I exploited every nuance of my childhood. The summary of any essay I wrote boiled down to: “My mom’s Chinese, but my dad’s white. Hijinks ensued, and now I’m a better person than someone who’s ‘just’ Chinese or ‘just’ white.”

But I’m not.

Determining which “mix” of races is the most advantageous is an incorrect way to promote diversity. I think colleges have good intentions; people with diverse backgrounds can often lend a fresh perspective in ethnically rigid environments. But that’s not always the case.

When friends were discussing the role of helicopter parents, I chimed in with my experiences as the child of a tiger mother, and whenever the topic of religion comes up, I almost always incorporate my upbringing as a pastor’s daughter, but the diversity of my background isn’t due to my mixed-race heritage. Not all tiger mothers are Chinese, and not all pastors are third-generation German immigrants. When colleges rely solely on race to determine a student’s diversity value, they’re only helping to create a society in which a person’s race is more important than the person herself.

I’m not denying the importance of initiatives to encourage minority students. I’m just sick of living in an environment that places the most value on what boxes I check in the race portion of the U.S. Census.

In the Times article, colleges admit that multiple races could give students an edge. But that attitude leads to a slippery slope. “The new options have forced colleges to confront thorny questions, including how to account for various racial mixes in seeking diversity on campus. Is a student applying as black and Latino more desirable in terms of diversity than someone who is white and black? Or white and Vietnamese?”

When I’m faced with race identification, I never choose consistently. In high school, I was Asian. When I’m mad at my mother, I’m white. When I can, I choose both. And for the last couple of years, frustrated with the whole process, I pick “other” (a very flattering term, don’t you think?).

Unlike the 97 percent of the population that identifies as a single race, I and the rest of my half-blood peers have the option of being fluid with our answers. But just because we’re ethnically ambiguous doesn’t mean we’re better. Ignore the checklist, and judge us on our achievements.

Olivia Garber is a half-Chinese, half-white woman seeking a half-black, half-Hispanic man to breed with so she can make a baby that will take over the world. Interested parties may submit an application to [email protected]