This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
In Washington, a schoolchild can be white, African American, Latino, Asian America, Native American, Pacific Islander and more than 50 permutations thereof.
What’s not permitted is apathy about race.
Schools have long tried to get parents to identify their children by race. That’s a good idea for several reasons. For example, there’s no way to see what’s happening with the “achievement gap” if blacks and Latino students can’t be compared with white and Asian-American children.
Now the state is pushing that generally good idea to the point of ridiculous absolutism.
Not all parents want to classify their kids racially, and not all of them care. Lots of kids show up at school without having been properly profiled by their moms or dads. The requisite forms could be filled out with boxes checked for “unknown,” “multiracial” or “declined to answer.”
Under a new policy, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is permitting no such ambiguity. A race must be assigned – and the people at school will have to do it if the parents won’t.
There’s no shortage of racial options provided, though the logic behind some of them is a little murky. The first question – something like the “para español …” option on the telephone – asks if the child is of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Once that hurdle is cleared, the parent or educator must squeeze the kid – Latino or not – into one of many dozens of boxes.
Young Pacific Islanders who are Fijian, Micronesian, Samoan, etc., must be specified as such. Indian children must be designated as Makah, Muckleshoot, Quinault, Puyallup, etc., unless they are generically “other Washingtonian Indian” or “other American Indian.”
Such specificity would seem to argue for letting blacks identify themselves as Nigerians, Senegalese, Kenyans, etc. – especially if they in fact migrated from Nigeria, Senegal or Kenya, etc. But apparently “black” (and “white”) is label enough.
Demanding that educators classify kids under a system this rigid and complex does seem, as Federal Way Superintendent Tom Murphy said, “ludicrous.” How on earth is the assistant principal or whoever supposed to know if an unlabeled child is Pacific Islander, let alone a Micronesian.
Why isn’t multiracial an option? Take a student with a café au lait complexion. Maybe he or she – and Mom and Dad, too – consider themselves white. Or, heaven forbid, genuinely multiracial. Where would Tiger Woods fit into the scheme?
You may be indifferent, ambivalent, annoyed or simply confused about America’s obsession with race. You may want to drop out of the racial classification business altogether. You may prefer to think of yourself simply as a human being.
Doesn’t matter: Race is going to follow you, find you and never let you go.