Select None That Apply
photo by Neha Mani
As a rising senior in high school, I entered the new school year fearing the deadly college application process I’d heard so much about in the past. Naturally, I was afraid of writing essays, researching schools, and essentially deciding how I want the next four years of my life to play out. However, the main dilemma I faced was not only unexpected, but unheard of.
I was ready to submit my first application two whole days before my deadline (surprisingly). All the time I spent writing essays, supplements, and filling out my Common App profile was finally proving to be worth something. And it would’ve been if I didn’t get stuck on a question that for some, can be filled out in the blink of an eye.
Five empty boxes presented themselves on my fingerprint-filled laptop screen:
Regardless of your answer to the prior question, please indicate how you identify yourself. (You may select one or more)
American Indian or Alaska Native
Black or African American
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
I’m sure most of my classmates answered this question with one swift motion of their mouse and a satisfying click. It was a question they knew how to answer as easily as they knew how to speak. For me, however, it was not such a simple task.
Growing up as a West Indian child in America, the question of my race has been ever-present. It was always a suppressed thought in my mind that I allowed to surface only when it was time to fill out a dreaded government form. And I had grown more than comfortable with running to the “Other” box over the years.
My family lived in Guyana for generations before emigrating in the 1990s. So naturally, we celebrate our Caribbean culture and lifestyle. But when the food we eat, the religion my family practices, and the names my relatives give their newborns all descend from South Asia, it raises the question: who are we? I know that I have ancestors from India and the South Asian Subcontinent, who were taken from India to the Caribbean when Great Britain controlled both territories. But can I consider myself Asian even if my family hasn’t come from Asia for generations, and if we have adopted a new culture of our own?
Dazed, I began checking every box to see the sub-questions that followed. That’s when I saw the option to select “Caribbean” if I said I identified as Black. My sister, my father, my mother were all called over to read my filthy laptop screen and help me decide. And the more people I asked, the more I was left in a state of confusion worse than when I started.
After a prolonged debacle of my identity, I left the question blank. Not because I didn’t feel comfortable sharing, but because I felt I had no other option. In the future, I’d hope to see more inclusion in questions such as these; current questions tend to push strict labels that don’t allow people to reflect their whole identities. With the establishment of Affirmative Action in college admissions, there is a pressure on minority applicants to indicate their race. Doing so would convey their diverse background and perspectives more in a holistic review of their application, making now a better time than ever before for the Common Application board and other application portals to broaden their selection.