Race and Ethnicity? The question and categories on the form list themselves out: White, African American, American Indian/Alaska native, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino …
The race question is usually optional on application forms for schools and colleges. Yet, it is common knowledge that Admissions counselors manage the diversity of their classrooms, and race and ethnicity frequently factor into the decision-making process.

A 2010 McClatchy article stated that the numbers of University of California students who declined to state their race and ethnicity rose to 64% in 2008.

There is a rising concern that South Asian and Asian American students are being evaluated not as individuals but against other high achieving Asian students who have identified their category. Besides, whether or not the box is crossed or left blank, our names often reveal our ethnicity.

Schools that don’t require declarations of heritage in the admissions application process  have a high percentage of Asian students.

“California Institute of Technology, a private school that chooses not to consider race, is about one-third Asian,” reported the Associated Press in a December 2011 article. This is disproportionate to the 5.6% of Asians that make up the total population.

Indian American and Asian students are aware that they need to get a substantial number of points above the average SAT score in order to qualify as a contender at top schools, in addition to the obligatory academic excellence and extra-curricular awards.

A competitive spirit, optimism, and the ability to sieze opportunity are trademarks of ethnic minorities. But, when we are confronted with the race question, we have to consider whether the generalizations will help or hinder us. It is sad not to be able to give voice to that which we carry with us as our heritage.

I am wary of these racial categorizations. They seem to gainsay what our leaders fought for, a nation where our kids “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” and in this case the substance of their academic work.

The race and ethnicity category on any form is a socio-political construct not for “anthropological purposes,” as the definition on the Federal Office of Management and Budget states. Yet, it comes laden with stereotypes and assumptions.
I hope there will come a day when the question is no longer asked.

Jaya Padmanabhan

Jaya Padmanabhan is editor emeritus, contributing writer, and board member of India Currents. She is a veteran journalist, essayist, and fiction writer with over 250 published articles and short stories....