The Check-box Part 2

Lesa Ferguson

Our Media Specialist Lesa Ferguson has been working on forms for Adoption STAR. In part 2 of this two-part blog series, she writes about her particular fascination with the form element, the check-box. In Part 1, (to read part 1, click here) she wrote about changing various forms at the agency. The agency will now use the check-box rather than a text-box (or fill in the blank) when asking about racial identity.

By Lesa Quale Ferguson

Because we have used the text-box, the current list of races at the agency is chock-full of unique answers and their abbreviations: C-Pima&Mex/C, Ei, H/C, NA/AA. We intend to narrow Adoption STAR’s race check-box list to seven: Black, Biracial (including Black), Caucasian (non-Hispanic), Caucasian (including Hispanic), Asian, Native American, and East Indian. This is the list the agency has used in their Child Identity Grid, the form prospective adoptive parents fill out to say which gender, race, and age of a child, they feel most confident in raising. All the races will merge into this stalwart list of seven.

As thoroughly enamored as I am with my beloved check-box, dilemmas abound. Do I merge the Haitian-American into Black or Biracial (including Black)? And, what about the non-race descriptors such as Muslim, Jewish, Trinidadian? It’s a pretty kettle of fish.

As I’ve plowed through these unique answers, I must continually check and recheck my preconceived notions of race. Before I merge Muslim into East Indian, I stop and consider before I click, “OK”. Why do I think Muslims are East Indian? And then I remember the first time I saw a person described as Muslim – in the movie, Ghandi. Good movie but not a guide on how to categorize race. And so I go to those family records that listed Muslim as a race and make a notation so we do not lose the data. Someone in the office will know these peoples races and the race check-box will get filled in later. I delete “Muslim” from the list, ever whittling down to seven.

But the shorter the list becomes, the harder it is to click merge. Races have been blending and mixing for centuries and becoming, well…more Trinidadian, an island which hails Asian, Caucasian (including Hispanic), Native, Biracial (including Black) and Black – an indivisible mix. Trinidadian truly speaks more to the person’s current race than any singular genetic strand.

While my stated intention is to streamline to seven races, when I filled out the Child Identity Grid to adopt my son, I wanted to add the dreaded “other” to the checkbox list. Once “other” is added, the text-box will materialize once again. Form builders are greedy for data and once again clients will be abbreviating and lengthening the list to fill in what they meant by “other”.

Upon further reflection, it wasn’t the word “other” I wanted to add but the word “mixed”. My American dream realized: one check-box list item that accurately describes all the people who live on this stretch of land, mixed.

But what may be accurate is not necessarily truthful, nor representative of the person filling out the form. Idealism is hazardous to form building. Answers must be realistic to the clients’ experiences of race. Ultimately, I hope the check-box will enable families to find the child they feel confident in raising and help birthmothers locate the best possible placements. And race matters.

Through our open adoption, we received the forms our son’s birth mother filled out. She wrote Puerto Rican which will be merged into Caucasian (including Hispanic) and his biological father is African American which will be merged into Black. My son will merge into Biracial (including Black) while my husband and I will merge into Caucasian (non-Hispanic), essentially making our family mixed. At least I can move my family toward my ideal. So today, I can’t include “mixed” on the check-box list but someday…may we all claim to be Trinidadian.

Read More by Lesa Ferguson: Birth Mother’s Day Celebration ’13: A Recap, Adoption Posse Part 1, Adoption Posse Part 2, Waiting, Waitin Part 2, Tell Us Your Adoption Story, by Lesa Ferguson’s Mother Trudy Cusella – Second Chances

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