Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Other: The Problem with Standardized Ethnicities

We can all agree that the STAR tests have many faults, but one glaring issue that is usually overlooked is that of the choices included in the “Ethnicity” section of the bubble-test. “American Indian” always tops the list – perhaps it’s our idea of compensation for the mass genocide in the 1600’s. “Hispanic” is followed by several variations of “Pacific Islander,” then “Asian”, “African American”, and finally, “White or Caucasian”.

Although I consider myself a diverse and well-rounded as well as culturally sensitive individual, I always feel guilty marking “White,” as if it’s my fault that my grandparents were not Haitian. * sigh. * That’s life.

But what of the cultures completely omitted in this by-no-means comprehensive list of “acceptable” ethnicities? Indians (that is, those from the country of India), are nowhere to be found. Are they “Asian?” Doesn’t that imply almond shaped eyes, tan skin, and an exceptionally high math IQ? (I don’t actually stereotype “Asian” this way; the statement is for the sake of argument.) What could be the cause of this discrepancy?

To answer this question, we must first ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of the STAR testing masterminds knowing whether our skin is white, black, or purple?” An executive answer would probably come close to “In order to improve the test through enhanced data collection and ensure that all races have an equal opportunity to succeed.” In other words, so that they can quote the exact percentage of Pacific Islanders who scored above average on the STAR test, thereby proving that “Americans really aren’t prejudiced!”

What would a person whose mother is African American and whose father is Mexican bubble in? What if her grandmother was born in Spain? What if her great-uncle was born a native of Australia (of Aboriginal descent)? Is Spain “Hispanic”? If her grandmother was from Spain but her aunt was born in Florida, does that make her aunt American?

Although an individual might not think this deeply which black and white bubble to fill in during a week where teachers don’t give homework, the STAR test does, in essence, force participants to either categorize their identity or to abstain from answering the question (which, in reality, rarely anybody does). While for some it may be simple, for others it shoves the potentially touchy issue of their heritage right in their faces.

STAR tests are designed to categorize. They sort out students into types, making it easy for the analysts to throw together some numbers that supposedly represent the entire American population under the age of 18. STAR tests: progress reports, or offensive identity sorters? Only you can decide.