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  • Writer's pictureHistory Retold Project

Boxed In

The first time I truly felt boxed in was in the fourth grade, dating back to the day of my first standardized test. With a No. 2 pencil in my right hand and a calculator in my left, I felt as though I had prepared for everything, or at least I thought I had. Following my teacher’s instructions, I flipped to the first page of my test booklet. Name, check. Date, check. Race, hold on a second. My eyes scanned over the limited options: American Indian or Alaskan Native, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, White, and Asian. None of these descriptors seemed to match my identity, as a young Indo-Pakistani American. A wave of confusion washed over me, and so naturally I raised my hand. Mrs. Peters instructed me to write an “X” in the box marked “Asian”. I listened. Nine years old and already squared away. To this day, I continue to grapple with my identity, with the idea of not being enough of one thing. For this reason, I believe that the race and ethnicity options on standardized tests ought to be expanded.

So why is this data collected in the first place? According to Kenneth Prewitt, the former director of the United States Census Bureau, grouping minorities into one category or another might be beneficial, because these broader categories can seriously influence policies created on behalf of minorities. “Where earlier policies had been discriminatory, new civil rights policies were intended to right those wrongs and benefit groups that had been ‘historically discriminated against” (Prewitt qtd. in Michener). As Prewitt implies, statistic proportionality has become a popular legal and administrative tool.

Surely, there are some benefits to collecting this data, such as allowing statisticians to calculate individual adversity scores to promote equity; however, there is no reason for these categories to be so dreadfully misrepresentative. The existing options are incredibly broad, attempting to lump as many people as possible into a singular box. We continue to conjure excuses for our statisticians and census administrators. Known for its diversity, America consists of a variety of different peoples; so why do we continue to erase people’s racial and ethnic identities with vague labels? I suggest that terms like ‘Sub-continental Asian’ and ‘Middle-Eastern’ be added to the currently available selection of race and ethnicity. If organizations like College Board need to quantify and generalize test results, then they can combine these groups later in the data-gathering process. It is important to ensure that no one, particularly young adults, feels pressure to check the wrong box when a given label does not represent their identity.

To clarify, by advocating for the addition of more racial and ethnic categories, I am by no means supporting the notion that people should be divided and/or confined to a singular box. Contrarily, I am simply proposing an alternative solution, encouraging the collection of data and the celebration of unique backgrounds. For a country founded upon the principle of individuality, our statistics are far from particular. Finally, our time has come to think out of the box.

Works Cited

“Collection and Reporting of Student Race and Ethnicity Data.” College Board, College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation,

Michener. “Trying to Find Your Box: The Trouble with Identifying Race on American Surveys.” A Fraught and Winding Road, Cornell Blogs, 12 October 2015,

Smith, Rosa Inocencio. “Identity: Please Check One.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 23 September 2016,

Washington, Andre J, and Daniel Hemel. “By Omitting Race, the SAT's New Adversity Score Misrepresents Reality.” TIME, 21 May 2019,

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