Race In America

November 6th, 2014

“What Are You, Anyway?” by Amy DuBois Barnett ’91 is either the wrong title for the article or the wrong article for the title (September/October). While Barnett happens to be biologically multiracial, she affirms throughout the article that she identifies as black. The titular question mark suggests ambiguity where, for the author personally, there is none. Perhaps we should be asking “the small, sad group of biracial kids” (a glaringly insensitive phrase) for their perspective on identifying as multiracial. Then we might begin to shed light on an experience that “What Are You, Anyway?” purports to, but ultimately fails to, illuminate.

Derek Bangle ’11
Naomi Kuromiya ’12
New York City


Barnett tells us that Brown students and others have asked her “What are you?” which in context means “What is your race?” If Barnett answers, “I am black,” what has the student learned that is of interest? Nothing. The so-called black “race” is the most genetically diverse population on the face of the earth. And since people like Barack Obama and Amy DuBois Barnett have one “white” parent and one “black” parent, their identifying themselves simply as black—which is clearly their prerogative—tells us little.

In my view, asking the question “What are you?” or “What is your race?” reflects badly on the person asking. I meet new refugees every time I am at the Red Cross in Linköping, Sweden. I can guarantee that no one would dream of saying “What are you?” And if someone did ask what race a person belonged to they would be told, “We do not ask racist questions here.”                      

Lawrence Lundgren ’53
Linköping, Sweden

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Related Issue
November/December 2014