March 6, 2017
Before you try to figure it out from my headshot, I’ll start off by introducing my racial and ethnic background. I am half Black and I am half Mexican. As a kid and as a teenager, I referred to myself as “Blaxican.” My maternal side of the family is from Mexico but I am a fifth generation United States citizen. My hair, thanks to my father’s side of the family, has curls that will get me confused with the nearest racially ambiguous curly-haired person within a 1000-foot radius. Let me count the ways this has happened:
In middle school, I was running down the hallway before first period began, trying to avoid being late. As I was running, a teacher said to me, “Jasmine, stop running.” I turn around, and the teacher realizes I am not Jasmine. Jasmine was my friend a grade below me, also identifying in the Blaxican category. The teacher didn’t really apologize, just said, “I thought you were Jasmine! Carry on!”
Jasmine and I were in band together. We both played flute. Uh-oh. Jasmine stopped going to band rehearsal in the mornings, missing most of the semester. She got an A and I got a B. Guess what happened? Our band instructor confused us. While my middle school grades didn’t have an impact on my college experience, I am still quite bitter that Jasmine received my good grade.
I get to college. A small, private, liberal arts college tucked away in south Orange County, California. There are 400 students total. Very easy to get to know everybody. That is, of course, unless you are racially ambiguous with curly hair! And there were four of us. I still turn around when I hear the name “Desiree.”
After living in southern California for 22 years, I decide to try something new and I am hired in my first, full-time professional student affairs position working at an arts boarding school in northern Michigan. This place is just as small as my undergraduate institution, and I am one of three people of color on staff, but the only woman of color. You’d think I’d stand out as someone getting paid to help nurture young high school artists, yet students still managed to confuse me with a 16 year-old who was, you guessed it, racially ambiguous with curly hair.
I won’t even go into extensive detail about this next experience, but my second year at the boarding school, a new creative writing teacher was hired. Yes, racially ambiguous with curly hair. The second I met her I said, “You know we’re going to be called one another’s name.” She knew.
I’m now at my current institution, and things are going great. I was granted the opportunity to attend the NASPA Region IV-W/E joint conference in St. Louis, Missouri. I look up the keynote speakers. I see Liz Acevedo, who was fantastic, by the way. I know what’s coming. It didn’t take long. After Liz’s keynote, I walked through the Union Station conference center to the hotel lobby. On my way there, another conference attendee says, “Thank you for the presentation.” I stop walking and turn around, looking confused for a second before it dawns on me. It dawns on him too when he sees my name badge and my ribbon that says “First Time Attendee.” I know he sees it. He reads it aloud. “So sorry.” He says. I don’t say it’s okay. It isn’t. I want people to feel bad about their inability to see me as a different person from the next racially ambiguous person with curly hair.
Don’t get me wrong: the examples of these cases of mistaken identity are not the lowlight of my experience as a multiracial person. They aren’t even the lowlight of my experience as a human being, and there is a lot going on during this political time that drives me way more than being called by another person’s name. However, please realize the message sent when you do not take the time to recognize an individual for who they are.Take time to acknowledge their distinguishing characteristics and remember how different they are from the person whose name you almost called them by and avoid blending us together into the same person unless we are all together and working towards the same cause. Know me for me, and not the other person you only sort of know, and don’t expect me to apologize for your mistake anymore.
Candice is a living center director at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and is also currently completing her final year of graduate school in the College Student Affairs Leadership program at GVSU. Her interests include camping, hiking, dogs, procrastinating, cooking, baking, and standing up and shouting out for what she believes in.
Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NASPA. If you agree or disagree with the content of this post, we encourage you to dialogue in the comment section below. NASPA reserves the right to remove any blog that is inaccurate or offensive.