The Chaos of Racial Categories

Arin N. Reeves
March 2008

My mother — a first generation immigrant woman of color physician who raised her children in several countries before making America her home — finds it utterly amusing that her daughter chooses to grapple with diversity for a career. When a Chinese Cuban associate joined her medical practice a few years ago, she challenged me with this “diversity” question: If a man, born in Cuba to a Chinese father and a Cuban-Chinese mother, grows up in Spain, immigrates to America and speaks English, Spanish, and Chinese (with a Spanish accent), is he considered a European, Hispanic, or Asian?

After a lengthy dialogue on race, ethnicity, nationality, and accent, she concluded by asking – Do racial categories enable diversity or do they limit diversity’s full expression?

Think Smarter. Lead Better.

  • Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.

    Isaac Asimov
  • America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress. It acted on this belief; it has advanced human happiness, and it has prospered.

    Louis D. Brandeis
  • One must even beware of too much certainty that the answer to life's problems can only be found in one way and that all must agree to search for light in the same way and cannot find it in any other way.

    Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Diversity creates dimension in the world.

    Elizabeth Ann Lawless
  • There never were in the world two opinions alike, no more than two hairs or two grains; the most universal quality is diversity.

    Michel de Montaigne
  • The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation -- or a relationship.

    Deborah Tannen
  • Controversial' as we all know, is often a euphemism for 'interesting and intelligent.

    Kevin Smith
  • The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

    Albert Einstein
  • Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs.

    Leo Tolstoy
  • Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.

    Mahatma Gandhi
  • Differences challenge assumptions.

    Anne Wilson Schaef
  • The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Honest difference of views and honest debate are not disunity. They are the vital process of policy among free men.

    Herbert Hoover
  • Difference of opinion is helpful in religion.

    Thomas Jefferson
  • Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.

    Walter Lippmann
  • Wit lies in recognizing the resemblance among things which differ and the difference between things which are alike.

    Madame De Stael
  • Honest difference of views and honest debate are not disunity.They are the vital process of policy among free men.

    Herbert Hoover
  • Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.

    Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.

    Malcolm Forbes
  • To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.

    Tony Robbins
  • It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.

    Albert Einstein
  • I not only use all the brains that I have, but all I can borrow.

    Woodrow Wilson
  • Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

    Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted, if there is to be room for healthy growth.

    Theodore Roosevelt
  • Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.

    James Surowiecki
  • When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.

    Charles Evan Hughes
  • Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

    Stephen R. Covey
  • Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

    Stephen R. Covey
  • In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.

    Audre Lorde