Circle Only One

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Cara Meredith -Be Emboldened3

It was on a preschool application, of all things.

Right there on the second page, the words “Circle One Only” instructed me to pick a single ethnic origin for my mixed-race sons. I sat at the dining room table, staring at the packet of paperwork before me. Until now, my pen glided through the answers to various questions, to rote information the school needed for licensure purposes.

I shook my head, pen wavering between “black” and “white.” With a brown daddy and a white mama, my sons are equal parts brown and white, African American and Caucasian; sweetly caramel-colored to anyone who throws a glance in their direction.

But how am I supposed to choose for them? What am I supposed to pick on their behalf? And what say do they then have in choosing a side, in having to make a decision between equal parts of a whole?

I hear this is the hardest part about being a mixed-race individual: you’re always caught between two worlds. You’re forever asked to make a choice between your mother and your father, between two seemingly opposite cultures and people groups. You never quite feel at home, because what is home? Who is home? So, of whose origins that gave you life do you choose?

I, of course, say and regurgitate and repeat this as an outsider, as a white woman with Celtic roots. My father’s Scottish ancestry is clear: with the last name “MacDonald,” we have our own family plaid. We listen to the stories of family members who’ve made it back to Scotland, whose feet have walked the ancestral holy ground, under drizzly gray skies and over rocky green hills. My mother, on the other hand, stakes claim to an Irish heritage, but truthfully, a closed adoption from the 1940’s prevents any of us from ever really knowing where her auburn hair comes from. So, we claim Irish ancestry. We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like nobody’s business. We beg the world to kiss us, because, well, we’re Irish.

This is the world I came from: a culture whose white roots dug deep into the earth, whose belief systems didn’t believe that issues of race–including minor inconveniences like checking a box of ethnic origin on a form–had anything to do with us.

So, why should it matter to anyone else?

It never tripped me up. I never had to choose between various shades of white, because I fit neatly, plainly, singularly into a single box. Bubbling in the color of my white skin never gave me pause, just as thinking about how this might affect those who are forced or are asked to choose between boxes might affect them.

But it affects me now. And this is not just because I married a black man, and not just because I have honey-colored babies, and not just because over the years my eyes have been opened anew to the distinctly gorgeous world around me.

It affects me now because of how God–God the Creator of the universe, God the One who dreamt up you and me and every other human on the face of the earth, God, whose son loved and loves and will love each person unconditionally, no matter the color of their skin–values my mixed-race sons, exactly as they are.

Because when a parent values his or her child, they are not asked to choose or assimilate or decide between something they’re not.

They are simply invited to come and sit and eat at the table, no questions asked–just as we are simply invited to come and sit and eat at the table, no questions asked.

So, when it comes to the present, in deciding which box to circle on a preschool application, my inner rebel becomes emboldened for change. The scope of my pen widens, and I create an oblong circle around both “black” and “white.” For now, it’s a holy resistance all my own, but it’s a resistance nonetheless against ignorance, against racism, against belief systems that don’t see anything wrong with asking parents to “Circle One Only.”

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Soon thereafter, I email the director of the preschool. I seek to understand and to educate, to put into words the thumping of my heart, the anger rising up in my bones.

I seek to be the change I wish to see in this world–the change that God first birthed within me, the change that seeks to understand and to educate, to listen and to do.

And maybe this is you: you stand not on a stage, with megaphone in hand, but you sit at your dining room table, with a primary school application before you. But even here–and especially here–we can be emboldened for change, just as we are, where we are.

So, go out and be bold for change.

Circle every option on the preschool application. Email the hell out of the primary school directory. And be the change you wish to see in your world.

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Cara Meredith
Cara is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. She is chipping away at her first book when not searching for the world’s greatest chips and guacamole. She loves people, food, reading, the great outdoors and her family. She and the HBH (Hot Black Husband), try to dance nightly and live life to the fullest with their two young sons.
Cara Meredith
Cara Meredith

Latest posts by Cara Meredith (see all)

Cara Meredith
  • Your glorious bold circling has bubbled a poem from who-knows-where into my head:

    “He drew a circle that shut me out-
    Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
    But love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle that took him in!”

    May all of our circles be inclusive.

    • Michele, did you just write that poem?!!!!! I love it, wherever it came from! And yes, you get it. 🙂

      • HEAVENS, no!
        It’s something I must have memorized when I was young and my brain was nice and sticky.
        I just Googled the first line and found that it was written by Edwin Markham, American poet whose best known poem is The Man with the Hoe (which I have never heard of).
        Blessings to you!

        • I’m definitely writing this down; thanks for sharing words written on your heart, Michele!

    • Bev Murrill

      WOW, cool poem, Michele. I just looked it up and it’s by a guy named Edwin Markham. Good ole Edwin, he knew the score.

      • Bev Murrill

        Oh, I just saw that you found it! x

  • Tracy Nelson

    YES! Wow, it frustrates me that they even have that question on an application … I want to write “none of your business” …. because, really, we all bleed red – I’m just saying … and they are all just beautiful children, looking for a place in this world – and my son (age 10) says “Mom, we are all the same race – the HUMAN race.” I’m going to do a write -in next time, and put HUMAN with a circle.

    • Oh Tracy, I LOVE that. I love that we all bleed red, and I love that we’re all human – you’re exactly right! My heart is that we might seek to honor the beauty found in diversity, acknowledging how our differences make us stronger and better and more beautiful, too.

    • “We all bleed red” – wow! and yes!!!! Thank you for this thought, Tracy. And I’ll be writing HUMAN with a circle too, the next time I have a occasion to.

  • Ha! I love your blessing at the end – I WILL email the hell out of the directors! 😉 This is me, except with two unmistakably white girls. How do I support my friends and neighbors who circle two or three options on the applications? How do I email for them, stand with them?

    • You can check out my ebook for starters. 🙂 Otherwise, ask questions. Honor the beauty found in diversity, that’s NOT existent in a colorblind society (which we aren’t). Seek to understand what it’s like in their shoes. That’s where I’d start. 🙂

  • sandyhay

    I want to link arms with you and march into the preschool office. Of course I know that’s not what I would really do. I’d get this “check” inside that tells me this is the wrong kind of rising up. But please know that my arms Are linked with yours.

    • Sandy, I hear you and I know that you stand with me ….so, I thank you. 🙂

  • Cara, thank you for this piece. For taking your holy indignation and illuminating the world just that little bit more. I have learned from you today. Xoxo

    • Oh, thank you for your encouragement IN my holy indignation, Olive!

  • Saskia Wishart

    Strange that they even ask that. I can’t think of any reason they would need to know. And actually I remember as a kid filling in an anonymous survey in school and they had the same set of boxes with: check all that apply. What a difference a few words can make.

    • What a difference a few words can make, indeed, Saskia!

  • Lindsay

    Bravo to you, sister. I could not imagine having to make those decisions, and I pray for you and your family as you navigate these waters. You, your husband, and your children are images of God, and y’all make your voices loud and clear!

  • I feel your pain. My children are Caucasian, but also Hispanic. In some cases, forms list Hispanic as ethnicity–on others, as race. Oy. I have gotten used to the “write-in” option, aka creating my own response. In this melting pot of a world, why are we still asked to fit into neat boxes? I think it will only get easier as society continues to meld together . . .

  • Bev Murrill

    Cara, I totally get this. Even before I had a beautiful caramel coloured daughter in law and two (going on 3) latte skinned grandsons, I always wondered why we said ‘black’ or ‘asian’ or whatever when the person was clearly also ‘white’. Why do we choose the ‘other’ rather than the one which is ‘us’, when we’re describing someone? (Rhetorical question – we know why). Even if someone is say Korean/African American, we use both races in a way that we wouldn’t if they were White/Black … then we just say Black (even, as you’ve pointed out, the person isn’t actually black but a shade of brown {and after all, very few people in the world can really be honestly termed black}) … anyway… it’s irksome, irritating, and demoralising… I’m tired of ‘othering’.