Middle Eastern columnist discusses her college application process and how her race is not identified.

by Maya Mattan, ’20

It’s that time of senior year: applying to college. I was creating my profile and the prompt read, “Please indicate how you identify yourself.”

I see American Indian or Alaska Native. I see Asian. I see Black or African American. I see Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. I see white. But I don’t see me.

This wasn’t the first time I have had to fill out an identity section. I see the same list without a Middle Eastern or Arab box to check. In most cases, there was “Other.” Other? Meaning I was different or distinct from the list that was given? I would check other and write down “Middle Eastern,” pondering as to why that wasn’t ever an option.

After filling out my first testing forms, I went to tell my friends about my experience.

“Middle Easterners are supposed to check ‘White,’” a friend told me.

It seemed as if it was obvious to her, but I had never classified myself as white.

White: a term with much authority and many advantages in today’s society. Being able to check off “white” means that you have the white privilege that comes with it, the societal benefits of being white. My background, culture and overall experience in America makes it clear that I am not white nor have I had any white privilege. What really defines whiteness is not the looks or nationality. It is the power it possesses.

How can my identity be so limited? I did not understand how someone could identify me. Going through ACT testing and the college application process and through any demographic piece has always been difficult. It’s a racial identification conundrum that’s not progressing. A MENA— a person with roots in the Middle East or North Africa— section was proposed; however, it was decided in the 2020 census MENA should not be an option. My origins do not have a place.

Checking off an option for any checkbox will always be problematic until people decide their own identity instead of having it handed to them by the U.S. Census Bureau. It feels as if I am giving up on myself, my history and my family every time I check that box. This is more than a lack of inclusion and progression but rather an entire race or ethnic group being ignored. By checking this box, I would be doing a disservice to myself. I am not white. I don’t get the privilege to be.