Five forms of blackness

An intern from HR arrived two days after I started. She had a half-lisp which made its appearance only inside of words. I found this kind of cute, but then she produced a form.

“You mutht fill out thith form,” Angela said. “Sign it and drop it off at the HR offith when you’re done.”

The form asked all the normal HR-type questions—addresses, tax numbers, allergies, the name of a relative they could contact if I had a seizure at the office and ran around naked—those sorts of things. Then there was a question about race—I am, it said—followed by checkboxes next to White, Black, Mixed, and Asian. I drew a line through that section, wrote Not Applicable along it, and returned the form to HR.

Angela came to my desk the next day with a new form.

“You methed up the rathe part,” she said and placed the new form in front of me.

“I didn’t,” I said. “It isn’t applicable.”

“It ith,” she said. “It’th a government rule. They track affirmative acthion that way.”

“Even more reason not to fill it out,” I said.

No one had done this to her before.

“You have to,” she said.

“OK,” I said. “I’ll try.”

The next day she was back with the second form. She didn’t look very friendly.

“You checked the black boxth,” she said.


“So, you’re not black!”

I sat back in my chair.

“How do you know?” I asked.

Angela glanced around at others sitting close by.

“I can see,” she whispered.

“And how can you see that?”

“Well,” she said, glancing around, “you’re white. That’th how.”

“That’s why I refuse to fill this out,” I said. “For years we judged people by what they looked like, and now the government wants me to do that again, after we’re supposed to have stopped doing it. And,” I added, “they’ve tricked you into doing it too.”

“But you’re white,” she said with some venom.

“Angela,” I said, “I look white, I know. But actually I’m black.”

“You’re not!”

“Can you imagine the shit I went through as a kid, being black, looking like this?”

Angela looked me over for a few seconds.

“If you’re so black,” she said, “how come you don’t sound black? How come you have a white name?”

“Angela,” I said, “I had many disadvantages growing up. After I was abandoned by my mother, I was placed with white foster parents, no doubt because of what I looked like. I never learned an African language. Can you imagine that?”

Angela shoved the form across my desk.

“Don’t be a smart-ath,” she hissed. “Jutht fill it out.”

The next day she was back with the third form. She’d brought the head of HR along. Norm was an un-HR-ish giant, and he got to the point.

“You appear to have added beige to the races on this form,” he said. “What are you trying to do?”

“Well,” I said, “the form doesn’t list beige, but I look beige.”

“You’re white,” Angela said from behind Norm.

“I’m black,” I corrected her. “I only look beige. You said you could tell that I was white by the way I looked, so I figured I’d go by looks then.”

“I didn’t—” Angela began.

“Jesus!” Norm erupted. “I don’t care if you’re purple and look transparent! Just tick white and sign the damn thing.”

“Actually,” I said, “I look sort of pink. I didn’t want to add pink because it sounded communist.”

“White!” Norm snapped and tapped the form. “Tick. Sign.”

Then he turned and left.

The next day Angela was back with the fourth form. Norm was with her.

“What the FUCK is your problem!?” he exclaimed.

The guy at the desk next to me tried to get up and leave but Norm motioned for him to remain where he was.

“How dumb do you think we are?” he resumed.

“Well—” I began.

“When I said to tick the white box,” Norm fumed, “I didn’t mean that you could fucking write the word NOT next to it!”

“Do you want me to lie?” I asked.

“Jesus Christ!” Norm exploded. “How hard is this? Just tick white and sign the fucking thing!”

He gestured around.

“We all did!”

“Sure,” I said, “but you’re all white.”

At this, Norm calmed down.

“And you’re black?” he asked after a few moments.

I was getting a little worried. He looked too calm.

“What is the point of this form?” I asked.

“It’th a regulathion—” Angela started.

“No,” I interrupted. “I mean, why do I need to fill it out when you seem to know what it should say?”

“You have to sign—” Angela began.

“I know what he means,” Norm snapped. “Let’s go.”

I never saw the form again.

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