05 August 2010


I am on lab duty this whole week. That means that I am the only person in the lab working, and whenever a participant comes in, I have to process them and conduct the experiments with them by setting up the computer, and all such things.

Whenever a participant comes in, I have to process them first. What this means is that I have to check the system whether they have previously been in the lab before. The reason for this is due to sampling issues. You don't want to have a participant participate in the same experiment twice. That statistically messes up your data, and also due to the fact that they have seen the experiment before, their reactions to the stimuli will not be the same compared to if they are doing the experiment for the very first time.

Anyway, whenever I process a person, I ask this person several questions so that his or her biographical information will be recorded in the database. I enter their full name, their student number, their contact number, their first language, whether they wear glasses or contact lenses, and whether they are participating in the experiment for course credit or not. And also, due to the fact that our experiments are federally funded, we have to ensure that we are sampling participants from a wide range of populations. So we ask them three questions, and the participants have the legal right to actually decline answering these questions if they don't feel like it.

Question number 1: what do you think your gender is?

Question number 2: are you 18 years old or over?

Question number 3: of the following 6 choices (American Indian/Alaskan native; Black/African-American, Asian, White, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander), which do you identify the most with?

So here's the rather interesting thing. I've never encountered a native Hawaiian participant before. I show people the screen and let them choose for this one actually, as it's easier than enumerating all of the choices. Caucasians always say that they are "white", and Asians and Hispanics also say that they are "Asian" or "Hispanic/Latino". However, when it comes to African-American participants, they always say "the second one".

And this makes me wonder, why?

Why is it that they don't want to say that they are "African-American" or "black"? Is it an over-interpretation if I say that it might be because they think that by saying it, it actually makes the fact that they are black is true, and they don't want that? Why be ashamed or embarrassed by the fact that one's skin color is darker than others? I understand that there is an immense history of unfairness against blacks and African-Americans in the past, and perhaps even at the present time, but this is no reason to deny the fact that one's skin color is black. Is it the mindset of African-Americans that if they don't voice the fact that they are black, this fact would disappear?

Personally, I actually do not think that this question is necessary. Research should sample from every type of person regardless of their skin color, as skin color just shouldn't matter. After all, I would like to think that my research is about language and how it is processed in the brain, regardless of which race that brain belongs to. However, I also understand that the federal government sometimes has to make things explicit and check whether research labs are sampling equally, and with that they have to institute this question. It is perhaps because humans still have the superiority complex, and sometimes these should be checked or else bad things will happen.

(Temple Rock, from my Qorikancha Series)


  1. I don't care about PC and I usually say Black, since a lot of my black friends don't recognize themselves as "African- something". Why the taboo of saying black? I don't get it.

  2. Zhu,

    I don't get it either. At least for me, I am proud to be Asian, and I won't pretend to be someone else.