I said what, what?

While answering questions about my sexual/reproductive history and intentions for a CDC survey a few weeks ago, I surprised myself. Not on how I answered the questions about cocaine and crack usage or whether I have had "sexual intercourse with a man in the rectum or butt (also known as anal sex)," but on the demographics questions.

The question about race has been confusing for me since I was in high school and I mostly get around that by not answering the question whenever I can. This wasn't an option but I did get to "check all that apply" which is second best. I grew up being told by my family that I was one thing and being seen by the rest of the world as another. I didn't have the concept of biracialism until I was a teenager and at times even that label has felt like selling out. Knowing that I will be faced with answering what race I am always causes some anxiety. What are the consequences of my answer/non-answer? It's stressful, more so even than talking about my sexual history with a complete stranger while she takes notes, but it's a known stress.

I know if I am going to be asked to check a box next to a racial category I'm going worry about whether or not I've made the right choice for a little while afterwards. I didn't realize that answering some of the religion questions would be so hard. "Christian, other" has become easy. I'm a Christian and I'm perfectly comfortable with the term and just about everything it implies. But then there was this follow-up question, asking me to check off words that applied to me like:
  • fundamentalist
  • born-again
  • conservative
  • evangelical
Three out of four were easy. I am not a fundamentalist. I am not conservative in the way that they mean. I am not evangelical. But born-again? I'm not like the Born-Again Christians I grew up around and I think eternal life sounds like a punishment, not a reward, and
I'm not convinced that Christ is the only way for everyone, but...
I do know that I had a life-changing spiritual experience in which I felt baptized in the Holy Spirit, which is really similar to that bit about being born again in the third chapter of John so maybe I am a born-again Christian. And now the CDC knows it.

Elizabeth Bathurst


James Naylor said...

Now some of us in research would say that is exactly what is wrong with trying to place life into neat boxes and quantifying lived experience so we can run ANOVA's on it...that is why you must mix your methods...because life isn't neat and easily compartmentalized...born again has its cultural connotations as does bi-racial. Of couse, there is no way I will ever get my one woman revolution for more mixed methods in "scientific" research off the ground (proud social scientist that I am). But like in Quakerism as in research and life there is no substitute for the lived experience. And I still love you, even if you are born again and will totally mess with the statisticians (and the beauty is they will never know). And on a personal note the more survey instruments I construct the more I have come to dislike racial catagories...not that I was ever particularily found of them anyway.

RichardM said...

The evangelical types have tried and to a large part succeeded in coopting the term "Christian." The average American takes "Christian" to be synonymous with what Frankin Graham preaches and everybody else is really Christian. They have succeeded even more with "born again." I think liberal Christians need to claim both "Christian" and "born again."