The term "integration" usually brings to mind images of blacks and whites, living and working together. But to a real minority of us, integrated is what we are, in biological actuality.

Being a racially-indistinct offspring of a black father and a white mother, I never know what someone will assume I am, or when I'll next be asked the inevitable question -- "What nationality are you?"

My nationality is American, but that doesn't explain my looks.

I was raised by my mother's family in Portland, Ore., where race isn't much of an issue. The black population is slightly over 3 percent, and "all others" total less than a single percentage point.

Unbelievably, I had never seen a black until I was 3. In the '50s, blacks were invisible on television. In a restaurant one day, I noticed -- with amazement -- a black family. "Mommy!" I blurted. "Why are those people black? Did they get burned?"

By the time I started school, I realized that people came in many colors, and that I was a mixture of two. In Portland, this led automatically to a certain celebrity.

For instance, one morning as a first grader, I found a dozen little girls waiting for me before school. They mobbed me, rubbing my head and giggling. They wanted to feel my hair. The little boys got jealous. I had a lot of girlfriends.

Then there was the time I sat in our living room -- the door open on a warm summer evening -- listening to the neighborhood troublemaker shouting "Half-breed!" But that was about the same era of Burt Reynolds portraying a half-Indian blacksmith on "Gunsmoke" and getting the same treatment.

I figured if he could take it, so could I.

But there were times when, as I got older, being different was traumatic.

I recall particularly an eighth-grade incident, when a group of boys chided me with whispers of "nigger" after I'd more or less asked for it by teasing a slow-witted classmate with scoffs of "retard." I went home and cried for a few hours, and made plans for starting a country where only facially-mixed people were allowed.

My racial characteristics are ambiguous, and there is an amazing range to what people guess that I am. At age 10, my grandfather took me to a baseball game, where I sat next to a black boy about my age. After staring at me for a time, the little fellow inquired: "Is you black, or is you white?"

In high school, a friend sent a lovenote to a girl in my algebra class and signed my name to it. After school I was cross-examined by her friends as to my "nationality;" she "didn't want to be hanging around with a foreigner or something."

Having had my naturally tightcurled hair straightened on two occasions (first for the heck of it, then because I lost a bet with a beautician), I was asked often if I were Indian and/or Mexican.

Once, a group of Iranian students refused to believe I wasn't of Arab descent. I was simply trying, they had decided, to evade my political responsibility of denouncing the shah.

I've often been in the company of whites who, assuming I'm one of them, proceed to exchange a barrage of crude "nigger" jokes.

Most commonly, I'm told that I resemble Anwar Sadat (with hair), Jimi Hendrix (without so much), or Carlos Santana.

I have the most fun announcing that I'm one-quarter each of white, black, Indian and Asian, a regular one-man United Nations.

And how well documented are interracial individuals? The Census Bureau, by its own admission," . . . does not . . . reflect a clear-cut definition of biological stock."

From the 1979 edition of Statistical Abstracts:

"For census purposes, the population is divided into three major groups on the basis of race: white, black, and other.

"In 1970 the father's race was used for persons of mixed parentage who were in doubt as to their classification."

And biracial individuals in 1980?

"We're not gonna have 'anything like that" replied the clerk in the Census Bureau information department. "They have to be one or the other."

"Then how can it be determined how many people of mixed race actually exist?"

"I don't know. I'll have to give you another number."

Two phone calls later, I was connected with someone who was a little more specific.

"Our instructions," he said, "are to try to encourage individuals to identif with one race or another. In the case such as you used -- half white, half black -- we would either select the category of the individual's mother, or use the first category designated."

So if I listed "black/white," I'd be recorded black. This has never made Bureau, by its own admission," . . . does not . . . reflect a clear-cut definition of biological stock."

From the 1979 edition of Statistical Abstracts:

"For census purposes, the population is divided into three major groups on the basis of race: white black, and other.

"In 1970 the father's race was used for persons of mixed parentage who were in doubt as to their classification."

And biracial individuals in 1980?

"We're not gonna have 'anything like that," replied the clerk in the Census Bureau information department. "They have to be one or the other."

"Then how can it be determined how many people of mixed race actually exist?"

"I don't know. I'll have to give you another number."

Two phone calls later, I was connected with someone who was a little more specific.

"Our instructions," he said, "are to try to encourage individuals to identify with one race or another. In the case such as you used -- half white, half black -- we would either select the category of the individual's mother, or use the first category designated."

So if I listed "black/white," I'd be recorded black. This has never made sense to me. If I'm nonwhite, I'm also nonblack. I'm both. Why list people for what they aren't?

"Provisions are not available for mixed racial designations except in the classification of 'other,'" said the man. "We have to clean it up."

From The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences:

"Few races are biologically pure. The principal racial minorities of the United States all have members with some Caucasoid ancestry. The dominant white majority generally chooses to overlook the fact that they, too, are not 'pure' . . . many whom they accept as white have some Negroid or Mongoloid ancestry."

Meanwhile, as one for whom integration is an imperishable condition, I'd like to see more precision in classification. Not for the sake of more labels, but for the truth.

I am, as Popeye would say, what I am.