Have you ever wondered why every known application on file, whether for a loan, college, job, or survey, requires you to choose an ethnicity? Not a nationality, but an ethnic group. Why? How does one’s ethnicity affect one’s job performance or worth? It doesn’t, anymore than one’s gender does.
So what’s the big deal with labeling someone by ethnicity? I have Native American blood running through my veins (Cherokee on my mother’s side, Seminole on my dad’s), but not enough according to someone’s flow chart to “claim” that heritage, as if a 64th Cherokee is some how less Indian than a 32nd. On the other hand, my daughter often claims she’s “white Asian” and my husband has been identified as “Hispanic” not because of their skin, but because of their hearts. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I checked the “other” box on those forms instead of “Caucasian”? Today, I’m feeling Japanese. Konichiwa. There are days when I do have more in common with someone from Japan than America in terms of cultural values. Or maybe, I’ll write in “Martian”; after all I’ve identified Mars as my home planet since junior high days when I formed the Misfits from Mars club for those of us who didn’t fit into rural Oklahoma junior high society.
If gender can be a choice, why not ethnicity? If we see everyone as human, then ethnicity doesn’t matter. It’s one less thing we have to fight about or use to denigrate someone else. People adopt different ethnicities all the time, from the city slicker who chooses to live in the country to the missionary who chooses to live among a different people group. We adapt to that culture, sometimes changing our manner of dress, speech, what we eat, and even our name. Some folks don’t start out that way, but are soon “adopted” by the people they are living among. If the locals see us as the same, why can’t we claim it? My daughter was born in Ecuador to American parents. She claims both ethnicities, even though she can only have an America passport (Ecuador doesn’t allow dual citizenship). She has also spent considerable time working with the Maya, and so inside she feels more Hispanic than white.
I can already hear the protests. What about driver’s licenses and passports? They have to have ethnicity on them to prevent falsification. Oh really? If I’m intent on stealing someone else’s passport, it isn’t going to be that hard to change the ethnicity part. Several years ago, while we were overseas someone “borrowed” my husband’s passport. The first we knew about it was when we were coming back into the States a year later and he was flagged at the airport for having been in Boston the previous year. He was flagged, not the person who stole his passport. You have to understand my husband is a 6′ 3″ white guy and the person who used his passport obviously wasn’t. But the immigration officials stopped him, not the perp. So ethnicity on a passport isn’t helpful at all.
I guess I will still tick the “white” box just to avoid unpleasantness when filling out paperwork, but know that in my heart I’m rebelling. The more my current ethnicity moves away from who I am, the closer I will come to checking “other.” Ciao.