I have a question for you to ponder. What on earth is “ethnicity” and why on earth does it matter in the United States?
Have you ever had to fill out one of those pieces of paper, whether it’s a medical form or job application, that asks you to state your “ethnicity?” Honestly, this whole concept of ethnicity doesn’t make much sense in the United States or pretty much anywhere else in today’s world. If you live in the U.S. you can be pretty sure that the term ethnicity doesn’t matter all that much.
Take me for example. For those questions, I have fill in the bubble next to “Caucasian.” I’m not entirely sure when my family came to the U.S., but we’ve been here way too long for that bubble to matter. In my family alone, I’m pretty sure I have ancestors from every country in Europe. I also have three or so tribes of American Indians in my past, and we can’t rule out any African ancestors. So why do I have to check the bubble for Caucasian?
Another example could be a white guy from South Africa. Until last year, when I met two Kenyans, the only “African Americans” I ever knew were white kids from South Africa. So how does a person in that situation fill out one of those forms?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of “ethnic” is: “of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.”
By that definition, I’m better off labeling myself “homeschooler.”
But seriously, everyone in the U.S. could be considered a large ethnic group made up of smaller ethnic groups. Heck, each state has its own subculture. You can’t just lump in every person that could be considered Caucasian together in one big group. You can’t do that with any of those categories. There are too many other variables that matter.
Eventually, we are forced to realize that those forms are only asking about one thing. They are asking about our skin color.
I thought we were done with this. This is the year 2014. Why on earth do we care about skin color? Haven’t we realized by now that what color any part of our body is (whether that is skin, or hair, or eyes) doesn’t have anything to do with who we are as a person. In fact, it seems that where we live, who our parents are, what culture we are part of, and what our religion is has much more to do with who we are.
Wait a second. Let’s look back up at that definition. All of these things are part of what makes up a person’s ethnicity. Race, religion, culture, language. So it seems that those forms are asking the right question, but they’re giving us the wrong answers to choose from.
The big point I’m trying to make is that these forms are intrinsically flawed because they seek to put human beings into boxes. They are made to try to help people to understand who you are by analyzing your little box. The problem is that humans don’t fit into boxes. The people that fit into the category, Caucasian, are a very large group. If you meet a Caucasian person on the street, what does their Caucasian-ness tell you about them other than the fact that they have pinkish-tannish skin?
Any system that attempts to understand a large amount of people by putting them in little boxes is not going to work. It doesn’t matter if that box is their “ethnicity,” or their religion, or their political affiliations. People just don’t belong in a box.
I made this whole argument just to get to the central point of “people don’t belong in a box.” Now everyone say it with me: “Duh!”
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