Saturday, July 4, 2009

Race or Ethnicity? Who chooses?

Black or white? Somewhere in between?
How do you describe yourself, or prefer to be described?

In today's society - it it getting harder and harder to put people into categories.

Me - I'm Irish/Italian like so many Beantowners... people may say I'm "white" due to my pigment-challenged skin tone (thanks Dad). My Husband - A whole list of things that I'm not even sure he is sure of! Begian (from Barbados), Native American - Blackfoot, French, Russian, African-American... African American... or Black? He says "Black" because, as he puts it, "that's how people see me" so for future reference people - I'm going with his wishes and using "Black" for the sake of this discussion.

If we must choose a label - which label do you choose? If you were filling out the United States Federal Census in 2000, the there are 15 options. One of which is "some other race", and if you are Asian or Native American you have boxes to fill in your specifics. If you are "Black" you are either "Black, African American," or (ahem) "Negro". Now, in Beantown - "Negro" isn't a word we use - maybe it is elsewhere, but I was surprised to see it on the census. And if you are "White" you are just white. There is no "Irish" no "Italian" not even "European" I'd like a box to specify. I think my Grandparents may appreciate a little recognition.

Hey - How about AMERICAN? or is that a bad word?

To see the form:
Yes, you can check more than one... but why check any? Should we fill in "some other race" as "human"? If there were no computers - who keeps track of the billions of blends found in the US? Anyone have a statistics degree? Sheesh....
I'm more than "White". My husband is more than "Black"
Our daughter... well... is there a check box on the census for "cute"?
Now that that is off my chest - I'm off to bed.
Happy 4th of July people!


  1. Maria -- I find race and ethnicity census questions frustrating, too. Since I was a child, I've felt more brown than white. But how does one classify a person who is half Maltese on a census form?

    Given that most people do not actively (or should I say knowingly? how many people see my father's dark hair and skin and think he's Hispanic or Arabic?) discriminate against Maltese people, it makes sense that there is no category on the census form for my father. For better or worse, the choices are laregely the result of laws aimed at protecting particular groups of people.

    What worries me is when will our laws address discrimination against Arabic and Middle Eastern people? Where do they fit on a census form? If I were of Middle Eastern descent, would I feel comfortable identifying myself as such on a government form?

    Thankfully for me (if not necessarily for everyone), the new census/American Community Survey combo includes a question about ancestry. When the census arrives at my home, I plan to write in Maltese, Ukrainian, and -- as you suggest -- human.

  2. Well said Susan!

    Is this when I'm supposed to say: "What is Maltese?" seeing as though it wasn't on the census it must not count right? It's so crazy.

    Maybe they should have you note the ANCESTRY of your Parents, Grandparents if it's all that important.

    I will tell you this - in researching my own Geneology I was left with a question whether or not my Grandfather was part English and not 100% Irish.... OMG!! The shame (actually - my Grandmother would have fought that tooth and nail) SO, having Ancestry noted is wonderful and I can't wait to see the new forms.

    Sadly, in researching my Husbands Ancestry I have found at a certain point "black" "Negro" and "Mulatto" people aren't allowed on the census - they are listed only by sex and age under "Slave Schedules". I just sat and looked at that for a long time wondering which one of the "Negro" males was his Great Great Grandfather...

    So if I wasn't to squeeze a positive out of that - we are evolving... I think we could use some caffeine though. ;-)