“May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

"This report is maybe 12-years-old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear because there's a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, 10, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people . . . better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave." ~ Captain Malcom Reynolds

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's in a label?

First off, please go read this story:

"White African-American Suing NJ Med School for Discrimination"


Let's see - my wife grew up in Africa, her folks still live there. In fact she's spent more time living there than she has in the States. For years she has identified herself more as an African than an American in many cultural ways - for she often feels a foreigner in the country she is a citizen of. Plus let's consider the fact that her ancestry includes within recent generations Cherokee, various Celts, and the other mixes common to our immigrant nation. So, is she an American, and African, a Native American or what?

Or there's me. Who in the past three generations has seen a mix of Ute, Scots border/English, German, Russian and who knows what blend together under one roof. I've always identified with the native side, whereas I have other family members who don't want to imagine anything non-Caucasian being mixed in. The same as she has family who still thinks her mom "married a Yankee" because her father is from Virginia originally. And these are just the labels we deal with in our own families, much less when dealing outside that kith & kin.

Now we've blended that together in our children, who will have their own time figuring out which label they wish to use. And whichever they choose, they will also face the labels society puts upon them both by their own choices and by their appearances...

But who gets to decide, and what makes it so? Does the fact of someone's ethnicity make them "more" or "less" an American, or an African, or an Asian than another? Or does geography decide it? I know whites from Africa, Mexico, Hong Kong, and just about every place else - does that make them African, Mexican, or Asian? The same as I know blacks from America, the same zip codes in Mexico, and the Philippines - are they still "African-whatever?" How many generations does it take for us to realize that we define our own cultures and needs, not what we look like? Because honestly, the majority of "African Americans" in this country have been here for generations - long past the point of having any cultural connection to another continent; the same as again a great majority of Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans and whatever else you choose have also long been separated from their land of origin.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for maintaining your family identity and roots - for by remembering our pasts we can place ourselves in the context of the present. But we also need to learn when to move beyond these labels and embrace the place we have come to.

I certainly don't expect my brief musings on the subject to fix the cultural problems that continue to plague this planet. But I'm curious as to anyone else with similar experiences & your thoughts on the subject.


Gothelittle Rose said...

I'm in the curious area where I'm expected to mark "white" and take on all the "oppression" jargon that goes along with it, even though my mother's English ancestors fled to America with little more than their lives and the clothes on their back and spent most of our generations poor. :)

Of course, it isn't quite that easy. I'm Jewish by blood on my father's side, but the Jews only count it on the mother's side, so I'm not actually considered 'Jewish'. Plus on my mother's side, just a couple of generations up, is Portuguese. Is Portuguese considered Hispanic? Can I start marking that one now? I might not get away with it, since my skin tone is between porcelain and ivory.

Since my father's side (Ukrainian Jew and English) and my mother's side (English, Jewish, Scottish, German, Swedish, French, Portuguese) have only one thing in common, I like to call myself a "Euromutt".

My husband is mostly Italian, and my children both have darker skin than I do... and very blue eyes. My son in particular goes brown instead of olive in the sun, and I bet he could mark "Hispanic" and not be challenged on it.

I'll tell you one thing mentioned in your post that is more "me" than any of the above tags... Yankee. :D

Captain Tightpants said...

Similar problems here - I didn't even get into the religious questions it adds, especially with conversions, name changes, and all that...

I think the people who take the long view are right - in another 100 years will we really have as many ethnic separations as we do now?

Of course, then it will be the old-time Earthers discriminating against those backwards Martian colonists, who don't like the upstarts out in the asteroid belts...