State Your Ethnicity

What do you think of forms which require you to state your ethnicity?

Do you find it interesting when you’re asked to fill in your ethnic background on many types of official forms nowadays? Everything from the dentist, the doctor, educational facilities, hospitals. They all want to know our ethnicity. I’m never quite sure why. Now when it comes to the 5 yearly census form, that I understand, but all these others? well they’re a bit of a mystery to me.

Here in New Zealand the space they provide for your answer is often quite small, or else they have set suggestions to tick as to what applies to you. Some forms allow you to tick more than one option, while others assume you have only one ethnic footprint. I doubt whether there are many people in today’s world who can attest to being purely of one ethnic group, but as I’ve never done any research into this subject I could well be wrong.How far back in our ancestry are we supposed to go when describing our ethnicity? Do we look only at our parents and perhaps our grandparents, or do we trace our whakapapa (family line) back as many generations as we know? For any of us lucky enough to have our family traced back for maybe a thousand years, they must surely have more ‘variety’ in their ethnicity. This, of course, then raises another question. If you are unaware of your ancestry, are the responses you make on these forms correct? I don’t see how you can say yes. Ahh! This then questions the validity of peoples’ responses and provides some rather grey areas in the compilation of such statistics.

Something that annoys me personally is that in New Zealand, we don’t seem to be allowed to be a New Zealander on any of these forms. If we want to be registered at whatever facility taking the information as a New Zealander, we are forced to tick “Other” under the long list of choices and then write in our appropriate ethnicity. I always do this, its probably pointless but it’s me thumbing my nose at the bureaucracy of the wording of these forms.

I note the dictionary definition of ethnic as meaning “pertaining to or characteristic of a race, people or cult; pertaining to the culture or traditions of a particular race or cult.” So in this instance I am using the word in a much broader sense than attaining to a person’s skin colour.

Do similar forms exist in other countries? In USA are you expected to indicate that you are of Germanic descent, or Russian, or Scandinavian? Are you then asked to break break down your ethnicity still further? Are African or Native Americans presented with the expectation of them knowing the country of their ancestry (surely an impossibility for most) or tribal groups?  In the UK do you indicate you are from Celt, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norse or Norman ancestry? Or is all this who ha about ethnicity just another indication of political correctness gone crazy?

I have friends who have very interesting ethnic backgrounds. She had a mother who is half Swiss and half Dutch and a father who was a first generation New Zealander with Scottish and English parents. Her husband’s parents are a mix of Maori, Japanese, Welsh and Australian. I wonder what group their children choose to put on any forms when asked to state their ethnicity. And even more interesting is how families continue to evolve. In this family, one of their daughters is now married to a Samoan. Her children will have eight choices from her side and who knows how many from her husband’s side. To be truly truthful on these forms, we obviously need a lot more space.

I guess this post has little to do with writing romantic fiction or being a romance writer but it does touch on my other great passion, genealogy.

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