Thursday, July 14, 2011

Did you know I am white?

Yesterday I was asked a question that I get quiet often, it was some version of, "Why don't you apply for minority scholarship/fellowship X it would be such a good opportunity for you?"

To which I said "I am not considered a minority, I am white."

"But you are not white!"

"Thank you, yes, I am aware that I am not white. But the US government considers me white"


"Yes, really."

Always, people are surprised. You see despite the fact that I was born in a middle-eastern country and am visibly brown, and speak a different language fluently, my ethnicity is considered Caucasian. So yes, I look 'other' and often deal with idiotic racial statements, usually because I mistaken for being Mexican or Muslin. However, I am not technically considered a minority, I am white. Yeah I know I look brown and foreign but trust me I am white, in the same class of white as Irish people and English people and the founding fathers. Crazy right?

Why am I classified as Caucasian? How was it decided that Middle-eastern people are white(ish)? I don't think the average American thinks of someone from Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran/Syria etc as being Caucasion. Probably most people think of Middle-easterns as being Muslim, which is a religion not a race people! (I will rant about that at some other time). Seriously though, ethnicity has no genetic basis, so why are Middle-easterns white?

Well according to my old friend wikipedia the 19th/20th century definition of the Caucasian race is based on 

"The study into race and ethnicity in the 18th and 19th centuries developed into what would later be termed scientific racism. During the period of the mid-19th to mid-20th century, race scientists, including most physical antropologists classified the world's populations into three, four, or five races, which, depending on the authority consulted, were further divided into various sub-races. During this period the Caucasian race, named after people of the Caucasus Mountains but extending to all Europeans, figured as one of these races, and was incorporated as a formal category of both scientific research and, in countries including the United States, social classification."
Sweet! So I am white based on the racist definitions of people from the 1800s. 

The current U.S. Census definition includes white "people having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa. The cultural boundaries separating white Americans from other racial or ethnic categories are contested and always changing. According to John Tehranian, among those not considered white at some points in American history have been: the IrishGermansJews,ItaliansSpaniardsHispanicsSlavs, and Greeks. Studies have found that while current parameters officially encompassed Arabs as part of the White American racial category, many Arab Americans from other places feel ... that they are not white and are not perceived as white by American society.

So basically I am such a minority that I am not considered a minority? Or I am white until white people don't want to be classified in the same group as me. In a post 9/11 world where being Middle-eastern is much more noticed and known as 'other' might I some day be classified as non-white? Will I then be able to apply for new and different funding sources? It is all so confusing and weird and arbitrary.

At least I can be sure that I will always be female. Maybe I should double check that, hold on....

yup still have a vagina, still female. Good to know.

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