Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Don't call me Caucasian

New York times contributor Shaila Dewan states her case that the term Caucasian is obsolete and has no place in American racial discussion.

Whatever the merits or flows of the term "Caucasian", Dewan offers no alternative term. In the age of diversity and sensitivity in reporting, "white" seems out of step. Reporters increasingly substitute African-American for Black, regardless of the actual preference of the person being interviewed. And it would be suicidal for any reporter to label Asian-Americans as "yellow" or Native Americans as "red". Why has "white" survived?

European-American is a consistent term with African-American and Asian-American, as it speaks to geographical origin versus color. However white Americans identify strongest with the country of their descent, (i.e. Italy, Ireland) versus the entire continent. That is why we have Italian-American social clubs, and why Irish-Americans come out to celebrate Saint Patrick's day. But you won't see any European-American parades. 

While Dewan actually articulates that relationship in her piece, the ties to nationality are clearly lost on her. In describing her mixed race heritage to neighbors, for blacks it was enough to simply describe the skin color of her white ancestors. Meanwhile whites actually press her for more information. Where are they from originally? The white neighbors weren't satisfied until they actually heard the name of a country.

It's important to point out this is how the United States Census Bureau regards "whiteness". The decennial survey asks detailed information from it's Hispanics and Asians respondents, but not for whites. Your family could be recent immigrants from Albania. Your grandparents could be Jewish Holocaust survivors. Or maybe your ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. No matter to the Census Bureau: you are white, you're all the same, we don't care for any details!

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