Based on my appearance many people would find it absurd if I described myself as ‘white’. It might even be taken to be racist in some way. But why is my statement odd, racist or politically incorrect in any sense when it is now acceptable for a person to biologically be a man on the inside but call themselves a women with or without surgically altering their appearance? Surely I know who I am and can label myself as I please?
My question has arisen from a recent scandal in the sporting world with regards to the phrase ‘choc ice’ being used to describe footballer Ashley Cole. You might have heard similar terms like ‘coconut’ or ‘banana’, maybe ‘oreo’, but what do they mean? How can you be ‘black’ on the inside, when physically you are of a different ethnicity? By associating certain traits or characteristics with skin colour are you not being prejudiced?
In London racism is seen as a sensitive issue, but I believe the problem has been hugely exacerbated through selective over-awareness. People are annoyingly mindful of their words being perceived as racist towards the afro-carribean group, the term ‘black’ is often met with wincing a quick scan of the surrounding area and social awkwardness for the next 5 minutes, yet the term ‘white’ is used freely. Similarly you often have work placements open to ‘BME’ (Black Minority Ethnic) groups only but you never come across schemes that are only open to ‘white’ people. Even the phrases ‘proud to be white’ and ’proud to be black’, though identical in meaning come across very differently, one borderline racist the other proud of heritage.
There are many government initiatives that reserve places for certain ethnic groups but how does this make things equal? Guilt or ‘debt’ felt for mistreatment in the past will not be excused or absolved by such schemes; by giving one group a leg up you are inadvertently handing them a license to carry the difficult history chip on their shoulder for life, which fuels unwarranted future resentment. Moreover it antagonizes other ethnic groups who do not share the same benefits, particularly those on the poverty line.The best way to make things equal is to eliminate questions that reveal ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, name and any other variables that give grounds for discrimination based on identity when choosing suitable applicants, ensuring they are judged off ability alone.
Eliminating ethnicity makes things a lot easier on a personal level as coming from a mixed background it is often difficult to clearly define my origin. Having been born and bred in London the problem of nationality is also thrown into the mix. If the next 5 generations of my family are born and bred in the U.K would they still be classed as Asian, and if so what type of Asian? This might seem like a small issue but on a macro-level it has a more profound effect, mainly hostility between groups of people, and even nations, who have misaligned definitions of their ethnicity.
A well-known example of this problem are the Parsis, a branch of the Zoroastrians of Iran who immigrated to India during the 10th century AD to avoid persecution by Arab invaders. Many Parsis are met with scorn and derisive comments when claiming to be of Iranian descent, which is ironic given most Iranians despite what they say are mixed with influences from many peoples including Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Jews and countless others. It’s amusing to note that Parsi Freddie Mercury who was born in Zanzibar and brought up in India is seen as Persian by the very same people.
I find it interesting that people feel the strong need to belong to a group and make others aware of which group they are a part of. Of course you should take pride in your inherited culture but the most important parts of a person, their personality and values, are a mish mash of many influences from ethnic background to books read and encounters with others. Each of these have an equally significant impact on shaping character, to contribute that all to one influence would be absurd.