Ethnic Origin


I am fairly dark-skinned, often I am mistaken for someone who might be from Southern Europe.

When I was living in Italy, I had real difficulties trying to persuade people I was English as I didn’t ‘look’ English. I don’t really think about it too much – especially living in London as so many people are so many mixtures of so many things around here.

But recently I was at hospital for myself and I was asked my ethnic origin. I go with ‘White British’ but the nurse confronted me

‘No, I mean originally?’

‘Um, I might be quite dark because I’m Jewish?’ I offered as an explanation

‘No, that’s your religion, what is your ethnicity?’

‘Well, if it explains how I look, can’t it count as an ethnicity?’ – she didn’t really get that and persisted.

‘’No, that’s religion, what’s your ethnicity?’

I didn’t really want to argue the point any more. She didn’t seem in the mood for the ‘religion vs ethnicity debate’.

‘White British’.

‘Where are your parents from, I mean?’

‘Er.. England and Scotland’

‘’OK, where were their parents from?’

I wasn’t annoyed so  much as confused at this point.

‘England’.

‘It isn’t anything to be embarrassed about’.

‘I’m not embarrassed about anything’.

‘Well, I’ll just put you down as White Other’.

Sigh.

I don’t really mind if I’m ‘other’ or ‘British’ to be honest – and moments like that, I’m happier with ‘other’ but I think I have been too used to our own experiences of ensuring that people define their own ethnicity.

I was surprised to be challenged so heartily although it isn’t life changing, I just found it bemusing.It also allowed me some thought about the ways that we categorise people whether formally or informally as a part of our own thought processes and internal judgements we are making. I suppose the nurse was externalising what she was thinking but I also considered my own reaction to being questioned or to have the feeling that someone didn’t believe quite what I was saying to them or devaluing my own perceptions about myself.

8 thoughts on “Ethnic Origin

  1. Wow. That would have really pissed me off, to be honest. Slightly different, but a nurse once refused to accept that my then-partner had no religion during an admission interview, and insisted on putting him down as Cof E. I was fuming then, too. Your nurse sounds disturbingly ignorant.

  2. Hang on…. You are a British citizen, I presume? Therefore why has she put White Other???
    Silly Nurse – sounds like some of my collegues….

  3. I really hate having to constantly fill in ethnicity questionnaires for just about anything that you apply for today and particularly when it comes to medical treatment. I am not dark skinned, in fact I am rather pale, but when I am in Greece (Corfu usually) people automatically assume that I am Greek. On one occasion when I was in Corfu I was at a friends house for the celebrations for her husband’s name day. My friend is English and her husband is Greek. There were quite a few people present including friend’s mother-in-law who sat beside me chatting to me in Greek and then seemed somewhat surprised when friend said that I was English and didn’t speak Greek. Mother-in-law immediately asked if my friend was sure about that because I definitely looked Greek.

  4. Oh for pity’s sake. I think this nurse needs a bit of retraining on these issues.

    I have light brown hair (well I did until I went grey) and blue eyes. Should I be White Scandinavian then (my very distant heritage)? Or maybe white Aryan.

  5. That’s just so wrong. We are always told that ethnicity is self-defined, I could tell them I was a Black African and if that is how I define then that is what goes on the form…

  6. The only thing I can say is “Wow!” Of course working with nurses all day, I can say that many of them can be a bit hard-headed and stubborn! But, wow!

  7. It was really bizarre and caught me off guard because I was just so surprised by it to be honest! And it by no means reflects my experiences of nurses that I have worked with and been treated by, i hasten to add! I think that we are so used to self-definition being the absolute corner-stone that I was just gobsmacked!

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