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’.
‘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.
‘It isn’t anything to be embarrassed about’.
‘I’m not embarrassed about anything’.
‘Well, I’ll just put you down as White Other’.
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.