I hate identifying myself as 'white.'
I remember that when I first learned the term in a social studies class in second grade, I was confused. I knew my Sesame Street color songs. Looking at my skin, it didn't match white. It was a sort of light brownish-beige color. 'White' implied ghosts, corpses, terror, or anxiety—things associated with blood loss. My heart was still pumping away quite obliviously. It's a function of the human body.
I also remember another kid looking around at the rest of the adorable seven year-olds and asking why there weren't any 'blacks' in the classroom. There was only one black student at the time in my entire Catholic elementary school, as far as I know. The teacher never answered the question. Four years later, that kid's mother didn't want to send him to my house to play because I lived in a 'difficult neighborhood.' Too many people with skin darker than mine in the general vicinity of my address, you see.
In biological terms, race has no grounding in science. There is no such thing as a 'Black' gene, or an 'Asian' protein, or a 'Hispanic' neural substrate. Humanity as a species is remarkably uniform in comparison to its geographic spread.
But in social terms, race is an unavoidably influential and important feature of human interaction. The course of people's lives are deeply affected by the categorization of human beings into separate and exclusive categories based on skin color, hair color, or facial features—not even considering sub- or super-categorization according to gender, language, religion, sexual orientation, wealth, and the thousands of other factors that combine to make every human being a unique, conscious entity. Such matters are especially pressing in a country such as the United States, where every 'race' has a significant representation in the overall population. The concept of race may be scientifically laughable, but socially, race is deadly earnest.
Categorization according to race grows even more complicated in that, due to the bewildering currents of history, the relationships between each category within a certain cultural area aren't even linear. The child of a couple composed of one 'black' and one 'white' individual is generally still designated as 'black'—as though the other label had some sort of Venn diagram property that would tolerate no overlap. Such a child might also fall under a separate category of 'mulatto,' although it hasn't yet been established as to whether 'mulatto' crosses over into races to the either side of it after some designated number of generations. The child herself may choose either, or neither of these to identify with, but that doesn't guarentee anyone will pay her mind.
Unite an 'Asian' man or woman with a 'white' partner, and you result not in a new member of 'Asian,' but instead of 'half-Asian.' 'Half-Asian' seems to hold for subsequent children, even after the 'half' doesn't apply. The child is never called 'half-white.' A 'Jew' continues to be a 'Jew' for generations after anyone in her family practiced the religion—usually by choice. Sometimes not. An 'Indian' will always see himself greeted as such, even if his home language was actually Urdu.
I hate this. I hate the imposition of labels and the statistical divides and the bickering and the discrimination and all that comes with the excruciatingly complicated web of culture, language, and bias that weaves itself around something so stupid and irrelevent as the color of your skin or how much your nose sticks out or whether you have the chance of sickle-cell trait or the worst hangovers. My skin color is not 'white.' You can test it on a color wheel. The extended members of my family came from vastly different cultural backgrounds and would've been unable to communicate with each other, much less have anything to do with each other under normal circumstances. My footloose ancestors fit into completely different racial categories than those used today, such as 'kike,' 'kraut,' 'injun,' and 'dago.'
I don't understand why my great grandfather was a 'nigger' because his Sicilian tan placed him too dark on the spectrum, but now I'm a 'cracker' because my lack of tan places me too white. I don't understand why people who smile at me, a twenty-something looking kid they don't know in the slightest, would give an icy stare or something worse to an equally unknown person of the same age and gender whose ancestors happened to have been ripped from their homes and dragged across the sea in chains for enslavement on some Southern Gentleman's plantation. I don't understand why I get nervous when I walk by a group of guys speaking Spanish. I struggle to check the assumptions that infest my everyday judgement of the people I see, and grow to resent the guilt that inevitably follows failure. I am not a 'racially superior' mush. I am not party to some 'cultural heritage.' I'm a human being. That's all I want to be.
So whenever I register myself for one of the thousands of databases I'll be listed in with all my Defining Traits over the course of a lifetime, my pencil hovers over the little box that says, "Race." I'm certainly not Caucasian. As well as I'm aware, none my great-great-grandparents spoke Georgian. But I also know, somehow, that I am not African-American/Black, Hispanic, Native American, Arab, or Asian/Pacific Islander. If there's an Other box, I'll fill that in and move on without a qualm. It's my way of thrusting a subtle middle-finger at the whole mess. My placement and participation in the system affords me the ability to make that self-interested gesture. Other people, unfortunately, don't always have the luxury.
But many of these forms won't let the matter rest. Their writers require you to justify yourself for stepping outside the categories. "If Other, please Explain." Settling for the most dominant aspect of my heritage based on geography, I used to write "European-American."
I no longer do.
In recent American history, European-American has come to take on two meanings. The first is innocuous and obvious: anything to do with the interactions of people living in the United States with people living in Europe. For example, President George W. Bush is trying to mend European-American relations in the wake of the War in Iraq, European American Distributors LLC distributes music for classical record companies based on either side of the Atlantic, and the European American Chamber of Commerce San Francisco discusses and promotes business interests relevent to both continents.
The second meaning is something I find insidiously bigoted, a label I deeply regret having ever identified with in ignorance of its common usage. According to this definition, European-American is not a mixture of ancestors from various regions of the European continent. It's just another word for the most radical definition of 'white'—the sort of vicious racial conception that stresses purity, traditional heritage, superiority, and the right to dominance over anyone else who's not a member of the club. Subscribers to this definition tend overwhelming toward Christian and right-wing political persuasion, with a less pronounced lean toward the American South. I don't feel it right to call them 'conservatives,' as it is not the status quo they wish to maintain. They appear to aim for turning back the clock, returning the world to a time when they could rest easy as the only relevent, powerful, or visible dictators of American politics and culture. They are reversitives.
The more mature along these lines subscribe to think-tanks like the European American Issues Forum. In isolation, many of the issues they discuss would be endorsed by anyone. The history of Italian, German, and German Latin-American internment in the United States, for example, is little known in comparison to Japanese internment, which was more widespread and systematic during World War II. The numerical count of detainees does not bear any relevence to the individual suffering and historical lessons that can be learned from the failure of American government to protect the rights of all its citizens.
All the more unfortunate, then, that this issue is presented next to a petition for redress of the "excessive Zionist and Jewish influence in America" and the "purposeful encouragement of hatred and violence against European Americans" by the Anti-Defamation League. The EAIF neglected to include a citation noting the explosion of violence in the United States perpetrated by people praticing Judaism against people with North European-born grandparents. The front-page stands full of links to articles of varying quality discussing the debate over affirmative-action in higher education, but intersperses them with smarmy links to studies of racial violence among black and hispanic youth. Any individual item linked and advocated by this organization might remain neutral or only mildly questionable. Taken together as a context, they paint an unsettling image of white supremacy masked behind fighting 'discrimination' against European-American culture (the artistic works of white men only, please) and religion (evangelical Christianity only, please). The EAIF embeds itself deeply and rabidly into exactly the system of labels I want to escape.
The connotations surrounding 'European-American' grow more disturbing as one leaves the realm of marginal think-tanks. A "white civil rights" organization prominently featuring the term in its treatises encourages eugenics among its policies for welfare reform and demands an immediate halt to all immigration, a threat from the "Third-World" that will supposedly destroy "European-American culture." It doesn't occur to them that Ireland, Poland, and regions of Italy and Germany were third-world at the turn of the last century. The century before that, England's rural areas experienced no better conditions than any modern Central American country's poverty-stricken regions.
Even more repulsively, Southern heritage of the Confederate flag wielding variety becomes intertwined with the term under the influence of vocal activists such as David Duke. It is perhaps an expected consequence. One does not normally see 'non-European-Americans' of the South proudly saluting the Stars and Bars. Are 'whites' whose ancestors fought for the Union no longer considered European-American by this definition? Am I a mulatto European-American because my ancestors fought on both sides?
There even exists a European-American Army Corp presenting itself like an unremarkable small business that sells firearms and other weapons. Who, exactly, do its European-American customers want to ready themselves for shooting with their handguns? Such weapons are not particularly effective for hunting deer.
Looking at the full extent of the political connotations of European-American, I would hope that most just-plain-Americans would be disgusted. Sadly, I'm not sure those who repudate the bigoted implications of the term are even in the majority. A spectrum of identification with European-American exists, beginning at controversial, but mainstream objection to affirmative-action programs favoring minority students, and extending all the way to racism that stops just shy of the terror of lynch mobs murdering hundreds across the United States (North to South) during the early twentieth-century. It forms one thread among the thousands of a terrible cat's cradle criss-crossing every racial category—a web of hatred that this nation has not yet unraveled.
As for me, I reject all of it. I suppose that my distressing discovery was predictable result of turning to a label in hopes of escaping a label.
I still don't know what to write down to meet the demands of those who want me boxed up for their ease and comfort by a polite racial epithet. But at least I'm determined to live my life as I see fit, with as little regard as I can muster for the expectations of a 'White,' 'Black,' 'Asian,' 'Hispanic,' 'Arab,' 'Jew,' or 'European-American.' I want to hold myself and every other person to one standard only. Human.