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Country of origin is not equal to ethnicity

September 13, 2008

This is a pet peeve of mine that has been irritating me for years. The definition of race by whites has completely warped what it means to be from somewhere versus having a particular ethnic heritage. I know my complaint won’t change that reality because white supremacy is far-reaching and dictates the terms but perhaps people will at least stop viewing each other through the narrow lens required by the same type of mind.

If I tell you that I have a Brazilian friend what do you think of? Probably a person with a bronze comlexion that speaks Spanish. Why is that wrong? It’s wrong because most of the people from Brazil don’t look like that. Most people in Brazil are of African descent from the slave trade. Most slaves ended up in Brazil, not America. It’s just like if I said I have a French friend. People instantly assume I mean a white person that speaks French. There are people of every race in France and in Brazil so why have we limited or interpretation to the lighter skinned populations except when we know the countries have majority black populations? Conversely no one assumes you are referring to a white person when you say South African but there are plenty of whites there, albeit a minority.

It does make sense, if you have to guess, to assume that one is referring to the most populous race within that country but that is becoming increasingly inaccurate as people migrate for better working conditions.  Assuming someone is black when I say Brazilian is the most likely assumption to be accurate. Pretty soon it will be accurate to assume American means a nonwhite person and British means Indian but the mislabeling will continue even when the population reflects a different reality. When it comes down it you should not make these types of assumptions because they are frought with negative connotations. No one really assumes a person is white if I say American but we always assume it’s a black person if I say Haitian. The rules for making these racial assignments are haphazrd and unbalanced. Discussions of one’s country of origin should be completely distinct from discussion about his or her race because, in fact, they are often completely unrelated.

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