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December 11, 2017

The new SPIRE racial identity survey is racist

I noticed recently that we have a new racial identity survey on SPIRE. It supposedly will improve students’ ability “to identify [our] backgrounds with greater accuracy”.

I think it’s racist.

After all, its modern, multi-faceted notions of race make the same error as the old one: it categorizes me as “white.” ‘Big deal,’ replies my inner-ALANA Caucus, ‘why complain about my white privilege?’ Simple: “white” does not describe who I am or what I act like. I don’t belong to the composite culture of the American white. Neither I, my family, nor any people of my ethnicity whom I know meet the stereotypes of “white people.”

White culture doesn’t want me, either.  When my family moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey people began to say, “those [Jewish] people are moving in.” A friend of mine from freshman year suffered harassment for his Jewish origins here in Massachusetts, despite not looking Jewish, acting Jewish, or practicing Judaism.

‘Well then,’ my inner ALANA retorts, ‘why not put myself down as “Jewish” on the SPIRE survey?’ I proceed to show it the racial categorizations given me by society, which define a white person as “having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” This plainly marks me as white because my ethnicity’s origin rests in the Levant in the Middle East.

Apparently, when Yousuf the Plumber – whose Christian father came to America to escape the Lebanese Civil War – has to suffer a so-called random screening at the airport because of his skin pigmentation and facial features, it doesn’t count as racism. The security officer is white and Yousuf is white. How can white-on-white racism exist?

My mental ALANA Caucus shouts to me, ‘no, that’s racism against Arabs. Arabs suffer discrimination for their origins. They count as a separate race for anti-racism purposes despite the National Center for Educational Statistics considering them to be of the same race.’

However, I point out we Jews still suffer quiet racism. We come from the same geographical region as the Arabs and we share the Semitic linguistic and religious families with them. Moreover, I ask the voice in my head, why doesn’t the ALANA Caucus include a single student group for any kind of Middle-Eastern heritage? I think it is more than a little hypocritical to consider Jews and Arabs minorities when we suffer for it, but white when self-proclaimed “anti-racists” like the Caucus want a larger target.

That shuts up my schizophrenic personality. I should really have that checked out.

Now, as simple as it might seem to simply call ALANA hypocrites, I can see a better moral to this story. Race does not exist. Everyone has a multifaceted identity based on the different components of their background, the upbringing they received and the choices they make themselves. Any racial, religious, ethnic or cultural classification we don’t assert ourselves exists only as something imposed on us by someone else. And, in my opinion, imposing an identity on someone without their consent just because of their appearance is the core and essence of racism.

The National Center for Educational Statistics, however, does not see the race issue in this light. It surveys us based on early 20th-century racial models which have about as much factual and scientific basis as the Intelligent Design Theory.

In addition to its bogus definition of “white,” it defines an Asian-American as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.” Notice how they share a suspicious similarity with the regions – we heard in the past – that became the Yellow Peril, and like the Indian subcontinent – who also come from Asia – that supposedly steal “our” jobs. Afghanistan belongs neither to the Indian subcontinent nor to the Middle East: only God knows what race an Afghani-American should check.

It gets even more curious. Being an African-American means “having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa,” but the indirect meaning of African-American, being a “descendant of black slaves,” leaves out the people with dark skin who immigrated from Africa or the Caribbean more recently than the slave ships – as well as designating Moroccans and Algerians as not African-American despite coming to America from Africa. To top it all off, NCES defines Hispanic/Latino as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.” This means that if you grew up in any culture which spoke Spanish as a first language – like my father who spent his first seven years of life speaking Spanish in Argentina – you’re Hispanic no matter what you look like.

By that standard, I should lobby the government to allow Jews, Arabs, Ethiopians, and Maltese to note “Semitic” as a secondary race. I can’t, however, because in the United States talking about race means hatred and victimization rather than heritage, culture, or pride.

Why don’t we all just agree that this latent hatred and victimization is the real problem – and scrap all the pigeon-holing surveys and interest groups?

Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at egottlie@student.umass.edu.

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