Re: Identifying Race

Chuck Coker (cjcoker@CRIS.COM)
Thu, 8 Aug 1996 06:58:20 -0700

Dwight W. Read wrote:
> Recent comments:
> At 03:29 PM 7/30/96 -0400, you wrote:
> >
> > In message <> Chuck Coker writes:
> >
> > > So far as I know, my daughters only race is Human, but that wasn't a
> > > choice.
> >
> > My children are a "mixture" of Euroamerican, Native American, and African
> > American. In the last census we simply left the "race" section blank. They
> > sent someone around to check on us, just to see "what" we were.
> Talking about the "irrationality" of race "definitions" is not very
> productive without first defining what is meant by "race" (a) by you, the
> critic and (b) by the person(s) begin critiqued. Recall that "social races"
> are a "constructed reality" i.e., their origin does not lie in biological
> facts, but arises for social intentions (for better or for worse).
> D.Read

Race n. An artifical category used by those in power to oppress those who are
not in power.

Ethnic Group n. The culture with which a person identifies himself.

Culture n. Oops, wrong thread. See "definitions of culture."

Personally, I try to avoid the use of the word "race" except when talking about
the 100-meter hurdles, the Indianapolis 500, etc., i.e., a contest where speed
is important. I *do* have to admit that I say things like, "I don't like him;
he is one of the most racist people I have ever met." Or, "I disagree with
that organization's views, they do nothing but promote racism."

I prefer the use of "ethnic group" when it is necessary to talk about a group
of people based on some common characteristcs. But this term has a specific
meaning when I use it. A person's ethnic group, in my opinion, is the cultural
group that *the person in question* identifies with.

For example, I am light tan in color, while my wife is a medium shade of brown.
Here in Southern California, other people call us White and Mexican, even though
we both have as many non-White and non-Mexican ancestors as we do White and
Mexican. (Personally, I think "Mexican" is a nationality, not a race, but I'll
save that one for a later day.)

We have both changed since our marriage, which is not surprising. My views have
become more like hers, and her views have become more like mine; we have both
evolved from where we were when we first met. Our ethnic group would probably
be White Middle Class (although I don't really like that label either, but I
don't want to write a novel here).

Here is where I get into arguments with people: If my wife and I adopted a some
children, say, a Black baby, an Asian baby, and an Indian (Native American) baby,
and raised them as we have raised our other children, I would have to argue that
these three children are ethnically White Middle Class children. They would
not know what it is like to grow up in a "Black" community, in an "Asian" community,
or in an "Indian" community. They would only know what it is like to grow up in a
White Middle Class community. These children would be "our" children as much as
any of our other children (the ones where we are the biological parents). They
would speak our languages and our dialects of those languages, hopefully have the
same moral and ethical beliefs as we do, and have the same advantages and
disadvantages as our other children.

When the government or any of their sub-agencies (e.g., schools, etc.) ask "race"
questions I become very distrustful. I believe that these are categories to
artificially group people together and label them without regard to any other

When I registered my daughter for Kindergarten recently, the school said that if
I did not choose a race for my child, they would label her White. If my wife
(brown color) had been the one registering my daughter, would they have labelled
her "Mexican"? What would my daughter be if we had been speaking Spanish instead
of English in the school office?

(The school officials told me that if I indicated my daughter could speak Spanish,
she would have to go through ESL classes for several years, even though she can
speak perfectly fluent English and Hualapai. We lived on the Hualapai Indian
Reservation until June of this year, where I worked at the K-8 school. Kids
seem to know when to choose the correct language for speaking, so at the new
school--in California--my daughter assumed that since we were at school, we should
speak Hualapai. When we got funny looks from the school officials, however, I
told her that at *this* school she should speak English to the teachers.)

Usually, when asked what my race is, I choose "Native American" for government
purposes. 1) I am proud of my Native American (meaning Indian, specifically
Cherokee) heritage. 2) I honestly believe that if the census numbers show more
Indians in the United States, they (we) will get better treatment by the government.
3) This reason is more politically motivated: I was born an American citizen and
still have American citizenship, thus I am native "American".

The advantages of being "mixed-blood" (it all looks the same to me) include being
able to truthfully claim being White when it is to my advantage, e.g., buying a
house and filling out mortgage papers, and being able to truthfully claim being
Native American when advantageous, e.g., wanting to attend a university with
Affirmative Action programs in place while not having a high school diploma. (I
still don't have a high school diploma, but with a college degree, no one cares

The two-year college where I started let me in because I was "Native American" and
looked good on their reports to the state. I think they got more money by letting me
in, too. But I was forced (actually, very strongly encouraged) to take remedial
classes, which I did in math (I needed to), but I refused to take ESL classes (I
speak fluent US-prestige-dialect English; it is my first language)--I challenged
the classes for very easy "A"s on my transcript. With all the linguistic genocide
going on in this country, I am surprised that they thought "Native Americans" couldn't
speak English.

Chuck Coker

PS: And, no, we don't live in tipis, either. If you ever have the chance to visit
the Grand Canyon Caverns, on the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, right off
the Hualapai Indian Reservation, check out the tipi displays. Really tacky. :-(