I just got a rather snotty email from someone claiming I mistakenly list a bunch of people as Caucasian when in fact they’re from a lot of races. She quotes from Wikipedia’s definition of “Caucasian” and finishes by saying, “Also, as a caucasian myself, I find it insulting to have other races referred to as Caucasian, just as an Arab may find it insulting to be listed as an African or an Asian as a Russian.” But she doesn’t provide any examples of mistakes I’ve made.

I’m seriously tempted to just ignore this.

However it does raise some important issues. Race is basically a societal construct and quite fluid and open to interpretation. (I read once about a black couple who wanted to adopt a black baby, but they were mistakenly given a white baby instead. No one noticed. She was just dark enough to pass, and it wasn’t until she grew up and researched her parentage that she found out.) My boyfriend, for example, identifies himself as Hispanic. He’s only half Hispanic, though. His father’s side of the family are Mexicans, most of them light-skinned; his mother’s side are Welsh. As you can see in the picture I posted earlier, he looks quite white. Though in the summer he tans beautifully and looks Hispanic. One of my nicknames for him is Miguel. Incidentally, his last name is not Spanish or Mexican and doesn’t exist in any language as far as I know. What happened was when Michael’s ancestors crossed the border, the immigration people couldn’t understand them or something and wrote down what they thought they heard. Michael doesn’t even know what his original family name was.

A lot of times when it comes to missing people, from the photos race isn’t obviously apparent. When I went through all the casefiles and started adding each person’s race, I often had to look it up to see what it was, and sometimes the answers surprised me — a person who appeared to be white turned out to be listed as black, or whatever. Arabs are, I think, technically Caucasian, but for identification they’re kind of in a class of their own. Same thing with Hispanics. East Indians I try to list separately from Asians, because someone from Sri Lanka tends to look much different than someone from China. Native Americans are another problem. I believe that to be legally Native American, you only have to have 1/64th Native American blood. But, say, if a person was only 1/64th black and 63/64th white, anybody would say they were white. Yet people of Native American ancestry are generally proud of it and identify themselves as Native American.

6 thoughts on “Races

  1. Birgitta November 20, 2009 / 9:07 am

    Many Caucasian looks white, I´m white but look hispanic and have been asked if I´m a forreigner, also it has happend a few time that people started to speak english to me, but I´m scandinavian but I have brown eyes and black hair.

  2. Emma l November 20, 2009 / 9:35 am

    Wow! I can’t believe someone would email you to say that. I would defiantly ignore.
    On another note- Wikipedia is not fact. I hate the way people quote is as indisputable. Its not a legitimate source of cast iron information.
    Incidentally my husband is also Welsh and I am mixed race.

  3. Justin November 20, 2009 / 1:37 pm

    No matter how accurate you are, no matter what you do, someone will get offended somewhere. You cannot please everyone.

    Just go by what the missing person’s case file says. If you have any more information, then mention it in the case discription. If DNA of an unidentified is recovered by LE, they might be able to narrow down who it might be by the racial markers (not sure if I am saying that right). I think I read somewhere that they can do that.

  4. danielle November 20, 2009 / 4:00 pm

    Meaghan, just think about those of us who appreciate everything you do for the site….time, energy, labor, etc… sometimes you’ll get one person who spends a few minutes or a very short time on this site and makes a judgement.
    Your loyal “fans” know the difference.

  5. Michele Anne Chambers August 19, 2015 / 2:46 pm

    I was just reading through your list of “old blog posts worth another look” and this particular post was very interesting. What a strange email. I wonder what went through that person’s head that they felt moved to send you their whole philosophy on race.
    Regarding Native American ancestry, I’m not sure if you’re referring to a different kind of legal definition than what I am thinking of, but I wanted to expand upon your comment that to be legally Native American, you need 1/64 ancestry. The “blood quantum” requirements actually vary by tribe. I am 1/16 Blackfoot and have always been curious in that aspect of my heritage. I looked into the requirements for membership and the Blackfeet Nation is fairly strict: 1/4 blood quantum and traceable ancestry on the official historic records. The tribes have wide variations in how they manage membership. It’s pretty interesting 🙂

  6. Melinda August 24, 2016 / 7:01 pm

    Well, I am biracial (black and white). I look more white but I’ve been mistaken for Asian, Hispanic, fully black, etc.
    It depends on who is looking at me and their individual perception.

    Shoot, even at the doctor, my “race” has been incorrectly classified on medical forms. I am VERY light-skinned so I understand the confusion sometimes.
    Some people are unaware of the diversity within the human race and they expect you to look a certain way or act a certain way.
    It’s really just a form of stereotyping that stems from ignorance.

    Being a Miami native, I often have people speak to me in Spanish because they assume that I’m Latina.
    We have a lot of Latinos/Hispanics in Florida…it’s just assumed that if you have dark hair and light skin, you are Cuban or something.

    People are often startled to find out that I’m far from Hispanic when I open my mouth. I speak with a soft Southern drawl and I understand very little Spanish. I’m just an American of mixed heritage. I have relatives that range from being cocoa brown with curly hair to white with blonde hair and blue eyes.
    But race is a very touchy subject because most people are more comfortable with stereotyping than actually learning about others and being open-minded.

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