Thursday, November 15, 2007

Am I an 'Anglo' because I speak English?

Part of the lunchroom discussion this week was about what politically correct (PC) term to use to refer to a 'White' person. I'm Asian American, but my husband's family came from Eastern Europe. I tell my students that he's 'Caucasian.' However, that term is always met with blank stares, followed by "What means that?" Then, I proceed to use 'White' or 'non-Asian' and get nods of understanding.

Although we often use 'White' and 'Black'/'African-American' in our ESL classes in discussions of prejudice and discrimination in the USA, one of our male instructors said that he really doesn't like to be called 'White' and prefers the label 'Anglo.' However, another instructor asserted that 'Caucasian' was the most PC term, especially in business and in the city of Chicago where she grew up. In addition, since her ancestors came from Eastern Europe, she said she would not want to be identified as 'Anglo,' which could indicate 'English' roots. However, if we see 'Anglo' as identifying Americans by their first language, I could also be considered 'Anglo,' although most people would then think I had 'White' blood in me.

Then, we went on to consider what the best label is for someone from Mexico or from Latin America. Should we say 'Hispanic' or 'Latino/a'? Our Mexican-born instructor dislikes the term 'Latino' because, for her, 'Latino' includes Italians and other Latin-based language speakers. Her first choice for herself would be 'Mexican' and secondly, Hispanic.

To make the discussion even more complicated, one teacher pointed out that 'Native Americans,' who used to be called American Indians, actually prefer that original ethnic label. I can understand their position since people who are born and raised here in the United States are also 'native Americans.'

As if the topic of 'color' (race) were in the air, this morning on NPR (National Public Radio), I listened to commentary about a summit held in California's capital, Sacramento, in which educators gathered to discuss recent findings about the effects of race on educational achievement. In the NPR (National Public Radio) broadcast, the terms 'White,' 'Black,' 'Asian,' and 'Latino' or 'Brown' were used, so to the producers of that show, those labels must be PC. What should we call people like my children who are mixed 'White-Asian' or Tiger Woods? Do the labels matter as much to government once you're out of school?


It's hard to speculate about future discussions of educational achievement in California (or across the USA) where there will always be diversity in people's value systems. For many people, education only has value if it leads to successful employment afterward, and that really depends on personal or family networks, motivation, previous experience, demonstrated ability, and yes, good luck! In California, many of our students would benefit from the opportunity to do apprenticeships to learn skills in fields such as auto mechanics, masonry, plumbing, food preparation, or landscaping (actually quite vital jobs). However, people in these 'trades' (professions) are rarely discussed. I don't remember my children having the opportunity to shadow a 'plumber,' for example, on career day (because who would 'aspire' to be a blue collar worker?) .

If you want to hear and see some of the latest discussion about the Achievement Gap Summit in Sacramento, CA this week, here are a few links: one to news10/abc and another from which you can get to several other related stories.


thegoldencompass said...

Personally, I think no matter what label people use, they will offend someone. It's always a touchy area, trying to define what to call a group separate from yourself. A group may even call itself something that would be perceived as offensive if another group/individual labeled it that way. (Like the n-word for some black circles.) It takes the edge off...

As an American of Eurasian/hapa background, I have attempted every kind of self-identification. Sometimes I say I'm Asian, if I want someone to pick me out of a crowd. Sometimes I say I'm mixed, if I'm feeling lazy. Sometimes I say I'm mixed Japanese/Russian/Polish-American, to a truly interested party. Sometimes I say I'm American, resentfully.

People still seem to like separating into factions, no matter what you do. If it's not by race, it will be gender, age, economic class, hairstyle... I think the same is true for race labels. People split off into camps about it, and no one can definitively "win". Because race is very loosely defined, there is no right answer. Probably best to just find out how each individual likes to be identified racially and do your best.

I for one can't wait until the majority of people are blended into indistinct racial mixtures and people find something else to bicker about and be offended by ;)

evelyn said...

Thanks very much for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. What a truly different world it will be when all people are 'blends.' Maybe our international language will also be a blend of English and other languages, instead of one of our current languages.