Thursday, July 26, 2007

How the Heldts talk about race and ethnicity

Okay so I think race and ethnicity vocabulary can be really confusing. Plus it seems like it keeps changing. Not really something I ever worried or thought much about because it really didn't come into play much in my life. Having two kids from Ethiopia though I DO naturally pay more attention both to how I, and others, refer to people.

This post is about how I talk about my children. Different people use different terminology, and the terms "race" and "ethnicity" aren't real clear cut anyhow.

--When I talk about my sons' skin color, it is "brown." This should be kinda obvious, because that's the color of their skin, afterall. (It is inaccurate to say their skin is "black", because it is not.)

--If I was going to describe their race or ethnicity I would say they are either "black", "Ethiopian", or "Ethiopian American." They could also, by most definitions, be considered "African American", but because I know where in sub-Saharan Africa they come from, I can say "Ethiopian American." (If I wanted to get REALLY technical I probably wouldn't just say "Ethiopian", because they will identify more with American culture than Ethiopian, and part of what an ethnicity implies is cultural identification.)

--Some think that "African American" is just a politically correct version of the word "black", but that's not entirely true. Yes, some black people prefer AA, but actually not all black people would identify themselves as African American--black people come from South America, the West Indies, etc. (I don't think the word "black" should have any sort of negative connotations, but I can understand why some have come to prefer "brown", or "African American", if they or their ancestors came from Africa).

Whew, I told you it is confusing. Funny thing is when I see my kids all together I don't even think about how they look like they couldn't be biologically related (to me or to each other). I see two boys, two girls. Three toddlers, one baby. I'm not "colorblind" by any means: I see two children with beautiful brown skin, big brown eyes, and curly black hair, and two children with beautiful fair skin, big blue eyes, one with straight light hair and the other with a light-brown punky mohawk. :) I love who each of my kids is, and that includes their skin tones, hair, eyes, personalities, and quirks!


Kristen Borland said...

beautiful. :) that's very interesting about the whole "brown" versus "black" thing. i've wondered about that myself because, yeah, it's brown skin.

you'll have to keep us up to date on all the appropriate terms. i think it's great to do posts about this because i seriously don't know which terms to use sometimes.

David & Jody Vriend said...

I just want to say that I have been reading your blog for a while now, and I really enjoy it. Thanks.

Samantha said...

Thank you for talking about something that people seem to be so uptight about discussing. We are all different, Why all the tension about discussing it? Our differences make the world interesting.

When Bennett was born, he had a full head of really blonde hair and blue eyes and very fair skin, totally the opposite of me. I was asked on more than one occasion if he was adopted. I thought it was funny. People assume that your kids will look just like you. I was born to a blonde hair, fair-skinned, light eyed mother, so I was used to hearing about how I myself didn't look like my mother at all.

BeckyandTroy said...

Very true regarding race. In college I had friends from the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean, who thought of themsleves as hispanic and not "black"! Even though they had African American features, culturally they were hispanic. I would say that most people groups of the world consider themselves "brown".

Jeannett Gibson said...

Interesting topic. I always feel strange not knowing quite how to refer to people...I don't want to offend them and say the "wrong" thing, but frankly, I just don't know sometimes!

Brianna Heldt said...

jeannett i agree. i don't think there's an "objective" right or wrong way necessarily (barring a couple of awful words that i think most people know not to use). i used to assume it was more polite to call people "african american" but i don't do that anymore unless i know they actually descend from there.


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