« Conceptualizing "Race" and "Ethnicity" | Main | The Invisible Lines of Media Magic »

Comments on Optional Ethnicities

Ignorance is a hard thing to admit. However, the more I read and learn in this class, the more I realize that I am not even aware of the issues some people deal with on a daily basis.
One of the topics that never crossed my mind before the reading was the idea of an optional ethnicity (Ore, 29). It is so true but I have never been conscious of this concept. For example, I consider myself a “white, middle-class female�. However, my family’s heritage is deeply rooted in the German culture. Both sets of my grandparents grew up speaking German. I still have distant (2nd cousins or such) that live in Germany that I had the privilege of meeting. Yet, for the most part, I am never viewed as “German,� unless of course I am craving for the feelings of “specialness� (Ore, 33) that can be associated with having a cultural identity.
I never considered this voluntary association with my German heritage as a privilege, but it truly is an option that some people may not have. Because I do not look, speak, or act differently, I guess my ethnic heritage is not of importance and does not affect my day-to-day activities. However, if I had evident traits, perhaps I would not have the privilege of choice.
The fact that not all people are free to decide when to identify with their ethnicity became apparent in the class video, “Murder on a Sunday Morning�. Brenton was not choosing to identify himself as an African-American when he was walking to Blockbuster. However, the police force immediately discriminated against him because his ethnicity was visible to them. It is embarrassing to say this directly, but honestly, that never would have happened to me or frankly probably to anyone that is white. I am sure some who are reading this are appalled by the fact that I am saying things that are so obvious, but growing up in a small town without minorities, the reality that this really happens is something that is still shocking for me.
In addition, I still cannot grasp the fact that he did not rebel against the police. He was so calm; his family came and prayed with him at the jail. I would have been livid. My parents would have demanded my release. Perhaps someone that is more culturally knowledgeable than me can help me understand. Why did he not argue? Does this happen so often it is almost expected that the color of your skin means you could be a murder suspect at any moment? Did he think it would be a losing battle if he rebelled? Is the police force that unjust that no one would realize what is happening? (Clearly in this case it was since Brenton was even abused.)
Overall, the concept of an optional ethnicity is fascinating to me since I cannot believe it is something I have never thought about before. Those without the option seem to be targeted and discriminated against; those that can hide behind a blanket of whiteness are invisible to the ethnic-targeted discrimination. I cannot even imagine the rage and anger I would feel as a Somali person after 9/11 that was stolen from my home because I was thought to look remotely like a terrorist. I cannot imagine recovering from a situation like the one that Brenton faced with outright discrimination and disrespect. I may be 99% German, but because to the naked eye I appear “white,� I guess I have the privilege of choosing when I want to be ethnic without the negative consequences.


Optional ethnicity is an interesting concept only the white majority would have the luxury to take advantage of. Since I am Asian American, I don’t have that option. But it makes one wonder, if I was given the option of choosing an ethnicity, would I take it? Would it have been easier for me to identify with the majority of the population instead of being considered the minority? I see that many white Americans choose to identify with the majority instead of identifying with their ethnicity. We live in a society today that encourages individuality, yet we want to be the same as everyone else. It’s very contradictory…

First off, i very much enjoy the heart felt honesty found from the blog. Secondly i would like to address the comment on Brenton's calm stature. i believe that any one under such circumstances would want to resist and cause a havoc to those cops. But even if you were in the same shoes, to act unorderly does not help your cause. We all believe that the justice system is fair and if you did not do the crime then why make a scene which could lead to worst results.

To understand someone's circumstances, one must live in their shoes.

Thanks Devon! I will definitely look into that.

Optional ethnicity is a fascinating train of thought, one that is usually ignored and taken advantage of by the white majority, as Ore points out. There is this book you might like to check out if you have the time called "White Women, Race Matters" by Frankenburg (last name). She is one of the pioneers of exploring the ethnic/racial identity of what it means to be "white", specifically white women. I am truly impressed with the level of thought and reflection you put into this posting, and am very glad that the content of this class is making you rethink your physical and social environment. You give me hope for the future! (All of you that are open to new ways of thinking!)