Some weeks ago, as I was applying for some jobs, I had to go through these very cold, administrative, scrutinizing forms asking so many technical details about myself : age, gender…
I could write a lot (I did partially already) on all those very inhuman hiring processes selecting people like you select a screwdriver (size, type of screw…). But I won’t on this piece.
I will instead focus on one specific element I had to answer to. After my age and my gender, I’ve been asked to “describe” or “select” my ethnicity.
The word actually was not ethnicity but “race”. To me this word is appalling. Saying it sounds already terrible.
Yet, for some, it’s still a normal and very usual word to use.
When I hear this word it feels like there’s a competition running, we have to race against each other to win something… and I still haven’t figured out what’s the prize at the end!
When ever I can, I always refuse to answer to this question. Some would say I’m biased. I probably am as is anyone.
Don’t make me wrong, by denying this, I’m not rejecting the processes and policies around affirmative actions or around the need to emphasize our differences. I just feel that this process is great and I’d love to be part of it too…
There’s something inherently wrong categorizing people like this. It should be done differently. To be clear, it should be defined by individuals themselves. There should not be a list, there should be an open space and the question should be : “what’s your identity/cultural identity?”
And in my very case, it has to be done differently. It has to include everyone and I mean everyone.
Let me give you a bit of context here and you’ll probably get my point more easily.
I was born in France. Thus… I’m French! Done! Where’s the problem?
Well, actually, it’s more complex (and I said complex, not complicated) than that. I was actually born in Brittany to be accurate (for those who’re not familiar with this place, no worries. Here’s a clue : look at the map of France, picture on it the big “nose” on the West side of the country, that Brittany!).
Brittany is of Celtic culture, somehow close in terms of identity to Ireland, Scotland, Wales…
Obviously I’ve been influenced by the local culture: local expressions, local beliefs, local food… But I’ve also been raised in the French culture: at school, in family, with friends…
Then when I was 12 my parents and sisters and I moved to Tahiti (for those who don’t know exactly where it is, yet familiar with the name : look at the map of the Pacific Ocean : spot the “E” of Ocean, you can basically find us right behind… our tiny Pacific island at the Center of the Polynesian triangle).
And recently I’ve been lucky to marry an amazing woman from Pakistan.
So let me count : 1 (Britton/Celtic), 2 (French), 3 (Tahitian), 4 (Pakistani). Let’s say even 5 if I add the mainstream global culture (mostly influenced by the US).
I consider myself the son of 5 cultures : by birth, by love, by education and by choice.
But when I had to fill this form only one option could “fit” me : “white”.
It has been actually some years I’ve been thinking about this.
"Usually, as a joke (but actually very seriously), when people told me I’m white, I tell them that I’m actually pink (I mean look at me when I wear a white T-shirt, you’ll see the difference)."
Usually, as a joke (but actually very seriously), when people told me I’m white, I tell them that I’m actually pink (I mean look at me when I wear a white T-shirt, you’ll see the difference).
This word “white” always bothered me because it felt like it served to put a huge group of people in the same category.
So I decided to research to understand the origins of this concept. Because for me there are not white people : there are Brittons, Basques, Catalans, Brits, Scottish, Wallons, Germans, Magyars, … And the list goes on and on, sorry for those I haven’t listed.
So why gathering everyone in one category when you can easily spot such diverse cultures and languages in the geographical area where those so-called “white” people should live?
Eventually, I stumbled upon this article : https://aeon.co/ideas/how-white-people-were-invented-by-a-playwright-in-1613
I was amazed to realize that at some point, Irish and Italians were not considered as White!
Then I realized that “white” was actually a political concept, a power tool used to described the privileged ones from a specific social origin in Europe at first then in the US mostly and to exclude those that had to be excluded to avoid sharing the wealth.
Based on this basic and unrealistic dichotomy, it was then easy to build demagogies and propaganda… the very famous “Us and them”.
But along the decades, thanks to the amazing birth and growth of the different movements around the world, diversity was finally acknowledged. And this is clearly obvious in this infamous form I filled.
Besides White there is today so many options it’s just beautiful to see. It came to a point where I was envious of them. Because I realized that if others were allowed to be who they are, who they claim to be, I couldn’t, I had to be put in a general category that made no sense.
"I wanted to be able to describe my own identity, which is not this vague concept that considers that pretty much all those with fair skins are the same and… even worse have no culture, no tradition, no attachment to anything."
I wanted to be able to describe my own identity, which is not this vague concept that considers that pretty much all those with fair skins are the same and… even worse have no culture, no tradition, no attachment to anything.
But one could say : ok this is the challenge of understanding differences. We tend to generalize but within your community people know that diversity.
And that’s the worse thing! It is actually not! And my point is not to aim those who criticize, stigmatise or generalize using the concept of “white” if they are from a different culture (although I strongly encourage them to see beyond this basic bias and learn about the different cultures).
My point is directed towards those people who should search for their identities, learn from it and be proud of it instead of calling themselves “white” as way to re-affirm an identity that is nothing close to it!
How can there be a “white supremacist” movement to support an identity that has no reality, no meaning, no sense?
How can you claim to belong to something that is just serving a specific political agenda and does not define who you are?
"My claim is today to call for a real diversity. One that will be inclusive of every single shade of culture and not defined by the color of the skin but by the experience, the traditions…. and one that will be embraced by everyone and not only everyone but the “white”!"
My claim is today to call for a real diversity. One that will be inclusive of every single shade of culture and not defined by the color of the skin but by the experience, the traditions…. and one that will be embraced by everyone and not only everyone but the “white”!
At this point, let me be clear: I’m not calling to deny the past and what has been done through the justification of this division : colonialism, cultural disappearance, exploitation…
It’s about saying, while we do what we can (or should do what we can as it’s still a long way to go) to create a real equality in rights among cultures, identities and people and get the wrong from the past repaired, we should look into the future through a new lens, create a new system, a new language to talk about identity.
We can build a future that is truly diverse.
How can we do that?
We have first to stop generalizing things. In a world dominated by a binary system through the growing influence of digital tools and AI, it’s important that human beings remember that they have the eyes to see clearly and sharply and describe the different shades of identities they see.
So don’t call me white.
Don’t even call me French.
Don’t call me out.
And talk to me.
Ask me how I want to be defined, how I want you to know me. Ask me why and ask me questions about my culture. Don’t assume through the only filter of the color of my skin, the citizenship on my passport or any narrow-narrow-minded administrative eye as this is by no mean related to the culture you and I belong to.
And to those who still define themselves by “white”… First : stop it!
Second : go back to your roots, learn your original culture. Then learn about the cultures that came as an addition to your identity and understand what has changed along the way.
If you’re from the US, look for where your family come from and understand that since then you have built a new identity that added a layer of culture. You have been influence, embellished, you have grown deeper and in a more complex and beautiful way.
We have to be careful about the language that we use. Too many times I’ve seen people who belong to different cultural cultures because of diverse parental origins, being described in a diminishing ways. They don’t have parts or halves of different cultures. They are lucky to have the whole of all these cultures and then be able to use whichever part they like to grow a new identity, a new culture, that reflects the world of today.
"We can be a multicultural world if we acknowledge the fact that individuals can be multicultural and that this is not a handicap, this is a talent. The ability to belong in a more powerful to not only one but several communities."
We can be a multicultural world if we acknowledge the fact that individuals can be multicultural and that this is not a handicap, this is a talent. The ability to belong in a more powerful to not only one but several communities. Individuals who are and will be bridges, machines of understanding and gathering, community builders in a world that today does not (and should not) know any boundaries.
I. Am. Who. I. Want. To. Be. You don’t have to categorize me to understand me.
Actually if you do you won’t be able to understand me. Because you’ll miss my complexity.
If I can’t ignore the fact that all those cultures influenced me then you can’t either and you can’t reduce my identity to one of this culture as if you do you would deny my humanity. You would decide for me who I have to be. And for this, who are you to get this right over me?
So let’s stop seeing the world in black and white. The cinema has welcomed colors since decades now and we are in the age of 4K even 8K when we are able to see the slightest shade of difference between people.
So let’s see the world in 8K and let’s take the time to describe people as who they are and not how we want them to be in order to simplify and by doing so to dominate, discriminate, attack…