Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A question of ethnicity

I found an interesting article yesterday were an academic running against an incumbent Massachusetts Senator is caught fibbing about her racial heritage. This appears to have hurt her campaign as where it was once considered a cakewalk for her, she is a democrat running in a very progressive state, the race is now neck and neck. It is also a testament to how entrenched the democrats are in that state since anywhere else the news that she has possibly lied, and taken advantage of the lie, about her heritage would have been a game ender.  I won't go so far to say her campaign is done. As I was once unpleasantly surprised four years ago when a governor that should have lost won simply through having the good grace of coming up for reelection right around a presidential election season in the same camp as a very popular candidate.

However, it has gotten me to thinking.  One of the aspects of the story, that she didn't lie but overstated her heritage, is an interesting one.  At what point does it become absurd to identify yourself as a member of a group that only makes up a small fraction of your blood?  You know the blue eyed blond haired individual, spoofed in South Parks a History Channel's Thanksgiving, or that claims a primary heritage that is very obviously a small or inconsequential part of who they actually are.

It doesn't even have to be that small a part. Morgan Freedman doesn't consider Obama a black president, saying he is instead a multiracial president.  Now Freedman isn't wrong about Obama being multiracial, but it certainly started a small whirlwind of criticism towards him.  And it could just as easily be said that the whole argument is a waste of time, that being 1/3 Bantuu, 1/8 Japanese, 1/32 Scotch Irish doesn't mean anything more than being 100% American.  Ultimately I would agree with the sentiment, but these kind of identifications are important to people.

So I ask anyone who reads this, at one point can someone no longer claim a heritage?  For example, and I am simplifying here because my family genealogy is rather intertwined with many ethnic groups through out Europe that simple fractions can't be used, that I am a 1/4 Irish.  I have many other ethnicity's, like English, Austrian, Prussian, and so on and so forth, but Irish is the largest percentage and the one I have the most affinity too. And by most affinity too I mean that I do know the counties that my grandmother 's and grandfather's on my mother's side comes from. I know some of the legends and the folklore but that's about it. I don' speak with a brogue and I know no living relative from my immediate or close extended family that hearkened or lives in the Emerald Ilse. I identify as an American, and I usually respond as such.  But it is vogue here in America to identify with some 'other' sub-group, so after some pressing I say that I am an Irish-America (Though if I am drunk enough I just simply start singing the theme song from Team America)

This can get rather interesting as there are individuals out there with a very diverse range of ethnicitys.  Many of them simply identify themselves as multi-racial, though there are those who gravitate to a particular one.  Would it be absurd from my children to identify as Irish if it only makes up an 1/8 of their heritage, even if it is the largest percentage of a diverse lineage?  Part me says yes.  I'd say that anything less than a 1/8 and it gets kind of absurd to identify yourself with a group that you are more than 3 generations removed.  You could even be stricter and say that if you do not know a relative of yours that actually have memories of the motherland, and from that true intuitive knowledge of the culture, how can you really claim to be a part of a group that you know nothing about?  According to that notion, I shouldn't identify myself with the Irish whatsoever.

In the end it is a mostly harmless game that we Americans like to play with our self-identity.  One that I understand.  When you identify yourself as an America you can only claim a heritage that is a few hundred years old, admittedly with strong ties to a culture from England that is much older.  I think some Americans suffer from a sense of cultural loss because we can't point to American cultural traditions more than a few hundred years old.  The Irish, Germans, Italians, Japanese, and Chinese can all look towards a culture that gestated over a thousands years ago if not longer.

But that brings me back to my original question.  At what point would you say that a person should stop identify with a group of people. Is it an arbitrary point of fractional ethnicity, like 1/8 or 1/16, or is it when you can no longer know of any living relatives from your 'mohterland' or is it at some other point entirely? Perhaps a person can, or should, be free to claim any cultural heritage no matter how tenuous the connection.

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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.