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Why Ethnic Monitoring Forms Suck for Mixed-Race People

22/04/2016 16:36 | Updated 27 April 2016

There has been a bit of an uproar in Brighton & Hove because children as young as four, are being given the option to leave the gender section on their Primary School application blank if they don't identify with being strictly male or female.

This has reminded me of how I have often wanted to leave Ethnic Minority Forms blank because I don't identify with any of the options laid out. Ticking 'Other' like I'm something indescribable is the only box that works for me.

My heritage is Indian/Italian so why not tick the 'White/Asian' box? Well, it doesn't feel correct, as the term 'White' is so vague in terms of describing my Italian side. And Asian could be Japanese or Korean which are both completely different from being Indian.

It gets even more confusing with my daughters. In order of percentage they are: English, Indian, Italian, Swedish and Irish. Again, 'White/Asian' isn't appropriate and choosing 'Other' just seems like an insult. However, unlike young children in Brighton & Hove, my children along with millions of other Mixed-Race kids don't get the option of leaving the form blank.

It's a fact, that by 2020, Britain's largest minority will be of Mixed-Race origin. When I was a child growing up in the 1970s, London, let alone the rest of the country, certainly didn't feel as overwhelmingly multicultural as it does now. Back then I didn't have any idea what to call myself.

Even though I was born in England and identified with its culture more than anything, my skin colour and surname held me back from saying I was English. With no other useful vocabulary I stuck with a cumbersome explanation: "My mum's Italian and my Dad's Indian." I was truly desperate to have a single word with which I could sum myself up. The word 'Half Caste', used by many in the 1970s and 1980s, was not a word I wanted to use.

Forward-wind to the 21st Century and even though the term 'Mixed-Race' is better than nothing, it's a bit vague and covers such a wide spectrum that it barely means anything at all. It's certainly not as accurate as saying "I'm English" or "I'm Mexican". Perhaps I should move to Brazil where everyone is so Mixed-Race that everyone can call themselves Brazilian without batting an eyelid.

Despite having only ever held a British passport, the only time I can confidently say: "I am British" is when I'm abroad as nobody can ignore my intentionally hammed up plummy accent.

I can see the point of Ethnic Minority Forms for businesses and local authorities to help them understand the makeup of the country and what types of people they need to serve. But I do wonder what the powers that be make of the ever-growing people like myself, and my children, who have no choice but to continue to tick the "Other" box. I even have seemingly English friends who feel that ticking 'White' betrays their Jewish/Irish/Huguenot... ancestry.

It's human nature to want to compartmentalise everything but we have to accept that not everything can be box-ticked, whether it's gender identity, or heritage. Perhaps a new box needs to be introduced that simply says 'Human'.

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