The history of the USA is riddled with examples of institutionalized racism, the roots of which can be found in the very founding of the country. For centuries, it was the world’s largest cotton empire, as the labor of slaves brought in from Africa enabled the country to grow and prosper. The views of white masters and black slaves were planted deep into the nation’s psyche and prepared a foundation for racist tendencies and behaviors as seen today.
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The abolition of slavery in the aftermath of the American Civil War has strengthened the racist inclinations of the white Americans, as they had superior wealth, education, and social standing to remain above their former slaves. This attitude spread upon other nationalities as well, such as Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, and others.
The concept of ethnical ambiguousness came about the moment the US became a multinational country. As it stands, there are many Americans with black, Asian, Hispanic, and other origins. Their families have lived in America for generations. My father, Hector Omar Domingo Gonzalez Castro, is one such American. His Hispanic name, skin color, and upbringing have made him a target of racism throughout his entire life. I have seen him struggle in his business simply because of his name and his looks, despite him being a “loyal and true” American.
The issue of ambiguous heritage has been brought up in the media in the wake of President Trump’s policies in regards to migrants. Many argue that people of ambiguous heritage do not deserve the backlash. However, I strongly believe that the very term “ethnically-ambiguous people” is a band-aid to hide American racism. Although made to exclude a certain group of people from racism, its very existence intrinsically suggests that foreigners deserve to be targeted and persecuted because of their heritage. In this paper, I will prove that the concept of “acceptable blacks” and “acceptable Latinos” is inherently racist.
Researching the Concept of Ambiguous Origins
When I first started to investigate the issue, my knowledge was limited to my own experiences as well as those of my father. These experiences, although good examples of racism in relation to ethnic ambiguity, were relatively simplistic. Blatant racists hated us because we looked like Hispanics and had Hispanic names. As I started reading into the subject, I discovered that the depth of the issue is far greater than initially anticipated. Inherent racism in relation to the subject of ethnic ambiguity affects even those who do not consider themselves racist in any way or measure.
An article about fashion titled “Ethnically Ambiguous” by Ruth La Ferla explores the reasons behind the sudden surge of popularity in ethnically ambiguous models. According to the author, the majority of white people who consider themselves ethnically tolerant prefer individuals of mixed races as models in comparison to ethnically distinct ones (La Ferla). I think that the article suggests a tendency towards sympathy for the ethnically ambiguous on a cultural level, as they are seen as individuals who have achieved success despite their “racial disadvantages” (Rosa and Eschholz 87)
The ideas of ethnic superiority of some genes over others have been attempting to find their way through the scientific community. An article in Psychology Today demonstrates this trend. According to Adams, individuals with a mixed racial background are supposedly more resistant to certain diseases and produce an objectively more physically fit and beautiful individual (par. 2). Such a notion implies that white genes determine the standards of beauty and health. I believe this type of thinking tries to push a racist agenda under the guise of science since the evidence of the genetic predisposition of races towards certain appearances, body types, and diseases are inconclusive.
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What makes the issue timely is its relation to contemporary political events. The USA has become the first ethnically white country to elect a black president. However, the perception of Barack Obama’s “blackness” differs. A study by Caruso et al. shows that voters prefer individuals of biracial ethnic origins due to the lighter color of their skin tone (20169). In my interpretation, the closer you are to being an ethnically black, Hispanic, or Asian, the more likely you are to be discriminated against while being biracial allows others to feel good about themselves for choosing someone with black or Hispanic origins, thus indulging in a subtle form of discrimination.
The reasons behind the majority of the world perceiving the white portion of genetic heritage are superior can be found in the justifications of European empires for their expansive politics. After reading about the concept of “enlightening” other nations and cultures, I realized that the language of racial superiority is still present in the modern perception of the world. The old scholars justified white superiority by expressing the technological and cultural advances of Europe in comparison to less-developed nations in other places of the world, such as Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and others.
As the struggle for racial justice and equality in the USA grew, the whites consider themselves to be better-educated, more wealthy, and less criminal than other ethnic American groups while ignoring the accumulative privilege they possessed for centuries.
Connections to the Contemporary Politics
Many scholars and politicians of predominantly white origin tend to dismiss the issues of ethnic ambiguity as pointless and not deserving attention. At the same time, considering the latest policies of President Trump, the sinister pedigree of the concept becomes easier to perceive and understand. In a time when a person can be arrested, pulled over, refused access, or even deported based on their name and ethnic background, the concept of ethnical ambiguousness suggests the following question: “Where do we draw the line between what is and what is not ethnically ambiguous.” Such logic contains an inherent flaw, as it moves the question from “Why should we tolerate racism towards any individuals?” to “How could we distinguish between acceptable and non-acceptable blacks/Hispanics/Asians?”
My family and many others like us care about this problem. Those who deny the existence of racism in the promotion of ethnically neutral individuals over others are typically those who never experienced such treatment. Therefore, based on a lack of personal knowledge and experience, they tend to deny it. I believe what stirs the conversation towards the promotion and celebration of ethnically ambiguous individuals is the attempt of the majority to guide the discourse in a specific way, to create a facsimile of racial equality while subtly reinforcing the ideas of white cultural and racial superiority.
The cultural understanding of privilege and inequality is changing. America is not nearly as racist and biased as it was 50 years ago. However, the existing trend is a cultural compromise that stands in the way of true equality.
To conclude on the subject of racial ambiguity, I wish to share a story. In my family, my appearance is the least Hispanic. When my cousins and I went to a diner, the waitress who came to take our orders paid attention only to me and not to the rest of us. When my cousins tried to get her attention, they were simply ignored. I, as the “least Hispanic” person, was expected to act as the representative for the group. This situation illustrates the point of this entire paper. While I was not actively discriminated against, others were. The same happens on a larger scale in almost every industry, ranging from education to medicine. The question, again, is not where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable foreign heritage. The real question is why the line exists in the first place.
Ethnically ambiguous people are band-aids to hide America’s racism. This is not a new phenomenon; it went on for generations and will continue through to our children if nothing is done about it. The attitude towards ethnic ambiguity allows individuals like Donald Trump and many others like him to pretend to be inclusive while celebrating their white heritage and subsequently suppressing other races, nations, and cultures. In a healthy society, a debate about who should or should not be allowed access based on race would not have even been possible. In the USA, however, it becomes public policy. The bottom line is that individuals should not fare better or worse based on the color of their skin or the amount of white blood in their gene pool.
Adams, William L. “Mixed Race, Pretty Face?” Psychology Today. 2006. Web.
Caruso, Eugene M., et al. “Political Partisanship Influences Perception of Biracial Candidates’ Skin Tone.” PNAS, vol. 106, no. 48, 2009, pp. 20168-20173.
La Ferla, Ruth. “Generation E.A.: Ethnically Ambiguous.” New York Times. 2003. Web.
Rosa, Alfred, and Paul Eschholz. Models for Writers. 11th ed., Bradford/St. Martin’s, 2012.