Thursday, July 29, 2010

On cluelessness and racial self-identification

This was a response to Eric Raymond's recent blog post about "the perils of ethnic identification" and why his racial identity isn't a big deal to him. It is an interesting article in its own right, but my response was prompted by a comment made by a "William O. B'Livion", in which he said:

So I was born to a couple of college kids at a midwest school, put up for adoption, raised by a father who’s parents were Balkan/Mediterranean immigrants, and mother who's parents were Mediterranean. Raised in a different Mid-west college melting pot (seriously melting pot. I was a teenager before I realized that other people judged someone by the color of their skin) and have NO cultural affinity other than "American".

(emphasis mine)

This reminded me of a similar event from my life so I wrote the following:

Glad I wasn't the only one blissfully unaware of widespread intolerance!

My dad's an African-American descendant of former slaves, though I don't know the story any further back than his parents; never bothered to ask. My mom's 3rd (or 4th? I dunno) generation Polish or Lithuanian Jew, and I was raised 99% secular atheist, 1% Quaker in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I was pretty ignorant of religious denominations, histories, and traditional rivalries outside of having a vague sense that Christianity and Judaism shared part of the bible. It wasn't until 9th grade, when I saw the movie "School Ties" that the idea of discrimination against Jews (outside of the Holocaust, obviously) ever occurred to me. From my perspective, Judaism and Christianity were 90% identical, and I was completely confused as to why the kids at the new school would care at all about a kid being Jewish.

Perhaps semi-relatedly, I have always considered it a point of pride that I'm not much of a "typical" anything. Through school, I wrestled, programmed, sang, acted, played soccer, and spent hours at a time playing computer games. I liked the fact that I wasn't the typical black kid, or Jew, or nerd, or gamer, or jock, or anything. It's the things I've done during my life which define me, not who or what my long-dead ancestors were or did.