Adventures in Ethnicity

Last week, I registered for Britain’s National Health Services (NHS) and had to fill out a questionnaire as part of that process. I could talk a bit about how my strategy for filling out a health questionnaire was different here –where I knew everything would be covered and all necessary treatment would be free — than when filling out a similar form in the US.

But instead, I’ll note an aspect of the form itself which was quite different from personal questionnaires in the US. Usually  when a form in the US asks about race/ethnicity is has several boxes that one can tick, usually along the following lines:

  • White
  • Black/African-American
  • Native American
  • Asian or Pacific Islander

etc…

But on this form, such descriptions were merely categories, under which much more detailed options were given. So, for example, I could not simply select “White.” Instead I had the following choices:

White:

  • British
  • Irish
  • Other (please list):

Like many Americans, my ancestors came from a variety of places, so I ticked all three of these boxes. When I handed the form in to the receptionist at the surgery she laughed and held up the form in amazement. For a moment I felt like Michael Scott from the American Office, describing himself as “sort of a virtual United Nations.” Of course, such an ethnic background is not unusual in the US, but we rarely have people delve into it for simple questionnaires.

I’m not sure what, if anything, this little insight tells us about broader perceptions of race and ethnicity in either country. Any thoughts?

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2 responses to “Adventures in Ethnicity

  1. Enjoy your posts. Working in cross-cultural ministry — there are many cultures that would be shocked at what you posted. However, after living in America, their children grasp on the melting pot culture. I was born in to a “full-blooded” Norweigan family, but I’m the last generation to not speak Norweigan at all. I’m Americanized.

  2. it always makes me stop and think…. im half White British, and half White American… always ends up easier to just be British!

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