Unfortunately for them, I am more than willing to talk to telemarketers and pollsters when they call my increasingly unnecessary and antiquated home phone line. Last night I had an incredibly funny interchange with a pollster that was entirely unpremeditated. About 9:00 p.m. the home phone rang and after my “hello” the woman scrambled through some papers to frantically figure out who had answered the phone. After establishing that I was the “youngest male voter registered to vote and living in the house,” the rest of the interview went something like this:
Pollster: “Sir, what is your ethnicity: black, asian, caucasian, hispanic or other?”
Me: “I have no idea.”
Pollster: “Well, are you hispanic?”
Me: “A couple of my kids are.”
Pollster: “So you are hispanic?”
Me: “I have no idea. Could you explain to me why that matters?”
Pollster: “Sir, I am just asking the questions – are you black, asian, caucasian, hispanic or other?”
Me: “How many generations back? Is there a definition for any of those answers so that I am sure that I understand the question?”
Pollster: “I’ve never been asked that before, I don’t know.”
Me: “Well, don’t you think that it would be important for me to know that so that I can correctly answer the question?”
Pollster: “Sir, all I have here is are you black asian, caucasian, hispanic or other?”
Me: “Well since you don’t have a definition and you don’t know how many generations I need to look back to give you an answer, and since scientists know that all man came from Africa 50,000 years ago or so, I guess the only truthful answer is that I am African-American.”
Pollster: “African-American?” (sounding quite suspicious)
Me: “Well from the very little information you have given me to answer the question, yes, African-American.”
Pollster: (sounding happy just to be moving on) “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?”
Pollster: “A strong Republican or a weak Republican?”
Me: “A strong Republican.”
Pollster: “Thank you.” (click) phone call abruptly ends.
Now it was not my intent to torture this poor woman but she just happened to run into one of my “serious questions about modern-day society” – just what does race mean? During the civil rights movement things were clear and understandable, we were fighting to end bias based solely on the color of someone’s skin. It didn’t matter what color the skin (black, asian, hispanic, etc.) we were simply fighting for equal treatment for everyone. It didn’t matter if someone was from Cuba, or Ecuador or Mexico, the only thing that mattered is “were they subject to bias and poor treatment simply because of how they looked?” If they were, we fought to change that.
Today, race has taken on an entirely new and not positive face. It matters more where you are from than what you look like and is almost irrelevant if you are subject to bias. I have five kids and even people who have known my family for a long time have difficulty knowing “whose are whose” because we have raised them all as “ours” since they were so little they no longer remember anything else. Two of my kids are of European “Spanish” descent with a hispanic last name and three are not. These five kids have had the same upbringing, the same opportunities and the same tools available to them and all five have been treated by the whole world the same. However, we have been told that when we fill out university applications, make sure that we use their “real” last names and to clearly indicate that they are hispanic to improve admission chances and financial aid opportunities. Really? Does that make sense to ANYBODY?
Fifty years ago it was difficult for anyone other than a white male to get a job in corporate America and one of the bad reasons given for those biased hiring decisions was “that is what the client’s want, we have to give the client’s what they want.” Unfortunately today hiring decisions are no more merit based than they were 50 years ago. Diversity is hailed as the be all and end all with hiring decisions made based up race and gender much like in the past, just different races and different genders. The present is no better than the past and until we start to look beyond race and gender and simply look at the quality of the person this cycle of nonsense will go on forever.