Sunday, October 08, 2006

Race and Ethnicity

I participating in a National Institutes of Health study about families of adoption and the "inherited and environmental factors on development, particularly in how environmental and genetic factors operate together through interaction and correlation." (taken from the participant's FAQ sheet) They are studying adopted infants, their adoptive parents and their first parents over a 2.5 year period. Punkin and I are subjects in the study. We had our second interview yesterday. A woman researcher came to our house and watched how Punkin played and interacted. It is interesting and I am looking forward to seeing the final reports, but that is not what I am posting about here.

My part of the study is mostly to fill out questionnaires about my parenting and feelings and health, etc. I work on a laptop while the researcher is playing with Punkin. (They paid for babysitting for Buddy Boy, since he is not part of the study and would obviously be a distraction). One of the sections of questions is collecting data about everyone in the household. They asked the race and ethnicity of each family/household member. I was fascinated by the way they asked as it seemed a unique way to define everyone. I am not clear in my mind about the difference between ethnicity and race. I thought ethnicity had more to do with learned culture and personal identity, and race was more biologically based, coming from the genes of your parents. This questionnaire seemed to use the terms differently, just to separate Hispanics into black or white.

First I was asked about each individual's ethnicity: Hispanic or Non-Hispanic? Then the next question was what race, with a list of possibilities to check off. When I answered about Buddy Boy, I asked the researcher if she thought having one grandparent from Cuba makes a person Hispanic, because Buddy's biological father's father is Cuban. I have never been clear about this and I don't know any Cubans to ask. If you are one quarter Cuban, does that make you Hispanic? Biracial? Mixed? Anyone have an opinion? Cause when people ask me what Buddy Boy is I never know what to say. Usually I just say African American because it is simpler than explaining my whole confusion.

The researcher, who is a woman of light brown skin and tightly curled hair, with an ethnic name that could be Muslim, Indian, or something else I can't identify (I don't want to ask her what she is...) said 1/4 is Hispanic, no question. I told her I hadn't seen ethnicity and race defined that way, broken out with two questions. Hispanic yes/no, and then white, black, Asian, anything else... She said the census does it that way but I don't remember it that way. In that case I have misrepresented Buddy Boy in the census and other documents. I guess he is Hispanic, Non-white and African American. What a mouthful. What's the short answer? Black and part Cuban? I feel like that is too much for a kid to have to explain. If people ask him if he is mixed (a question I get) should I teach him to say something about his Cuban grandfather? Then people are going to ask all about his adoption, his "birthfamily"... etc. and I would like him to have an answer that doesn't invite all those questions all the time. I guess he could just say he's African American and has some Cuban and change the subject. He is going to have to learn how to explain his family so maybe that is just part of it.

While we are on the topic, I don't know what terms to use for his biological father. Birthfather sounds ridiculous to me. He had nothing to do with birth. First father doesn't work for me either, because there is no second or third father. Biological father sounds kinda cold and... judgmental? Like I am implying something negative. Just plain father seems misleading, since we have no contact and he doesn't function in any way as a father. Sperm donor definitely has negative connotations to me. Any thoughts? I want it to be respectful and acknowledge his importance and also sound natural, simple and clear about the relationship.



MaeDay said...

Interesting study you're a part of. Confusing to me as well about the distictions between race and ethnicity.

Bio father sounds a little clinical but other then that,to me it's most factual. The others all seem to resonate a particular bias/slant.

As usual, your blog is like a banquet to this hungary soul. All sorts of good, nutritional food to feast upon.

Anonymous said...

Genetic father?