Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I have always had a bit of an issue with the "ethnic diversity" forms that one has to fill in so often these days. I struggle with the lack of parity in the terms used: a mix of countries, colours and continents. I mean, we might be black, white, yellow, red, brown or we might be African, American, Asian, etc. or we might be mongoloid, caucasian, negroid... but you can't cherry pick some terms from each group and chuck them together into the pot!

For myself, I don't see why this information is needed (apart - possibly - from a census, but even then I'm not always convinced). I'm in favour of people being taken on merit, which is blind to race, gender, etc.

Nevertheless, we are required to fill these forms in all over the place "for administrative purposes" when we apply for jobs, when we enrol our children at schools, when we sign up at a new medical practice.

I have long maintained that it is pretty close to impossible for many of us to state with any certainty what our ethnicity is. For example, there was a rumour doing the rounds many years ago that all Afrikaners had about 7% "black blood". You can imagine that this rumour was energetically quashed by the government of the day, many of whom were fans of the preposterous publications that claimed to prove that black people were not strictly human!

Well, last night I discovered that the originator (stamvader) of my family name in South Africa (my maiden name - Snyman - is a purely South African derivation) was the son of a Bengale slave. Okay, we are talking about the mid 17th century, here. I haven't got as far as the more recent history, but I suspect she is unlikely to have been the only one, since it was apparently common practice for landowners to live with slave women and later emancipate and marry them in order to legitimise their offspring - particularly the sons.

So it seems I am "not quite white". Sadly, none of the forms I have ever seen has a box that I can tick on the grounds of my new-found ethnicity.

And of course, this changes absolutely nothing. I'm still the same person I was yesterday morning before this piece of news came to light... except perhaps for the fact that I'm a little more smug today. I'd like to get hold of all those neo nazi white supremacists who were scandalised by my assertions that none of us could claim racial purity and say "Ek het jou gesĂȘ!" ("Told you so!").

Sadly, I think the only result would be that they would begin to treat me as pariah, too.

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