Ethnicity: Why Do I Need to Fit Into a Category?

Ethnicity: Why Do I Need to Fit Into a Category?

Am I the only one who is just so tired of the ‘what is your ethnic group’ question? They are just EVERYWHERE. University applications, job applications, registration forms, police reports, basically any form you fill out. I never really needed to think about where my ethnicity fits in before I came to the UK. Initially, I was selecting ‘white’ because I look white but now that I’ve nearly been living here for some years, I’m definitely not white. But then, what am I?

I am Cypriot, that is what I like to use but for the sake of this article, I will talk about my ethnicity in a more detailed way. I’m a Turkish Cypriot (a Turkish speaking person from Cyprus) with, what I call, a little extra dose of Turkishness because my dad’s from Turkey. Cyprus has always been ethnically mixed and hard to define as one, but I was never asked to fit myself into pre-determined categories. Also, I have come to realise that each country has its own connotations of what each group entails.

I thought the concepts ‘black’ and ‘white’ were about skin colour, in that sense, I was white. Then, living in this country showed me that ‘white’ is far beyond just skin colour. First of all, at this point, ‘black’ and ‘white’ are the two ends of a stick and all the rest are replaced in the middle. White is mostly the countries that used to be the colonisers, and they have a specifically Western culture. In that case, for me, being white was being from a culture that I was not a part of. Also, the term ‘white’, narrowed down, meant British here and then, there’s another category of the ‘white European’. My passport says European but my passport is from the south side of Cyprus and I’m from the North which isn’t recognised as part of the EU. So, am I really a European in that case? Then, I didn’t feel culturally European, either. ‘White other’, okay, maybe, but what is ‘other’?

Many Cypriots, I’m sure, like to identify as white because we have been unconsciously taught that that is the superior ethnicity and if somehow we can fit that, no need to question. But no, I don’t think I’m white. Yes, my skin colour makes me more privileged than many, no denying that, but as someone from a previous colony, I have a hard time defining myself as white and bare all the connotations that comes with it that I don’t identify with.

So, I searched for alternatives. Which continent Cyprus is a part of is a complicated topic. If you don’t know, Cyprus is a separated island in the Mediterranean Sea. Greek-speaking Cypriots live in the South part which is the recognised part of the country and is in the EU. The North part, where I am from, has a government of its own but is not recognised by the world, only by Turkey which we are dependent on. So, in a sense, we can say that the South is Europe and the North is Asia.

So, ‘Asian’ would have been a possibility if Asian meant someone from the continent of Asia and not just people of the Far East. There are separate categories for Indians, Pakistanis and Bengalis who are also continentally Asian but nothing for the Turks, let alone us. This is the category that confuses me the most. It takes away the continental identity of the majority of the people from Asia. It gives certain appearance connotations which fit Far East Asians, and the rest has to give that identity away and either get a category for their country or try to fit themselves into another category. At the same time, people from the different countries of the Far East are all seen the same because they all look similar to the Western people. The same problem applies to the ‘black’ category too which entails even more people from different countries.

I considered ‘Mixed’, but while whether Turkish Cypriot and Turk is mixed or not is a debate in itself, ‘Mixed’ also, I’ve learned, was meant for the mix of the specific categories like black and white, white and Asian, etc. That leaves Caribbean and Arab, which I certainly am not.

Now, I choose ‘prefer not to say,’ if I am given the choice. If not, I choose ‘other’, but that also bothers me. Why do they have to be the One, and I have to be the Other? Sometimes answering that one simple question stresses me out so much, makes me think about it for longer than I should. It puts me in a crisis of where do I fit in. I was even at the point of accepting a category for Turks, if there was one, because I was more of that than any other, which again does not entirely define me and is against what I am fighting for as a peace supporter in Cyprus. While some of us are striving to refuse the adjectives of Turkish and Greek in front of Cypriot and just be Cypriot, in our own country, this country is trying to make us define ourselves even in other terms that are not us.

Then, I started asking, why am I asked to fit into a category? What does it matter in a university application or a job application or any of these spaces that are supposed to consider me according to other qualifications which have nothing to do with my ethnicity.

Why do we need these categories? Why do we need all the judgement, glorification, shame, guilt, negative cultural stigmas and even pop culture references, you name it, that comes with it. Why do we start describing a person with which race they look like they are from? Our constant struggle of white and non-white only keeps setting boundaries that we are supposed to be trying to break.

Final decision: My ethnicity is a part of me, but it is not enough to define me. So, I refuse to be categorised. Ask me who I am, not where I fit.

* previously published on CUB Magazine.

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