A question of ethnicity

Inevitably, when filling in job applications, you reach the Personal Information section. Purely for monitoring purposes, you understand.

It’s optional, but has anyone not filled in this bit?

I don’t mind admitting my age (pushing 50), my sexual orientation (boringly heterosexual) and my preferred workplace brew (Yorkshire Tea). But the ethnicity question is a real pain.

When I was much younger I looked a lot darker (it’s as if my skin colour has washed out as my skin stretched while growing up). My name didn’t quite match up to anyone’s expectations of what I might look like. Even in my twenties I would introduce myself and people would ask what ‘Gary’ was short for. I pulled a bottle of wine from a fridge at a place when I worked once, and someone said “I didn’t think your lot drank.” To which I said: “What? Librarians?”

Without boring everyone to tears, I’ve spent the last 12 or so years looking up records in the India Office collection at the British Library, trying to find who the ancestors were that went from England/Britain to the sub-continent, and which local women they married and had children with. Such offspring were originally called Eurasion, then Indo-Britons, then Anglo-Indians (which had originally meant a Briton born in India).

So I’m not white. I’m not Indian – not born there, though my mum was (dad was Burmese, which is also not India). How many generations back are you supposed to go? Are we counting country of birth, or what? I’m not a British Indian. I’ve never even been to India.

Which is why I usually just select ‘Mixed’ if that option is available on the form. If I have to choose ‘Other’ and write something in I do write Anglo-Indian, secure in the knowledge that whoever reads that will almost certainly not understand.

What makes it slightly amusing just now is that I’m tidying up my records in preparation for finally taking the family tree web site I’ve built out of ‘beta’. The 88 sample records used for testing will soon be joined by a further 200, and the online records don’t always tally with the actual records – which is why I was in the Reading Room in the British Library last Monday (as well as becoming a Member and visiting the Maps exhibition – both recommended).

As I left, the security person on the desk decided to engage me in conversation because “you’re an Anglo-Indian, like me.”

Perhaps I should start a campaign to get the term added to the 2021 census?

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