Ethnic categories

I received a Census 2011 form from the Government of Canada asking me to go online and fill out a short survey. Upon finishing said survey, I was informed that I was eligible to fill out the National Household Survey, so I proceeded to fill it out.

One question caught my attention.

Under the section titled “Sociocultural Information”, the survey respondent was asked to select one or more of the given ethnic categories he/she belongs to. The question read as follows, verbatim:

This information is collected in accordance with the Employment Equity Act and its Regulations and Guidelines to support programs that promote equal opportunity for everyone to share in the social, cultural, and economic life of Canada.

Select more than one or specify, if applicable.

19. Is this person:

  • White
  • South Asian (e.g., East Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, etc.)
  • Chinese
  • Black
  • Filipino
  • Latin American
  • Arab
  • Southeast Asian (e.g., Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malaysian, Laotian, etc.)
  • West Asian (e.g., Iranian, Afghan, etc.)
  • Korean
  • Japanese
  • Other – Specify

Being Korean, I naturally proceeded to check off the box next to “Korean”, but then it got me thinking: “How come Korean is distinctly set apart as a separate category?” Then I noticed that Japanese and Chinese were also in their own categories. How come the three of them weren’t combined into “East Asian” judging by the group “West Asian”? I was wondering what that was supposed to mean. The ethnic groups classified under “West Asian” must be just as diversified and distinct from each other as the Korean group is to the Japanese group. But for some reason, the creators of this survey thought that Koreans, Japanese, and the Chinese are somehow distinct enough to warrant separate groups, and yet the ethnicities that fall under the category “West Asian” fall under the ambiguous title “West Asian”. Mind boggling.

It doesn’t end there. Since when was “Black” an ethnicity? And “White”, for that matter. It’s just strange to me because “White” is being used as an umbrella term for so many ethnicities. The question being: Why single out ethnicities such as Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, etc. while subsuming so many ethnicities – each of them distinct from the other – under the category “White”? Was it done as a matter of convenience? Because there are too many ethnicities to include in the survey question? Yes, perhaps. But in that case, the umbrella term “Chinese” wouldn’t suffice then, since the 56 ethnic groups living in China must also be accounted for.

In any case, this survey question definitely aroused my curiosity, and I wanted to share my musings about it.


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