Offensive race questions

October 13, 1995

I recently applied for an academic post at one of the United Kingdom's new universities (ie a former polytechnic) and I was sent an application form to complete. One of the sections asked for details on ethnic origins, and there was a choice of two basic categories: black or white, with respective subdivisions of Asian, African, etc, and European and other.

The only other two occasions when I have been asked to supply this type of information were on immigration arrival forms, on entering Fiji (which has a constitution based on race), and on entering South Africa during the apartheid years (hopefully the latter has since changed). In all three instances it was claimed that the information was needed for statistical purposes.

The university, in the general information supplied with the application forms, further boasted that 43 per cent of its students were "self-identified blacks". So what? How does this kind of statement help anybody?

I have lived and worked in black communities for most of my adult life, in Trinidad and Grenada in the West Indies, in Botswana, Malawi and Zimbabwe in Africa, and in Fiji, and also among black people in the UK, and it is obvious to me that most people do not want race to be an issue. At the same time I have met many individuals from various ethnic origins who would be offended if they were put into either of the categories black or white. Is it not time that administrators in the UK recognised this? I have applied for jobs in all countries I mentioned, but never before have I been asked to declare my ethnic origins on an application form.

RICHARD WORTH Visiting assistant professor National University of Science and Technology Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

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