What’s My Race?

imageIt was a tough question, in all it’s apparent simplicity. “Race”. That’s what the Brunei immigration authorities wanted to know, in the arrival card.

We were 3 women, with Finnish, Australian and English passports. All of us were first rolling our eyes on this question, then laughing it off, before moving on to philosophizing on the need of the immigration in Brunei to know our race. One of my friends wrote down “white?”. Another wanted to write “I’m not competitive” and hope the joke gets understood. Me, I was just confused and anxious.

Honestly I’m not even sure what my race is. More importantly, why should I know what race I’m of and why should I care? Nationality makes practical sense but race? In an arrival card, even if it’s only for statistical purposes, shouldn’t the nationality suffice? The more I think of this the more questions come up in my head.

I can’t think of one good reason for that question and I’m juggling between being anxious, mad and sad. Classifying people with such definitions means dividing us, because a word as race has automatically a negative connotation to it. It doesn’t indicate an interest to understand one’s background or heritage, but a category one should “belong to”. But people can’t be categorized by qualities which we have no control over. Neither is there any point in dividing people into some invisible boxes and expecting them to fit in.

No one needs to know what race I’m of. Not even me. And I’m not going to ask you for yours because I don’t care. There are many things I’m interested in learning about other people, and there are many things I’m happy to share about me. Race, that’s not one of them.


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Outi Annala

A sustainability-enthusiast with a master's degree in social sciences and experienced working for public and private sectors and for an international Non-profit organization. Writing about life and all that matters in living a life to the fullest. Passionate about engaging the private sector to the development work, promoting partnerships between companies and non-profit organizations and initiating discussion and debates. Excited about life and living it to the fullest.

One thought on “What’s My Race?”

  1. Yeah that was a surprise, left me shaking my head in disbelief at the ignorance. Lived in SE Asia long enough to know that their categorization of the “races” bears no resemblance to any of the many US/UK categorizations. For instance, the US/UK categorization “Asian” would be meaningless in Brunei. I understood that Brunei, like Malaysia (and, less explicitly, Singapore), is a form of ethnocracy: a state that is ruled in the name of a dominant ethnic group (Brunei is a Malay Islamic Sultanate). So, domestically, everyone is tracked by race from birth. But I was shocked that, unlike Malaysia and Singapore, Brunei tries to stuff visitors into their little scheme, right at the border.

    After considering answering with the same reply that I sometimes supply to forms that ask for “Sex” – “No thanks” – I finally settled on the simpler reply: “Human”. The immigration police were not amused.

    Thanks for posting – I regret that I didn’t think to take a photo of the card, so I appreciate that you did.


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