A student applies for admission to a university. He completes the application, and flips through it to ensure its completeness, and comes across a question that he had deliberately skipped over. The question asks for his "Ethnic Background." He looks at himself in the mirror, and takes note of the face staring back at him: dark blonde hair, green eyes, light skinned, and clear complexion. He is a fourth generation American, yet notices this is not an option on the form. He is forced to check the box linking him to a country that his ancestors left over two hundred years before his birth. A country he has never been to, researched, or considered himself a part of except in situations like this. .
Why is "American" not an option as an ethnic group? Webster's defines "ethnic" as " relating to races or large groups of people classed according to common traits and customs." Isn't that what American's are: many people in groups by common interests and traditions. Shouldn't anyone born in America be able to classify him or herself as such, and then be allowed the option to classify him or herself further by race (physical traits due to ancestry)? .
In Optional Ethnicities: For Whites Only, Mary C. Waters states that many people use their ancestral lineage for "social" purposes, and not for identity. (644) Her example was an Irish individual who considers himself Irish merely for holidays, and family get-togethers, but not in everyday life. (Waters 644) It is not something that "influences their lives unless they want it to." (Waters 644) She also remarked that many of "European" descent may be the offspring of intermarriage, and their ethnicity is "largely a matter of personal choice as they sort through all of the possible combinations of groups in their genealogies." (Waters 644) Adding to the idea of choice, there is a phenomenon called "passing." This is where people who are raised as one race, change at some point and claim a different race as their identity.