Friday, July 6, 2007

What is "Heritage"?

In everyday use, "heritage" usually refers to a culturally inherited trait that the individual receives from his parents. And so, there's American heritage, Irish heritage, Korean heritage, Jewish heritage, the poorly-defined Latino/Hispanic heritage, Black heritage, and, of course, never a White heritage.

(Does "White Heritage" sound disturbing? If so, then are the other heritages also disturbing?)

In general, it sounds simple: If your parents are of Heritage X, then you are also of Heritage X. Of course, it can get a little more complicated: If Mom is Heritage X and Dad is Heritage Y, then you can "claim" two heritages. Or maybe you would just claim one and ignore the other. (To illustrate, people with a black parent and a white parent usually seem to lean towards a black heritage.)

Now, what if your mom claims Heritages A and B, and dad claims Heritages C and D? Or worse, what if...

Mom = A, B, C, and D, and

Dad = E, F, G, and H?

Well, if any one of those eight heritages is "Native American", then you can open a casino. Otherwise, you would probably select your favorite heritage -- perhaps based on affinity with a group that has many accomplished members, or perhaps based on a group that has many members who claim victimhood, or...whatever your preference is.

Next problem: If your parents are from Germany, and you are born in Chile and then move to America, then what's your heritage? If you say "Chile", then that means that your heritage can be both inherited from your parents and formed by your residence. (And, presumably, your children can claim heritages of Germany and Chile -- and whatever heritages their other parent happened to claim.)

Can heritages extend beyond nationalities? Can one also have an Islamic heritage? Or a gay heritage? If so, that means that heritages can be formed by:

A) Where your parents were born
B) Where you are born
C) Your parent's beliefs
D) Your beliefs
E) Your parent's lifestyle
F) Your lifestyle

Pick and choose any or all?

And when one considers that heritages can grow exponentially from one generation to the next (by a power of 2) , then that's a lot of heritages to be burdened with.

Another problem: Adoptions. If a baby is adopted by a Jewish family, then can the baby claim a Jewish heritage? If that same baby is discovered to have Catholic genetic parents, can the baby also claim a Catholic heritage? Can a Chinese baby adopted into an Irish family also claim a Chinese heritage? If "yes", then on what basis? Genetics? That would imply that cultural traits are transmitted genetically.

And besides, how could a baby possibly have any heritage (let alone a religious heritage) when the only things it can understand are eating, eliminating, and screaming?

In a world of constant migration and "intermarriage", the idea of heritage is obsolete, as it is just optional membership in tribe tribe of your choosing. And in a period of relative enlightenment and education, heritage demands that individual thought and behavior be subordinate to irrelevant tribal rituals. And in a world that recognizes individual accomplishment, heritage assigns credit and blame based on other people in "your" group.

And in a powerful state, heritages are used to coercively take (and kill) for the benefit of other heritages.

Heritage seems like a pretty bad idea.

2 comments:

TDK said...

The idea of a black-white mixed race person claiming to be black is interesting. On the basis of chance alone, those who declare themselves to be one or the other ought to be roughly even between the two. The fact that they're not surely illustrates something.

I reject the answer that whites are racist and blacks tolerant because the evidence does not support such a conclusion and besides which, there are plenty of examples of subgroups where black and white friendship occur. Within such a group a mixed race person ought to be able to declare either way.

The solution must be that there is some perceived advantage in declaring oneself so. Consider a possible example: did Halle Berry's chances of getting an Oscar increase because she was "black"?

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