The Bureaucracy

I have been filling out forms, lately.

I am terrible at filling out forms. Especially important ones that relate to me. I am very good at filling out forms for other people. After all a lot of my daily work involves form filling. (The life of a lawyer is a glamorous one, my friends.) From when I was young, I filled out forms for my parents and translated for them: Social Security forms, mortgage forms, citizenship application forms, medical forms. You name it and I have probably filled it out.

The form currently occupying my time is my “Becoming a UK Lawyer” form. It has more illegible crossings out on it than any I have filled in so far. I peer at the question and think: What do you mean? Does that apply to me? I recall having similar difficulties when applying to become an Australian lawyer. Perhaps it is the last way the system can weed out the unsuitables: If you cannot fill out this form, buddy, you’re probably not cut out to be a lawyer.

The section on forms in the UK that bother me the most are the ‘diversity’ questions. A limp appendage to the rest of the form, this part comes last. There is a tick box (yes/no) for whether one has a disability and then a blank space where one can be artful in the description of one’s deviation from the able-bodied world. Next, is my favourite question:

Please describe your ethnic background.

Instead of a few blank lines, like the disability question, there are 8 or so tick boxes.

They are:-

1. White / Irish
2. White / British
3. Indian
4. Pakistani
5. Bangladeshi
6. Chinese
7. Mixed Race
8. White / Other

I am flummoxed by these choices. I am exceedingly reluctant to tick the “White / Other ” box. So I don’t. I’m not white. But I do fit into a lot of ‘Other’ categories. Instead, I write in the empty space: Vietnamese. There, I am recognised. That part of my form will probably just be discarded as it cannot be inputted into a database and will therefore count as “no response”.

I love the Mixed Race choice. You just tick it and then there’s nowhere for you to say what mixture. It is as if, once you are a mongrel, the ethnic heritages that go to make up YOU are irrelevant. Mixed Race is a category of itself. And perhaps it is: an additional layer that is more than its composite parts. Nevertheless, I expect the parts that make up the whole are important to the individual. Important enough to be put on a form, anyway.



  1. I have never thought of it really. Some forms would say Chinese/others but most of the time due to laziness I just put myself down as Chinese. You got me thinking now…


  2. The US census had an other box and you were only allowed to check off one box. Then in 2000, they finally allowed us to check more than one box for each of our ethnicities. So I happily checked off Chinese and Vietnamese. The downside is that I then don’t get counted as fully one or the other.

    Numbers count when it comes to seeking federal funds for various non-profits. Instead of having 1.3 million VNese, maybe it drops down to 1.1 million. Don’t quote me on that, I can’t remember exact population counts and don’t feel like looking it up. 😛


  3. According to that form, you and I would be the same ethnic group. I am not white / Irish or white / British. I am white / Australian.


  4. in NZ you have to fill in your race on official forms where as I think back here in OZ it’s either you’re ats or non-ats!


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