Chapter 13: Race and Ethnicity

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Chapter 13: Race and Ethnicity

A race is a biological subspecies, consisting of a more or less distinct population with anatomical traits that distinguish it clearly from other populations.  This biological definition does not fit the reality of human genetic variation today.

We are biologically an extremely homogenous species. 

Human "races" are mostly socio-cultural creations, not biological realities. 

The concept of human biological races is based on the false assumption that anatomical traits, such as skin color and specific facial characteristics, cluster together in single distinct groups of people. 

refers to selected cultural and sometimes physical characteristics used to classify people into (ethnic) groups or categories considered to be significantly different from others. 

Ethnicity can be said to exist when people claim a certain ethnic
identity for themselves and are defined by others as having that identity

In some cases, ethnicity involves a loose group identity with few cultural traditions in common.  This is the case with many Irish and German Americans.

In contrast, some ethnic groups are coherent subcultures with a shared language and body of tradition.  Newly arrived immigrant groups often fit this pattern.

Ethnicity means identifying with, and feeling part of, a socially recognized ethnic group.

Ethnicity also means being excluded from other such groups because of one's ethnic identity.

The importance of an ethnic identity also may change during the individ­ual life cycle. For example, young people may relin­quish, or old people reclaim, an ethnic background.

-Because of migration, conquest, and colonialism, most nation-states are ethnically heterogeneous.

-Of 132 nation­states existing in 1971, only 12 (9%) were ethnically homogeneous.
-In another 25 countries (19 %), a single ethnic group accounted for more than 90 percent of the population.
-Forty percent of the countries had more than five significant ethnic groups.

In creating multiethnic states, former colonial powers such as France and England often erected boundaries that corresponded poorly with preexisting cultural divisions.
Often, the colonial powers followed a "divide and rule" policy.
They split up an ethnic group between colonies to dilute its strength in numbers.
Or they stirred up rivalries among different ethnic groups in the same colony in order to strengthen allegiance to the colonial power.

Assimilation isn't inevitable, and there can be ethnic harmony without it.
Ethnic distinctions can persist, rather than assimilated, long term interethnic contact.
Interaction does not always lead to assimilation; ethnic groups can be in contact for generations without assimilating and can live in peaceful coexistence.

A plural society is one that combines ethnic differences with:
-ecological specialization (use of different environmental resources by each ethnic group)
-economic interdependence (symbiosis).

Middle East (in the 1950s):
"The 'environment' of any one ethnic group is not only defined by natural conditions, but also by the presence and activities of the other ethnic groups on which it depends.

Each group exploits only part of the total environment, and leaves large parts of it open for other groups to exploit.

Ethnic boundaries are most stable when the groups occupy different ecological niches.
They make their living in different ways and don't compete.

Ideally, they should depend on each other's activities and exchange with one another. Under such conditions, ethnic diversity can be maintained, although the specific cultural features of each group may change.

Multiculturalism assumes that each group has something to offer and to learn from the others.
It views cultural diversity in a country as something desirable and to be encouraged.

The multicultural model contrasts sharply with the assimilationist model, in which minorities are expected to abandon their traditions, replacing them with those of the majority population.

Multiculturalism encourages the perception and practice of many ethnic traditions. A multicultural society socializes individuals not only into the dominant (national) culture but also into an ethnic culture.

Ethnic groups (nationalities) like the Tajiks and Chechens are seeking to establish separate and viable nation-states based on cultural, and religious, boundaries.

The celebration of ethnic autonomy is a reaction to the Soviet Union's decades of suppressing cultural and religious diversity. It is part of an ethnic florescence that is a trend at the new millennium.
(see p. 211 on ethnic intolerance)


Black Korean Tension in South Central L.A.

Job loss due to closing of factories and urban flight from the community
-Decline in quality of life in S.Central L.A.
-Immigrants have access to outside sources of capital
-Cultural differences are not reconciled (see Ch. 4).
-Racial tension escalated
Riots and shooting of Latasha Harlins

Elmhurst Corona (Queens, N.Y.)

  1. Members of different ethnic groups moved into a what was formally a middle class neighborhood.

  2. Serious decline in quality of life associated with city’s fiscal crisis.

  3. Multi-ethnic female leadership emerged to find solutions “for sake of the children.”

  4. Women used interpersonal skills and informal means to gain services and establish neighborhood patrols.

  5. Lesson is that when people take action, attitudes change.

Why Whites are not a superior race

  1. Intellectual superiority was not responsible for European invention of new technology and political complexity

This advantage was largely accidental according to Jered Diamond (see on article on line )

Why Africa Lags

  1. Africa had no naval defense

  2. Europeans seized control of ports

  3. European exhausted gold mines

  4. Slave trade

  5. Increased warfare

  6. After slavery, colonialism kept Africa subservient

  7. Europeans prevented Africans from developing industrial infrastructure

  8. Unable to complete in world market after achieving independence

10 percent of Japan's population are minorities of various sorts. These include aboriginal Ainu, annexed Okinawans, outcast burakumin, children of mixed marriages, and immigrant nationalities, especially Koreans, who number more than 700,000.

In Japan, the valued group is majority ("pure") Japanese, who are believed to share "the same blood." Thus, the caption to a printed photo of a Japanese-American model reads: "She was born in Japan but raised in Hawaii. Her nationality is American but no foreign blood flows in her veins"

Hypodescent also operates in Japan, but less precisely than in the United States, where mixed offspring automatically become members of the minority group. The chil­dren of mixed marriages between majority Japan­ese and others (including Euro-Americans) may not get the same "racial" label as the minority parent, but they are still stigmatized for their non-Japanese ancestry.

How is race culturally constructed in Japan?

-The (majority) Japanese define themselves by opposition to others, whether minority groups in their own nation or outsiders-anyone who is "not us."

-Aspects of phenotype (detectable physical traits, such as perceived body odor) are considered part of being racially different by opposition. Other races don't smell as "we" do.

-The Japanese say Koreans smell different (as Europeans also do). -- Japanese also stereotype their minorities with behavioral and psychological traits.

- Koreans are stereotyped as underachievers, crime-prone, and working class. They are placed in opposition to dominant Japanese, who are posi­tively stereotyped as harmonious, hard-working, and middle class

-Japanese culture regards certain ethnic groups as having a biological basis, when there is no evidence that they do.
The best example is the burakumin, a stigmatized group of at least four million outcasts. They are sometimes compared to India's untouchables. --They are physically and genetically indistinguishable from other Japanese.
-Many "pass" as (and marry) majority Japanese, but a deceptive marriage can end in divorce if burakumin identity is discovered.
-Through ancestry and descent (and thus, it is assumed, "blood," or -They are residentially segregated in neighborhoods (rural or urban) called buraku, from which the racial label is derived.
-Compared with majority Japanese, the burakumin are less likely to attend high school and college; when they attend the same schools as majority Japanese, they face discrimination.
Majority children and teachers may refuse to eat with them because burakumin are considered unclean.

Notes on Brazil

  • Along with the rest of Latin America, Brazil has less exclusionary categories, which permit individuals to change their racial classification.

  • Brazil shares a history of slavery with the United States, but it lacks the hypodescent** rule.

  • The history of Brazilian slavery dates back to the 16th century, when Africans were brought as slaves to work on sugar plantations in northeastern Brazil.. Today, especially in areas of Brazil where slaves were most numerous, African ancestry is evident.

The system that Brazilians use to classify biological differences contrasts with those used in the United States.

  • First, Brazilians use many more racial labels (over 500 have been reported [Harris 1970]) than North Americans or Japanese do.

  • Through their classification system, Brazilians recognize and attempt to describe the physical variation that exists in their population.

  • The system used in the United States, by recognizing only three or four races, blinds North Americans to an equivalent range of evident physical contrasts. Japanese races, remember, don't even originate in physical contrasts.

  • The system that Brazilians use to construct social race has other special features. In the United States, one's race is assigned automatically at birth by hypodescent and doesn't usually change.

  • Brazilian racial classification pays attention to phenotype. A Brazilian's phenotype, and racial label, may change due to environmental factors, such as the tanning rays of the sun. For historical reasons, darker-skinned Brazilians tend to be poorer than lighter-skinned Brazilians are.

  • When Brazil abolished slavery in 1889, the freed men and women received no land or other reparations. They took what jobs were available.

  • Many Brazilians (including slave descendants) are poor because they lack a family history of access to land or commercial wealth and because upward social mobility is difficult.

  • Continuing today, especially in cities, it is poor, dark-skinned Brazilians, on average, who face the most intense discrimination.

HYPODESCENT: Hypodescent states that, in the case of sexual union involving parents of different "races", the offspring automatically takes on the status of the lower caste parent. Therefore a sexual union between a "black" and "white" invariably produces a "black" (even though this "black" is now a mulatto). Furthermore, if this mulatto also has sexual relations with a person of the "white" group, his offspring will also be labeled as "black". The hypodescent rule does several things: first, it eliminates African ancestry from the "white" population. Second, it establishes two very rigidly defined social groups. Third, it discourages intermarriage. Fourth, it encourages a mind set in which one thinks of immutable "races" in which people are placed for life.

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