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~生まれた町で夢見てきた...~
"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Race vs. Ethnicity 
23rd-Feb-2010 09:55 pm
a D!
Race=phenotype

Ethnicity=culture shared across generations

Right?

Well, the above is a good analytical distinction for intro sociology students, but in practice I do not find the distinction to be all that useful when discussing with any critical subtlety anything related to different categories of people.

We know that racial difference is not strictly genetic difference, since African populations (a.k.a. blacks) actually have more genetic variation than all other human populations combined, and in any case how one divides different populations into different racial categories is a function of culture, not empirically determined biology.

But if race is just superficial physical difference, what categories of physical difference precisely...and who decides? After all, Jews are usually considered "white" in the US these days, but in the past they were not. Ditto with Irish people--and back in the day the nativists swore that there was quantifiable physical difference between Irish and Anglo-Saxons. In any case, what quickly becomes clear if you think about it even for a moment is that so-called "racial difference" is actually used as a discursive proxy for cultural difference. In other words, race becomes synonymous with ethnicity.

If that weren't the case, then it wouldn't even be possible to accuse a black man of "acting white."

Likewise, when Koreans and Japanese consider themselves separate races, are they somehow less right than the Westerners who invariably scoff at the notion?

All human families and communities pass down cultural practices to their offspring, but how we categorize those communities into races and ethnicities as a consequence is--fundamentally--ideological. In short, then, I firmly believe that concepts of race and ethnicity are so thoroughly entangled with each other that trying to make analytical distinctions separates theory too much from practice.
Comments 
23rd-Feb-2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
How do you explain that there are far fewer racial categories than ethnicities? You could, I suppose, consider race as a metacategory over ethnicities.

I wasn't aware that Koreans and Japanese consider themselves different races, rather than ethnicities. (You may not know, but I'm one-half Korean and otherwise of European origin.) I think some of this is semantics; given the bad blood and significant cultural differences between them, it's not surprising that both groups would try to maximize those differences. As far as I'm concerned, they're different ethnicities under the rubric of Asian racial identity.
23rd-Feb-2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
How do you explain that there are far fewer racial categories than ethnicities?

According to whom? (Which of course is the key question.) This question ties into the whole Japanese/Korean thing.
24th-Feb-2010 12:09 am (UTC)
I guess I've never seen any 'definition' or listing of races that equals or exceeds that of ethnicities. I'm most familiar with the big three: African, Asian, and Caucasian, though some might throw in Hispanic and native/indigenous. (I'd argue that native/indigenous is actually Asian and Hispanic is a mixture of Caucasian and Asian, considering where so-called Native Americans came from, possibly with some African.)

But I would say compli_cait's response is more well thought-out and reasoned than mine. I thought about using the skin tone argument, but it's really a combination of skin tone, other appearance cues, and geography (i.e., lumping all Asians together).
23rd-Feb-2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
Yes, I feel that the term "race" is outdated in general, and what most people see in "race" is, basically, skin tone, separate from any cultural reference point (ie, purely aesthetic). But then again, when you account for multi-cultural countries like the US, it gets more complicated, since "American" is a "culture" not commonly considered an "ethnicity," and most people still associate with their country of ancestral origin (or sometimes, continent, if, in the case of many blacks, country of ancestry is not known).

It will be interesting to see if and how that changes as the American "culture" gets either more or less compartmentalized. It seemed up to a certain point in the 20th century that immigrant cultures simply assimilated for the most part into the greater culture (retaining some to many customs into the third and fourth generation), and in the last probably 20-30 years, "cultural identity" has become a much bigger trend, with people staying "separate" from the greater group. Of course, degree of "cultural assimilation" has always seemed to correspond to degree to which a new culture and/or ethnicity is either accepted or shunned by the greater society (and that, as well, seems to have to do with how aesthetically identifiable that group is).

I do have to note, though, that a recent study showed there was absolutely no genetic difference between the Irish and other cultural groups in the UK. Then there's the fact that it is commonly believed that the "Japanese" ethnicity actually migrated from China, however many thousands of years ago. I always, also, have found it interesting that Asian and Pacific Islander are always lumped together in surveys, even though entirely culturally, and somewhat to quite aesthetically, they are different.

I'm sure someone has, or will someday, come up with some sort of "race guide" whereby the races can all be clearly divided by length of general population isolation ensuring those differences inbred into the ethnicity, but, oh, wait, we don't live in a racially isolated world anymore... I mean, there have been studies to suggest that a percentage of American blacks have quite a bit of caucasian in them (remnants of slave rape), even though in the compartmentalization of culture, they are still considered an amalgamated separate race in this country (and at the same time equated completely to their continental origin).
23rd-Feb-2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, I feel that the term "race" is outdated in general, and what most people see in "race" is, basically, skin tone

Are Australian Aborigines and Africans the same race, even if their skin tone is the same shade? Just being devil's advocate here--race as popularly understood is more than just skin tone. I think the larger issue here is that when you start to drill into people's assumptions, you realize that "phenotype" is not how ordinary everyday people like you or me actually understand the concept of "race."

I'm sure someone has, or will someday, come up with some sort of "race guide" whereby the races can all be clearly divided by length of general population isolation ensuring those differences inbred into the ethnicity, but, oh, wait, we don't live in a racially isolated world anymore...

Actually, geneticists suggestion that genetic variation (very minor variation, of course, even at its most extreme) can be best understood as a spectrum, and how many different segments you divide that spectrum into, whether two, ten, or two-hundred thousand, is entirely arbitrary.
23rd-Feb-2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
I think there are a lot of people who would look at an Australian Aboriginee, separated from that person's cultural context and think, "black," yes. Whether that judgement would be correct, I think is an issue of context.

You're right, though, in that the classifications are arbitrary at best, and part of a greater issue of racial compartmentalization/ethnocentrism at worst.

As in the example I used of American blacks having some caucasion blood in them, it's mostly a cultural distinction at this point, and a subjective one at that, but for the most part, what people judge when they "look" at someone is based on skin color and/or general features. Someone could be 75% white and 25% black and "look" black and be classified as "black," and the opposite could apply as well.

Maybe, and this is me thinking aloud, a better distinction to be made between race and ethnicity, at least how the words were traditionally used, is that race is how other people perceive you and ethnicity is how you yourself identify. Of course, in this way there would be a lot of overlap and confusion, and one would have to consider how cultural identification would play into it as well.
23rd-Feb-2010 11:44 pm (UTC)
*nods* How one is labeled vs. cultural self-labeling is perhaps a more productive distinction. But of course the former (and perhaps the latter is well) is also culturally situated and may change over time...
23rd-Feb-2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
I don't know that I have a problem with shifting ethnic identification. I don't think "ethnicity" needs to be a stagnant classification, especially as people of different ethnicities inter-marry and such. Two existing ethnicities could, one day, conceivably become a new one, separate from or replacing the former.
23rd-Feb-2010 11:50 pm (UTC)
*laughs* Well, I was actually referring to how certain historically "non-white" groups became white, such as Jews, Irish, Italians, Poles, etc. etc. etc. But it could perhaps apply to what you're saying as well if two or more groups intermix.
24th-Feb-2010 12:01 am (UTC)
Indeed, but isn't that shift in thinking as complicated as racial mixing? Or rather, I think what I was trying to say, is that perception of an ethnicity can change either because of, or evidenced in, inter-marriage. When a group stops separating itself, or stops being separated, from another culture, cultural mixing (both literally and figuratively) is almost assured. ^_^
25th-Feb-2010 09:49 am (UTC)
Well, in the case of Jews, Irish, Italians, Poles, etc. etc. etc., they didn't "become" white by intermarrying. There was concerted lobbying on the part of these groups, and a shift in popular perception as a consequence. They also adopted white dispositions, and some of the most virulent racism against blacks historically came from new immigrants in the US.

(Sorry for the long delay in reply; I've been busy. >_< )
26th-Feb-2010 02:45 am (UTC)
Don't worry about delays. I'm a little hazy from slight fever at the moment, so my responses are delayed anyway. Forgive me if my reply lacks coherency at all...

When I think about "cultural mixing" I have to think about my family. In my grandparents' generation (the immigrants to the US from Italy), no one inter-married. Even though the first thing my grandparents did upon arriving in the US was to learn the language, so there was no "language barrier," the thought of "mixing" with any other culture didn't exist. Maybe it was the times, but I think back then, during the depression, people didn't want to deal with imigrants and different immigrants didn't want to deal with each other. But, by my parents' generation there was some intermarriage, but only with other immigrant groups, and only with other immigrant Catholic groups. Except for my father's sister, who married a Jew, but Jews and Catholics, despite a history of "not getting along" officially (thanks in large part to the Vatican's silence during the holocaust), in the US Jews and Catholics seemed to find a lot of similarities between their lot in life.

Anyway, before I go off on a tangent about it, I think what helped those immigrant groups back then was a culmulative understanding that they were not so different from each other after-all, and even moreso, that even if language or ethnicity divided them, religion certainly didn't. On top of that, the nature of the perception of America was quite different back then. This was the era of Ellis Island (my grandmother came through it, in fact), and the idea that the streets were "paved in gold." People came here to start a new life, to become Americans.

I think a lot of the resistence right now of particularly Hispanic immigrants, and this isn't to say whether it is actually true or if it is right or wrong, is that they aren't perceived to "want" to be Americans. America made a lot of enemies after WWII, and abused a lot of undeveloped countries. The idea that anyone is coming here, not because they want to be here, but because they want to extract money to send back to their "real home" is off-putting. Again, I'm not saying that's an accurate perception of the situation or that it is justifiable, just that people get really up in arms, particularly when "language" is the barrier nowadays.

Hispanics may also be Catholics, but they are also pretty much all alone in their immigrant status right now, and the stigma against Catholics as a whole is mostly gone from our society (thanks to the efforts of the immigrants that came before them), so the real issue right now is the "otherness" of the Spanish language barrier. Americans aren't used to having to deal with "other" languages. Up until now everyone who came here simply learned English or stayed in their little communities, away from everyone else (like the Chinese). The Mexican, Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants coming here now are not particularly separate from the rest of society, nor do they "seem" (whether or not they actually are) interested in "becoming" Americans and assimilating into the larger culture, and that would include giving up their native language.

Of course, at the same time these "new" immigrants came here, we also saw a shift in the way society perceives "otherness." Political correctness, multi-culturalism/ethnic pride, etc. has changed the way people perceive even themselves, let alone each other, so I feel like the ability to say, "hey, if you want to be accepted, you have to make concessions" isn't something even possible anymore. It's like an insult to the rights of ethnic purity, which, honestly, I don't necessarily see as a good thing.

Adopting "white dispositions" might seem like a copout, but it worked in the past and America being a homogenous melting pot where everyone can live in peace is hindered when that "living" has all these culturally imposed separations attached.

Things do seem to be changing little by little for Hispanics, though. We're adopting some Spanish expressions, Americanizing some cultural foods, etc. These are all signs of gradual acceptance and assimilation, even if people don't like the idea of it.
24th-Feb-2010 07:17 am (UTC)
Actually, geneticists suggestion that genetic variation (very minor variation, of course, even at its most extreme) can be best understood as a spectrum, and how many different segments you divide that spectrum into, whether two, ten, or two-hundred thousand, is entirely arbitrary.


That makes a lot of sense to me.
23rd-Feb-2010 11:44 pm (UTC)
Well clearly the Irish are superior to the Anglo-Saxons in every possible way.....

Curiously, according the Census Bureau, Black is a race, White is a race, but Hispanic is not a race. I just told my trainees to ignore that point when someone says their race is Hispanic ^^
23rd-Feb-2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
Ugh, the American racial binary rears its ugly head yet again...

What's really cheesing me off today is the notion that there is no such thing as "white culture". How can one be accused of "acting white" if there isn't? It's just that white culture is assumed to be synonymous to the universal national culture...but again, who says?
23rd-Feb-2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
To be honest, I've always been confused about the classification of "Hispanic" to begin with. What do people mean when they say it? Are they talking about Native Mexicans or Spanish (settlers)? Or some amalgamation of the two? Wouldn't Native Mexicans be a part of "Native American" race/ethnicity? Wouldn't "Spanish" be a part of "European" ethnicity (ie, Caucasian)? And if not, why are Meditteraneans (Italians, Greeks) commonly considered a part of "caucasian," even though they share many of the same ethnic/racial traits that might otherwise separate them? I'm not saying people don't have the right to cultural/ethnic/racial identity, but if we're strictly speaking, the classifications are just as arbitrary as distinguishing between Japanese, Korean, Mainland Chinese, Laotian, Vietnamese, etc. in that all Europeans are closely related, though somewhat genetically distinct, from one another (some, admittedly, moreso than others). But of course, wasn't that the exact point you were making with your entry? ^_^
24th-Feb-2010 05:07 pm (UTC)
An interesting phenomenon that happens in my little town in rural England is the skewing of the local records because an awful lot of the people who have settled in the area of Chinese descent put their race down as 'white brtish' on the census. They don't think of themselves as any different from the other people of the town. It makes sense really, since the typical British 'white' citizen probably has a mixture of celtic, roman, angle, saxon, viking, jute, french, jewish and german (at very least) ancestry. There isn't really a pure 'native' British race, The Celtic peoples are the closest, but none of them are of purely ancient Celtic descent after thousands of years. Everybody is descended from immigrants, at least the recent immigrants come over to work and settle peacefully, some of mine came over with battle axes ¬_¬;

I don't think national identity should depend on ethnicity. It's about where you feel you belong. With the huge increase in 'mixed race' births, the question of ethnicity and race is probably (hopefully) going to become obsolete in the future.
25th-Feb-2010 10:19 am (UTC)
Everybody is descended from immigrants, at least the recent immigrants come over to work and settle peacefully, some of mine came over with battle axes ¬_¬;

*giggles* That has to be the best intervention into the whole race/ethnicity discussion--it's was also this week's topic for my undergrads, though my b*tching on LJ preceded the lecture--this week!
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