We asked 70 People, Seven Questions
About Race & Ethnicity in American Culture
This is What they Said!
The Construction of Race and Racism
Defining Ethnicity & Nationality
First let me start by defining Ethnicity and Nationality which are terms that are often confused with race. Ethnicity refers to particular groups of people that share some common heritage, traditions, or language. Before the world was made up of distinct nations, states or countries, certain pieces of land were connected to ethnic groups. Some examples are:
• Anglos and Saxons – England
• Mayan – Southern Mexico/Central America
• Greeks – Greece
• Pueblo– New Mexico
Since some countries were made up mostly of one ethnic group, people began to believe that nationality and the country which a person is a citizen of was the same as ethnicity. For example, a person from Denmark is Danish. But more often the name of the country doesn’t refer to the ethnic origins of its citizens. A person from Spain would be thought of as Spanish, although their ethnicity could be Gitano. Many countries like Spain are actually made up of various ethnic groups. The United States is a perfect example. Many people like to make ethnic distinctions as well as national distinctions to hold on to their ethnic culture and identity. For example:
• Italian-American – Ethnicity is Italian and nationality is US American
• Chinese-American – Ethnicity is Chinese and nationality is US American
Of course, ethnicity becomes more confusing in the process of immigration. As an example, we know in the case of China there are many ethnicities and that diversity gets lost often in how people identify their ethnic identity to non-Chinese people here in the U.S. So although a Chinese-American’s specific ethnicity may be Han, Manchu, Yi or another of the over 50 ethnicities in China, here in the United States those differences get simplified as being Chinese.
What is Race?
Race is a false classification of people that is not based on any real or accurate biological or scientific finding. In other words, the distinction we make between races has nothing to do with scientific fact. Race is a political construction. It is created by people for a political purpose. The concept of race was created as a classification of human beings with the purpose of giving power to white people and to legitimize the control of white people over non-white people.
Religion as a justification for racism
During the reformation of the 16th Century and 17th Century, a key question among Christian religious chain of command was whether Blacks and Indians had souls and/or were human. In this time period, Europeans were exposed more frequently to Africans and the native people of North and South America, and the church struggled between opinions. The Catholic and the Protestant churches arrived at different answers to the question at different times, which created significant differences between the two systems of slavery. The Catholic Church was the first to admit Blacks and Indians had souls, which meant in many Catholic colonies, it was against the law to kill a slave without reason. The Protestant Church wanted to separate and distinguish themselves from Catholics, and therefore was much slower in recognizing the humanity of Africans and Indians. With the increasing importance of slavery, religion was used as a means to justify racism, classifying people of color as soulless. However, as substantial numbers of people of color converted to Christianity, and as religion itself lost much of its power as a legitimizing agent, justifications for the cruelty against slaves changed. The slave-based economy in the south needed a racist manipulative system, which led to the development of various theories to explain human difference and to justify slavery.
Science as a justification for racism
During the 19th century, a scientist named Darwin published on the Origin of the Species in 1859, his book documented the process of evolution. Darwin believed in a natural order to the development of species; the weak die off and the strong survive. Although evolutionary theory is not racist, philosophers and social scientists used Darwin’s theory in scientific ways to justify racism. This way of thinking was later called “Social Darwinism” and had brutal consequences. In 1838 JC Prichard, a famous anthropologist, lectured on the “Extinction of Human Races” He stated that it was obvious that “the savage races” could not be saved. It was the law of nature. In 1864, W. Winwood Reade published his book called Savage Africa. He ended the book with a prediction on the future of the black race. According to him, England and France would rule Africa. Africans would dig the ditches and water the deserts. It will be hard work and the Africans will probably become extinct. It illustrated the convenient law of nature, that the weak must be devoured by the strong. It should be noted that there were many examples of this type of thinking. Prichard and Reade were all highly regarded thinkers. Around the world, native peoples in Africa, Asia and the Americas were dying and disappearing. The leading scholars didn’t think this was due to the unlawful abduction of land, which undermined their lives, culture and means of survival, while spreading disease and death. This theory was justified by the laws of nature, in other words, survival of the fittest. European and European American resettlement of native land throughout the world in this period created the consequence of extermination. This provided motivation for supposedly scientific research, which in turn provided exterminators with an alibi by declaring the extermination of the weak race.
The meaning of WHITE
The term white emerged as a classification of people during the 1700s in the British colonies of North America. Europeans were immigrating to the New World for many reasons, some seeking prosperity while many people were escaping discrimination, particularly religious and ethnic conflict. As Europeans arrived in America, groups such as Germans, Dutch, English, and French were encountering each other for the first time. In the colonies, the European settlers in power were under considerable stress, attempting to maintain control of their African Slaves and their white indentured servants, while trying to protect themselves from the alleged threat from Native Americans. At this time, poor white indentured servants were building alliances
and relationships with African slaves due to their similar state of repression. The term white was defined as anyone without a drop of African or Indian blood. The category white was created as a political construct that was used as an organizing tool to unite Europeans in order to consolidate strength, increasing their ability to maintain control and dominance over the Native Americans and African slaves, which in many places outnumbered Europeans. Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose abuse and exposure to violence is justified by their not being white. White is an artificial creation because the definition of white changes due to time and geography. Not everybody has been considered white at the same time. Irish, Jews, Italians for example went
through a process of becoming white. This was a process of assimilation that required certain cultural losses in order to gain white privilege and power. Some people, South Americans for example, who may have been considered white where they once lived were now considered Latinos by white society when they moved to the U.S. But just because race and whiteness were created, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t essentially affect our world.
The term People of Color
People of color’ is not a term that refers to a real biological or scientific distinction between people. People of color in the U.S. share the common experience of being targeted and demoralized by racism. Unfortunately, one of the ways racism operates is to keep people of color divided. Many people only think about their specific ethnic or racial group when discussing repression or the need to build political power. By using the term people of color, we begin to push people to think more broadly. We need to build relationships with other groups of color and overcome racism.
I just wanted to share this site. Check out #27, #44, and #95.
CHRIS: I think that it’s important to understand the different parts of the word inter racial – I don’t like Dictionary.com’s definition of race or racial. It’s a subjective point of view.
THERESA: In certain parts of the country schools are allowing students to choose more than one racial category on forms. For example, an interracial child can choose both categories. So it seems that they are furthering separating individuals.
Sue: I don’t think that further segregates you I think it opens up the options.
Theresa: Yeah but when we think about test scores how are they going to figure it all out?
JOE: Thinking about our interviews a lot of people said they choose not to be defined by race. I thought everyone would have different opinions.
THERESA: Would have the answers been the same if they were answered anonymously. I think they would have answered differently.
SUE: I think it’s interesting that many people have .7 friends of a different race.
MYRNA: Realistically I don’t think you can be of one race. Everyone is of some type of mixed race. I believe that the lives have been blended in together and there is no complete one person as one race.
CHRIS: I believe there is no genetic difference between any distinct race; another person came back with the concept of physical differences in features other than color.
BRIT: I think it was unbelievable when I saw my cousin who is black, her son is Korean and her other child is Chinese and her husband is white. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
QUESTION: WHY DO WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN THAT RACE IS NOT A TOPIC TO DISCUSS?
MYRNA: Most parents teach their children to be embarrassed about racial issues. Kids aren’t born racist.
QUESTION: WHAT IS THE INTERSECTION BETWEEN RACE AND CLASS (EITHER SOCIAL OR ECONOMIC) AS IT RELATES TO INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE? (REFER TO PAGE 22, LAST PARA.) IS THERE A SOCIAL COST BY MARRYING OUTSIDE OF ONE’S RACE? WHAT WOULD THAT BE AND WHY?
Sue: Regardless of economic class, even if you are the poorest white male/female, you are still considered socially higher than someone of another race.
SUE: Interracial marriage is a trade off.
SHERI: What about the interracial marriage between the white man and the Asian woman who is stereotypically docile, submissive and intelligent. We don’t normally think of Asians as lower class and Asians are attached to the good stereotypes; they are considered the model minority.
SUE: We also have to look at the population. (p.9)
SHERI: it’s almost more natural to see white and Asian together. They are equally classed.
CHRIS: It’s more equal. It’s a value. So even though Asian isn’t white, it’s more acceptable to be them than with Blacks.
RACHEL: The two (Asian and White) are seen as more equal.
QUESTION: HOW DO HISTORICAL EVENTS SUCH AS LEGISLATION AND WAR AFFECT THE TREND OF INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE?
WHY DOESN’T THE ESSAY DISCUSS INTERRACIAL MARRIAGES BETWEEN BLACKS AND SPANISH OR WHITE AND SPANISH? HOW WOULD FRYER’S ARGUMENT BE APPLIED TO THESE GROUPS?
SHERI: Marriage is a social contract. The trade off for some is just being married.
Sue: Interracial marriage disrupts the expectation of the social contract. The white community would think of white women marrying out of their race as a stepping down.
CHRIS: The value outweighs the cost for whites.
WRICE: The true cost is in your children. The primary goal is to prolong your legacy. If your legacy is less likely to look like you then you are not prolonging your legacy.
CHRIS: Looking at this economically, the social trade off is that beauty or intelligence can outweigh race.
WRICE: That’s what racism is: it’s when you project something negative on someone else to make you feel more comfortable about yourself.
THERESA: I agree with page 6. Mixed Race children have a choice in their behaviors. I believe that people will choose based on their environment.
SHERI: May feel as if they don’t belong to any group-as the article states.
CHRIS: If the parents of mixed race children decided to come together and “buck” the system, i.e. choosing a path that is not the norm or socially accepted, then wouldn’t the children of an interracial couple also have these same characteristics and “buck” the system? When you go with someone of another race, it is not something that is pleasurable when in social situations. People stare and there are certain stigmas that are placed on that relationship.
QUESTION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “ACT BLACK” OR “ACT WHITE”? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “TALK BLACK” OR “TALK WHITE”?
CHRIS: If we go back to the mixed race child, consider that we talked about genomes and how these are characteristics that can show up in the offspring. Hence, if both parents take risks (step outside of the monoracial relationship) then the child will take risks.
MORE RISKS, MORE REWARDS-That’s Business 101. Fryer keeps bringing it back to opportunity costs.
SHERI: Something Fryer mentioned in the “Acting White” essay, I applied to the missed race essay. All the risks that they may take may be traditionally associated or stereotypically associated with acting black. So mixed race children may feel that need to buck the system and act black to show their blackness, especially if they are visually very fair in color.
CHRIS: Marginal, would probably mean “produces less than the amount
RACHEL’S QUESTION: IF RACISM IS LEARNED IN THE HOME ENVIRONMENT, CAN RACISM BE UNLEARNED?
this article came up on Yahoo! news today. it’s about a man who was involved with the klu klux klan when he was younger. he is now apologizing for the things he did in his youth, including harming John Lewis, a Congressman from Atlanta. i found it interesting that so many years later he felt remorse for the things he did. and even though people are calling him a “hero” for these apologies, he says it doesn’t make him feel like one. so does this prove that people really can change their views on things like this? or is he just doing it to make himself feel better since he’s sick now or something?