Ethnicity

By: Sydney Cronk

Application of Course Content

If you were asked the question, “can you define ethnicity?”, would you be able to answer it? For the average person, their answer to this question is often incorrect due to constant misinformation leading to false knowledge, or the inability to even give an answer. The term ‘race’ is used as a crutch to answering this question, as Race and ethnicity are often incorrectly used interchangeably, incorrectly. The terms ethnicity and race used to be easier to discern, however due to the immigration and globalization the terms have become overlapped. Race is a classification system that is used by sociologists to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is a method of classification based upon a common trait of the population, such as a common heritage, a common culture, a shared language or dialect. Ethnicity may also be based on common ancestry and religion. These things develop because of a certain groups’ unique historical and social experiences, and this becomes the basis for the group’s ethnic identity. An ethnic group is defined as a group that has a shared cultural heritage (ex. Language, tradition, religion). Unlike race, which is based on observable physical traits, ethnicities aren’t. and in face, two people of the same ethnicity can be entirely different races. The sense of identification that a cultural group collectively has is largely based on the group’s common heritage. Each ethnic group is different from the other. Ethnicity is considered to be the cultural identity of a group, whereas race is the biological constitution of a group of people. However, race is a social construct humans have created and therefore cannot base itself solely on observable biological characteristics, such as skin color, because it does not categorize people correctly, or as correct as “categorization” can get. Race is more commonly used by society as a way to organize people and distribute power. Yet, both race and ethnicity play a role in how people are perceived and in turn what opportunities are available to them. This in turn leads to the creation of communities, and inevitably communities of power. Those communities not seen in the position of power are often that of minorities. A minority is defined as any category of people who are distinguished by physical or cultural difference, that a society sets apart and subordinates. Notice there is no mention of the size of this group. The common misconception people have, especially in America, is that minority group are disadvantage due to their small size and inability to stabilize in a complex society such as America. This is simply not the case. Their disadvantage comes from the oppression by those communities of power that are in control and influence thought and opinion through prejudice and stereotypes. Prejudice is a rigid and unfair generalization about an entire category of people, unfair being the assumption of actions of an individual reflect whole group with little to no evidence. This negativity perpetuated by either lack of knowledge or misinformation is creating societal ignorance that is not allowing the acceptance of those different from ourselves. Due to global conglomeration, people have actually become more open and knowledgeable about other ethnicities. This has offered more choice and change for people, such as borrowing styles and ideas from other cultures or ethnicities. This overlap of ethnicities has made it impossible to identify ethnicity based solely on distinctive features. This positive affect has made defining ethnicity a struggle, but has facilitated and encouraged learning about cultures outside our own.

 

Analysis

When contemplating the reasoning behind societies seemingly ignorant non-acceptance of different diasporas, I decided to pose this question to our community partner at YES! Magazine. My question to her was, “Due to immigration and globalization within modern society, there is a clear struggle to make the definition of ethnicity common knowledge. How do you think this lack of knowledge has contributed to the inequality among communities?” Her response being: “I think that a lack of knowledge about any topic is harmful to communities. If we keep perpetuating wrong doings to these communities then we are a part of the problem. And that starts with being uneducated and not willing to learn things that are outside of ourselves.”  The lack of knowledge in life is the key to ignorance. Not only this, but Bailey made an excellent point in saying “not willing to learn things”. The unwillingness to an open mind to learn and evaluate newly presented information is something our society seems to struggle with immensely. Not only are we refusing to accept new ideas and cultures, we are refusing to recognize they even exist. This is disrespecting their importance to others in our global community which is unfathomably negative. But then thinking, whose job is it to inform our public of issues like this? My next question was: “Considering media outlets such as YES! Magazine, how important of a role do they have when it comes to the responsibility of informing the public of controversial yet important social issues?” Bailey responded by saying, “From the Editors: “We believe I some important things, and these values inform our editorial decisions: That every person matters and deserves to live a dignified life. That real solutions work for the many, not the few. That people and planet are part of an interconnected web of life. That a government controlled by corporations cannot serve the people. That equality and equity are foundations for justice. We promise truth. You can trust our journalism. Reports of fake news are rampant along with allegations of smear campaigns by both left and right. Breibart News is attacking Kellogg for making a stand and pulling its ads. Inaccurate Trump quotes are traveling as viral memes. A watch list is labeling left news outlets as pro-Russian. YES! Is subscriber-supported, not beholden to advertising or any special interest. We are not distracted by click counts or rushing to publish. Our editors work hard to deliver fair and accurate articles. We take the extra day to fact check, and all our articles go through multiple editors. We require source citations for facts. That’s rare these days. Our editors understand the movements they cover. This is journalism with integrity. Lastly, we promise that we will be unafraid. That means we will be aggressive in our brand of explanatory reporting and not shy away from looking at the many negative developments that surely lie ahead. We will name the problem “isms” when we see them: neoliberalism, capitalism, racism, white nationalism. To provoke important conversations, we will make space for the wide variety of perspectives and approaches to solving social problems that exist within progressive movements. They might sometimes be in direct conflict with one another. We will strive to create a respectful polyphony of voices.” The responsibility YES! Magazine takes in reflecting and producing honest journalism that furthers societal advancement rather than stunting its growth is a leadership positions all media outlets should look up to. It benefits everyone, directly and indirectly.

 

Evaluation

Although Postman’s analysis of society in Amusing Ourselves to Death revolves primarily around the influences of technological advancement, his deeper understanding of the power of information contributes to the argument of perpetuating ignorance. He clearly states this with the quote, “Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information–misplace, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information–information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.” (87) Knowledge of the ignorant by the ignorant gets society nowhere, and disinformation is leading us in a downward spiral that only authentic information can stop. “…I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?” (87) By accepting where we are in society is saying that ignorance is irreversible, which is false. Takaki is a professor of ethnic studies and therefore extremely educated in the lens I have taken to analyze communities of power. A Different Mirror mostly offers is a history of ethnic persecution, from the federal government’s cheating of Choctaw Indians out of their ancestral homes in Georgia, to the long hours of drudgery endured by Irish domestic servants, to the job losses suffered disproportionately by blacks during the Depression. He dwells almost exclusively on the hurdles faced by the immigrant generation: language barriers, low levels of education, isolation from mainstream society. “What I find is that most people don’t know the fact that they don’t know, because of the complete lack of information.” (79).  This quote goes back to the argument that lack of knowledge is ruining society, and therefore preventing growth and acceptance in any way. “…the study of diversity is essential for understanding how and why America became what Walt Whitman called a teeming nation of nations.”  (113) This is why the refusal to learn is holding us back. We are holding ourselves back as a nation, by holding back minority groups and fueling inequality.

Synthesis

Whether or not ignorance is shown through explicit or implicit bias, ethnicity can be found at the root of a lot of inequality. Treating communities and individuals different from you with any less respect for your own, based off of racist assumptions and perpetuated stereotypes, is unfair in every sense of the word. Race is nature, whereas ethnicity is nurture. Race cannot be changed, ethnicity can. But no matter how they are defined, they are what shape the melting pot we call America, and every person that is a member of our society deserves the same respect you give to everyone. No one deserves to be treated differently for simply negative reasons. Takaki and Postman’s analyzation of ignorance stunting the growth of society and identifying ignorance as the root of misinformation only strengthens the point i am trying to make. Open-Mindedness should not be something rewarded in modern society, but its rarity forces us to appreciate it on the few occasions that we see it. If American society can make more attempts at informing the public of factual information surrounding important issues, like YES! Magazine works hard to do, then we may have a fighting chance at saving these communities we have torn apart by allowing ourselves to consume power rather than respect for one another.

           

 

Resources:

 

  1. (2017, November 20). Race & Ethnicity: Crash Course Sociology #34. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7myLgdZhzjo

Miller, J. J., Rothman, N., Ahmari, S., & Podhoretz, J. (1993, September 01). A Different Mirror, by Ronald Takaki. Retrieved from https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/a-different-mirror-by-ronald-takaki/

Postman, N. (2007). Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business. London: Methuen.

Takaki, R. (n.d.). A Different Mirror.

  1. (2015, August 14). Difference between Ethnicity and Race. Retrieved from http://www.differencebetween.info/difference-between-ethnicity-and-race
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