Race, Ethnicity, & Culture


Race, Ethnicity, & Culture

Beliefs about race and ethnicity influence our cultures, politics, and relationships.  What is race?  What is ethnicity?  This group explores those concepts.

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Racism and the effects of ethnocentrism are alive and well in the 21st century.  Racism and humanism are incompatible by definition. 


The most human, and humane, thing that we can do is acknowledge and support the humanity of people who are different from ourselves.  Curiosity about what makes us human, by necessity, includes curiosity about our human ethnic heritage.


We are incredibly enriched by immersing ourselves in a diverse world.  We are intellectually and emotionally impoverished when we exclude others who are not our mirror image.


This discussion group includes many topics about race and ethnicity.  Feel free to comment to new threads, or resurrect old threads, if any spark your interest.


My 2 cents. Daniel W.


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Comment by Daniel W on May 26, 2009 at 2:06pm
Thanks for posting this inspirational story. For those without access to the video, here is a wikipedia bio of this amazing scientist.

This is a man who has touched millions of lives, and most people don't know his name. His research was key in making modern birth control possible. The wikipedia bio may have more chemical terms than some people are comfortable with - I would just gloss over those sections. According to the bio, Dr. Julien transcended prejudice, discrimination, and poverty, to become one of the great scientists of his time.

Thank you for sharing this information. I can add a humble suggestion, creating discussions with postings such as this would help people locate and comment on it specifically.
Comment by Ralph Dumain on May 26, 2009 at 10:10am
The documentary on Julien Perry (or is it Perry Julien?) was on PBS a year or two ago. It was excellent.
Comment by Ralph Dumain on April 10, 2009 at 8:50am
I think all topics should be moved to a discussion forum, instead of crowding the comment wall. There will be several topics to pursue-ethnicity, race, and the peculiar cases in which they merge. As for religion, the relation between religion and ethnicity is also a topic; for example, so many people do not recognize that Jews comprise an ethnic group and not just a religion, an ignorance of which leads to a lot of foolish and prejudicial judgments.
Comment by Daniel W on April 10, 2009 at 8:42am
Thanks for your comments. Do you think this would be a good topic to move to a discussion forum?
Comment by Ralph Dumain on April 10, 2009 at 12:48am
People can change their attitudes and valuations under certain circumstances, and it is the case that not everyone internalizes all the values and perceptions common in one's society, but it is decidedly false that people can choose not to perceive the significance of color in their society and not tailor their behavior in some way accordingly. One's ability to navigate and survive in one's society involves having some working idea of what's going on in one's environment and the consequences of behaving in one way rather than another, of how to react to a given situation or environment. First of all, minorities don't have the luxury of being oblivious to how others may deal with them. And when others maintain they are color-blind they are only blind to what is really going on in their society. In actuality, we are all forced in some way to respond to situations in a way different than our conscience might otherwise dictate: for example, how we react to people on the street when there is a potential safety issue. In fact, the internalization of expectations is so insidious, that even when we are wary of giving into them, we cannot help but under certain circumstances to do so. And even more insidious is the way that minorities develop the same expectations toward one another as the majority does towards them. For example, you will find where I live, and probably anywhere, that a black cab driver will avoid picking up black passengers, a black security guard will keep his eye on black customers in a store, a black woman encountering a black male on the street at night will cross the street to avoid passing him by, etc.

The only way to achieve actual freedom is to first give up the illusion that you are free.

Secondly, I should not be labelled as a "skeptic" based on my interventions here. I have a pretty realistic idea of how things go in American society, and I'm not about to pretend that what's real is not and what is not real is.
Comment by Daniel W on April 9, 2009 at 11:37pm
Thank you back, for joining and contributing. I hope that you find this group useful and continue to describe your thoughts and experiences. As one of the 'early joiners', your voice can shape the future direction of the conversation. This is true for the other early joiners as well, of course! Your comments on being civil and respectful are exactly the kind of spirit that can keep people talking to one another, I think. My boss always tells us "assume good intentions", although someone who has been burned a few times in life might want to quote Reagan (Oh no!) "Trust but verify".

I'm so glad that we have your analytical, skeptical voice to keep us grounded. I've had trouble coming up with the best term for this conversation - it's awkward to say "race, ethnicity, and culture' every time, but it seems that each has elements of what needs to be discussed, and no term has a clear definition. All are artificial, but there needs to be an agreed upon language in order to communicate. It seems that, even with the awkwardness of the terms, you are in agreement that this is a place to start? Maybe that would be a good subject for a discussion post.

I am not sure that I agree, that whether people attach significance to color is beyond their control. Just as people can decide to look religion in the face and decide whether their original thoughts are correct, I think that people can do the same with other preconceptions, including those about color. As some point, a person can question "why is it that I think this way", then look into it, and decide, "I think I was full of BS. I think I can learn something here". Someone who was raised on meat and potatoes can, with one taste of Tabasco, decide that they are truly missing something, and open themselves to a world that they were missing before that epiphany. Then they can enjoy, and Angelia describes, the smorgasbord (or, as they have in my area, the Chinese Buffet).

Let's keep talking.
Comment by Ralph Dumain on April 9, 2009 at 5:27pm
A biracial person presumably has quite a different take on the artificiality of racial/ethnic boundaries than the average unreflective individual who fits into whatever rut (s)he has been slotted into.

The term "Biracial" or any of its synonyms should not be taken as a literal biological designation, since member of pure "races", i.e. totally separated populations, probably no longer exist. So a "biracial" person should be defined as someone whose parents (or grandparents?) are identified as belonging to different racial categories. However arbitrary these distinctions are from the scientific standpoint, whatever groups are socially recognized as distinct are so for practical purposes.

The question then becomes, how do these physiognomic distinctions get translated into social and cultural distinctions? For whether you attach significance to color or not is pretty much beyond your control when dealing with the cumulative historical effect of others having done so and having divided society along certain lines thus creating the society in which you must now function.

Secondly, what is the relation between color and culture. People tend to be naive in failing to understand the meaning of their fusion and distinction. In the USA, culture was created out of the artificially created social significance of color, once the system of African enslavement was finalized (a process which did not happen overnight). The course of American history was once set, first culminating in the Civil War, and then, once Reconstruction was overthrown, in the system of Jim Crow and its de facto correlate outside the South. And then, the ultimate results of the Civil rights movement, resulting in an overthrow of the rigid racial order that ruled previously and the partial desegregation that has since occurred. There are other groups to be considered of course, esp. those once singled out for exceptional abuse: the American Indians nationwide, the Chinese, Japanese, and Mexicans in certain areas of the country, Puerto Ricans in others, and one could add the abuse heaped on European immigrant groups in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. But the bottom line is that the black/white divide pretty much defines everything. And the black/white divide is the one that most thoroughly fuses color with culture, given that black American culture, except for a few enclaves, was founded on stripping African slaves of their varied native cultures and imposing a common experience among them which created a new culture.

Since the effective end of segregation a new situation has been created, but first, it's necessary to see that the use of a color term to designate a race and a culture leads to much confusion. The mainstream liberal integrationism that prevailed until the mid-60s focused on racial prejudice as a subjective issue, save for the obvious problem of the Jim Crow South. This was exemplified in all the Sidney Poitier films, which ran their course by 1967. The black power movement among other things foregrounded the question of culture as well as institutional racism. As a result, white liberals had to readjust their reality, but at some point in the '70s another assumption became tacit common sense--the assumption of authenticity. If you watch reruns of Good Times, you will see this in effect at key moments. This was a decade of profound social change.

Now we are in a different era, in which, depending on social class, less can be assumed about people than before. The issue of social conformity also mutates, for the more choices there are, in theory, the less people should be forced into a narrow mold. And the relationship between one's individual identity and one's group identity is not cut-and-dried as it once seemed to be.

So these are the prerequisites for coming to terms with the reality of race and ethnicity beyond propaganda and platitudes.
Comment by Angelia Arrington on April 9, 2009 at 1:30pm
Daniel, I forgot to thank you for posting this blog.

I grew up predominately in South Central's "William Nickerson Garden's Housing Projects" and about four weeks in Mississippi. They both showed obviously different takes on race and ism in Americana in the 1960's. As a result, I chose to stay neutral and not join any race or creed unless it was a basis creed where we treat one another (and the knuckledraggers who did not subscribe to our views) as respectfully as possible.

I think being bi-racial kind of helps. The only difference between the blue plate special and the smorgasbord is that you will only get a "meat and three" (veggies) as opposed to foods from various regions. Plus you can eat some of them with your fingers. lol

Comment by Angelia Arrington on April 9, 2009 at 1:15pm
I am truly lucky enough to have traveled throughout the U.S., Europe, and south America and have seen all manner of life.

Each place reminds me of the other in one way or another. It is too bad that people do themselves (and the rest of us) a great disservice by clumping all similar looking people together. In my experience people really are not all that typical when you deal with them on a one on one basis. Tall talk is small, small talk is non-existent.

It seems that we as a whole spend so much time and energy trying to figure out the bible (a book that was written centuries ago, mainly about a guy who lived centuries before that) than we do trying to be civil and non-judgmental of each other's few cultural differences.

The bible is necessary for spiritual guidance for those who need it by the way. (You can tell that I am used to getting beaten up about my religious views.)
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on April 9, 2009 at 12:32am
And now I live in the USA, having spent some time living in Indonesia and visiting a few other countries (Mexico, South Africa, Canada, etc.) I have friends from many backgrounds and long ago stopped seeing skin color as anything other than another general characteristic, like hair length and nose shape.

On the other hand, I have no problem with being politically "incorrect" in assuming that "pure" races, if there are any left, may have measurable differences in qualities and characteristics which are valued by caucasian city dwellers, including cognitive differences. I do not make the mistake of assuming that these values are necessarily superior than others which may be lacking in said caucasian city dwellers.

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