Beyond Black & White – Race and Ethnicity

We’re going to dedicate today’s session to developing a better understanding of race and ethnicity.

We’ve already discussed the fact that race is a concept based on looks. So, journalists should probably just be able to look at someone and report what race he or she is, right?

Uh, of course not.

It’s important to realize that race is in the eye of the BEHOLDER.

That can either be the person doing the looking…or the person being looked at.

Ethnicity is equally complicated. For one, what does each ethnicity look like?

As a reminder, ethnicity refers to groups that define themselves by common, distinct cultural factors. People of an ethnicity can share:

  • Nationality
  • Culture
  • Ancestry
  • Language
  • Beliefs (religion)
  • Homeland
  • History
  • Race

But they don’t have to share all of these things. And just because you share one attribute, doesn’t mean you’re the same ethnicity.

While it overlaps with other diversity categories, ethnicity is NOT the SAME as ANY of them.

For instance, it’s not the same as nationality.

People who share an American nationality may be:

  • Hispanic
  • Japanese
  • African American
  • Etc.

The one ethnicity that social scientists are not YET convinced exists in the U.S. is an “American” ethnicity.

  • Remember that ethnicity has to do with shared traits: Nationality, Culture, Ancestry, Language, Beliefs (religion), Homeland, History, Race
  • Which ones are SHARED by Americans?
  • While you don’t have to share all of them to be an ethnic group, you do have to share more than Nationality – because that would just be nationality.
  • One of the reasons many scholars do NOT consider American an ethnicity is because the country is made up of so many different ethnicities, that it’s tough to say we all share ONE.
  • What many people consider to be “American” ethnic traits are really the traits of the “dominant” culture.
  • To underscore how tricky it can be to consider American a single ethnicity, consider this map:
    • On the 2000 census,the vast majority of people who declared their ethnicity as “American” live in the South.
    • Do you feel ethnically the same as people who live in the South?
  • Some people argue the concept of “American” is made up of some shared ideas, not an ethnicity.

Like race, ethnicity is a social construct.

  • We self-identify ethnically
  • We can have more than one ethnicity.

Bottom line, it’s super sticky.

So, if race and ethnicity is so complicated – wouldn’t it be better to just be “post race” or “colorblind?”

Many people say NO.

So, no matter what we believe or feel about the concept of race – we should not deny that it is real to at least some people. And our news media should reflect discussions about these viewpoints.

But the news should do it as thoughtfully and carefully as possible.

So, for journalists, that means:

  • Asking people which racial or ethnic groups they affiliate with.
  • Using the terms that they choose.
    • Some people prefer African American to Black
    • Some prefer Native American to American Indian. Or Alaska Native
    • Some prefer Latino to Hispanic

Better yet, the news should try to be more specific. People typically prefer that:

  • Cuban (specific) vs Hispanic (general)
  • Athabascan (specific) vs Alaska Native (general)
  • Japanese (specific) vs Asian (general)


Assignment: Autoethnography: Due Wednesday, February 19th

Readings: (to help you brainstorm for autoethnography. No critical thinking questions due.):

For this assignment you will describe your ethnicity, including your race, culture, how others have defined you, and the ways you’ve responded to those representations.

The point is to analyze your experiences – and analyze how these experiences shape —  and are shaped by the world

Do not just state that you’re a particular race or ethnicity, but explain what that means to someone who might not be familiar with that ethnicity.

Show, don’t tell. Give examples of why you feel part of an ethnicity. What memories do you have, customs do you practice, or experiences have you had that made it clear to you?

**Even though this needs to be written from your perspective, you may need to interview family members to find out where your family’s culture comes from.

The paper must be double-spaced, 12 pt. font, Times (or similar), 1” margins.

The paper should be a narrative. It should have an arc and structure – don’t just ramble for 2 pages.

***As this is a Segment III class, the page requirement is STRICT. I will deduct points for not meeting the full 2 pages. However, I also don’t want to see more than 3 pages.

Be prepared to share these papers in class.

Questions to explore in the paper:

1. What do you consider the most important parts of your racial and ethnic identities?

  • If you do not know this, or haven’t thought about it, it’s a good time to talk to your relatives about it!
  • We talk about things like “ethnic food” and the ethnic population…but what does that really mean?
  • EVERYONE has an ethnicity.
  • EVERYONE is an ethnic!

2. What assumptions do people make about you based on your race or ethnicity?

  • For those of you who haven’t had to think about this, explore why you haven’t.

3. What would you like people to know about your racial or ethnic identity?

  • If you’ve been forced to explore it for the first time, include what you have found out.