Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shedding Light On The Differences Between Race, Ethnicity & Culture

Photo Credit: Mike Hiatt
Here are some helpful insights from Marque Mathias Jensen on the unique differences on how we define race, ethnicity and culture:
"Here in the USA,  people often assume that the race of a person defines also their culture, ethnicity, and even class, this lie is the fruit of racism learned and internalized.   If instead, we see race as a social construct that only has the power assigned by society, we can begin to appreciate ethnic differences and culture uniqueness without allowing the lies of race to force us into making false assumptions. 
Our Latino American neighbors often have less of a problem with this as they know that a Honduran,  Puerto Rican, Brazilian or …  could have any type of skin pigmentation.   Ignorance that believes that race = ethnicity = culture,  is where conversations around these categories often become awkward and difficult. 
For example working in multi-cultural services in colleges I observed the following multiple times: 
The young student, who as an infant, was an adoptee into a wealthy European-American home, from, for example, Uganda or Korea. While the parents have usually tried and done their best, this student will often struggle with identity, and their peers struggle to know where they “fit” into the categories we’ve been trained to assign people. 
WHY? Typically, people would tend to visually categorize this person as: 
     Racially: Black, or Asian, and then assume they are also... 
     Culturally: African-American or Asian-American. 
But for this student, often raised in a small accepting community they are more aware that they are: 
     Ethnically: Ugandan or Korean, and having been raised in mainstream culture... 
     Culturally: European-American. 
For some reason we think if we can know what box they fit into we will better know, or not need to know, that person. 
It is proof that to some extent we have bought into the lie that one’s race tells can tell us something significant about a person. It is proof that we all have been impacted by racism, by benefiting from it or by internalizing it. 
However the lines of race, ethnicity and culture are blurry and frequently very imprecise. It is important to know the culture and ethnicity one identifies with, but will we allow people to define themselves, even when they defy the standard stereotypes? The cultures and ethnicities of our world are beautiful and complement each other in ways that can strengthen and expand us all, yet what happens when  no traditional category fully encompasses how they view their own identity?"
To read more of Marque's thoughts on this topic please click here.

(HT: Christena Cleveland for the link.)

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