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LESSON 7: Optional Ethnicities and Color Blind Racism

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1 LESSON 7: Optional Ethnicities and Color Blind Racism
Ethnic Relations, ROBERT WONSER 1

2 Symbolic Ethnicities Symbolic ethnicity is a term coined by German-born American sociologist Herbert J. Gans in 1979. "a nostalgic allegiance... a love for and pride in a tradition that can be felt without having to be incorporated in everyday behavior" often formed by mass media images. According to Mary C. Waters, ethnicity is still an important component of American identity, but it has become "a voluntary, personally chosen identity marker rather than the totally ascribed characteristic" over the years. 2

3 The phenomenon is attributed to Americans of European ancestry, most of whom are influenced and/or assimilated into the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant community, which dominated the country's political life since its creation. Why the desire to re(claim) an ethnicity?

4 The phenomenon of symbolic ethnicity is largely attributed to European Americans, because "Black, Hispanic, Asian and Indian Americans do not have the option of a symbolic ethnicity at present in the United States" and for them "in which ethnicity does not matter for white Americans, it does matter for non-whites."

5 Gans described symbolic ethnicity the process in which "ethnic identity is solely associated with iconic elements of the culture." He particularly focused on later generations of Catholic and Jewish American who "have begun to re-associate themselves with their ethnic culture." According to him "the ethnic associations were mainly symbolic and that the traditional community interactions were lost." They identified "their ethnic race in a personal perspective as opposed to a communal one", which resulted in a "outward ethnic identity that uses superficial symbols and icons to label and categorize a certain race." People start to identify their ethnicity by media images as accepted through past associations based on social and historical judgments.

6 Stephen Lee describes the term
“From unrelenting integration of outside influences, self-definition becomes less associated with the community as a collective, and becomes more associated with personal ethnicity as self. As the definition of ethnicity becomes increasingly personal, the need to reassert the community associations decreases. Ethnicity then becomes a symbolic identity more than a lifestyle. The definition of ethnicity, as formed by cinema, follows this symbolic pattern. In fact, in most cinema that deal with ethnic integration, ethnic lifestyle is inseparable from its symbolic codes. Ethnic lifestyle is not an associative or collective means of existence, but a symbolic code - an icon.”

7 The book describes the term as
An example of symbolic ethnicity given in 2006 book Identity And Belonging: Rethinking Race And Ethnicity in Canadian Society is "individuals who identify as Irish, for example, on occasions such as Saint Patrick's Day, on family holidays, or for vacations. They do no usually belong to Irish-American organizations, live in Irish neighborhoods, work in Irish jobs, or marry other Irish people.“ The book describes the term as “...[an] ethnicity that is individualistic in nature and without real social cost for the individual. These symbolic identifications are essentially leisure-time activities, rooted in a nuclear family traditions and reinforced by the voluntary enjoyable aspects of being ethnic.”

8 Color Blindness Color blindness (also called race blindness) is a sociological term referring to the disregard of racial characteristics when selecting which individuals will participate in some activity or receive some service. In practice, color-blind operations use no racial data or profiling and make no classifications, categorizations, or distinctions based upon race. An example of this would be a college processing admissions without regard to or knowledge of the racial characteristics of applicants.

9 Proponents of "color-blind" practices believe that treating people equally inherently leads to a more equal society and/or that racism and race privilege no longer exercise the power they once did, rendering policies such as race-based affirmative action obsolete. As described by Chief Justice John Roberts, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race, is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Opponents of "color-blind" practices believe that racism and white privilege remain defining features of American society and that "color-blindness" simply allows whites to ignore the disadvantages of the non-white population. Christopher Doob says that white people believe they live in a world in which "racial privilege no longer exists, but their behavior supports racialized structures and practices."

10 The four central frames of color-blind racism used by whites are abstract liberalism, naturalization, cultural racism, and minimization of racism. These frames create a solid, yet flexible, wall that permits the current racial reality to go uncontested. They create the situation where the current inequality is almost a taboo subject, but can be easily justified if challenged. The frames are used in combinations and are more subtle than what most would consider racism.

11 Abstract Liberalism "The frame of abstract liberalism involves using ideas associated with political liberalism and economic liberalism in an abstract manner to explain racial matters." (Bonilla-Silva, 28) The basic foundation with this frame is that we live in a society of equal-opportunity and that each person has the right and responsibility to make their own choices. This allows whites to justify opposition to any policy which might provide, what they consider, preferential treatment of certain groups. In many cases, the system ignores the fact that blacks and other minorities represent a dramatic under-representation in good jobs, schools, communities, and universities. This society seems to operate under the delusion that everybody is born and raised on an equal-footing. But this is an utter fallacy.

12 Naturalization "Naturalization is a frame that allows whites to explain away racial phenomena by suggesting they are natural occurrences." (Bonilla-Silva, 28) This is why many whites believe that segregation in and between communities and school is not a problem. They believe that it's a natural event because people just like to be with people who are like them. By this philosophy, people can justify segregation, as well as justify using race as a determining factor with relationships. But social scientists have documented that racial considerations affect these issues greatly.

13 Cultural Racism  "Cultural racism is a frame that relies on culturally based arguments such as 'Mexicans do not put much emphasis on education' or 'blacks have too many babies' to explain the standing of minorities in society." (Bonilla-Silva, 28) At the core of cultural racism is the belief that cultural differences rather than biological markers are determinants of racial superiority or inferiority. Bonilla-Silva argues that this is a classic example of blaming the victim. Cultural racism allows whites to argue that colored-people have only themselves to blame for their standing in society. The institutional effects of discrimination in the labor, housing, and educational markets are completely ignored. This failure to recognize the disadvantage that many non-whites face is actually representative of most whites. And they generalize sociological problems of poverty or crime as being part of a culture, rather than products of inequality.

14 Minimization of Racism
 "Minimization of racism is a frame that suggests discrimination is no longer a central factor affecting minorities' life chances." (Bonilla-Silva, 29) This idea does not suggest that discrimination no longer exists, but that it no longer plays any hindering role for non-whites and that it just "isn't a big deal." Most whites do not look at discrimination as a main factor in the collective standing of the subordinate races. But a disparity exists with this. When blacks were asked, 60.5 percent said that present day discrimination is the reason blacks are in the position they are in, while only 32.9 percent of whites took that stance.

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