Paul R. Lehman, Understanding Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

January 2, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Posted in American Racism, Ethnicity in America, Media and Race, Race in America | 14 Comments
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From the comments received at this blog the primary problem for readers seems to be discerning the difference among the terms race, ethnicity or ethnic group, and cultural group or cultural identity. So, in an effort to make clear the distinctions among these terms the tomato will be used as a paradigm to underscore the relationships and differences. This example is based simply on common sense and should not be construed as a scientific study, although it could stand up to close scrutiny.

Like the term race, the tomato is more often than not misunderstood in that most people think of it as a vegetable; it is a fruit. The website Tomato.org provides the following information regarding this fruit. “TOMATO, whether pronounced Tuh-MAY-toh or Tuh-MAH-to, is a delicious, nutritious fruit, more widely known as a vegetable. Botanically, a tomato (Solanum lycopersicum,) is the ovary of a flowering plant, therefore it is a fruit, or, more specifically, a berry.” Regardless of what science says most people when asked to label the tomato will call it a vegetable. The term race is similar in being misunderstood.

The term tomato is the family name or reference to a family of fruit, and regardless of what they look like, they still are tomatoes. Human beings also belong to family called Homo sapiens. The word family can be interchanged with the word race because regardless of how a human being looks, he or she belongs to the family of Homo sapiens. Multiple families of tomatoes do not exist, just as multiple races of people do not exist. The problem with understanding the single human family concept comes from years of false information without any concerted effort to correct it. Like the tomato being a vegetable.

Today some people use the word ethnic or ethnicity as being equal to or the equivalent of race. As we observed earlier, the word race can be interchanged with family, but not ethnic or ethnicity. The reason for this is simply that like human beings “There are many different varieties of tomato plants and most produce red fruit, but there are also tomato plants that produce yellow, orange, pink, purple, green and white fruit. Tomato plants vary in size from small cherry tomatoes to elongated plum tomatoes.” The variety of tomatoes then can represent the variety of ethnic groups in the world. Some people mistake the variety of human beings as representative of many races. For example, some people might see the Pygmy of Africa as a separate race from the Aborigines of Australia when, in fact, they belong to the same race or family. Just because they look different does not mean they do not belong to the same family. So the words ethnic, ethnicity or ethnic group pertains to the variety of human beings within the family of Homo sapiens.

The words culture, cultural group and cultural identity is often misunderstood and associated with the words ethnic, ethnic group, and ethnicity. The primary difference among these words rest in the fact that cultures can be changed where as ethnicities cannot be changed. For example, cherry tomatoes represent a specific variety of the tomato family and cannot change their identity or ethnicity. However, the use to which the cherry tomatoes can be employed can vary with the cook. The cherry tomatoes could be used in a variety of ways such as in marmalade, ketchup, salsa, paste, sauce etc… The way they are used determines their identity. For human beings, the cultural setting in which they reside or choose to reside represents their culture. For example, a person of Asian ethnicity might choose to live in America and become a citizen of that country. He has, in essence, changed his cultural identity from say Chinese, to Asian American. Human beings can change their culture but not their race or ethnicity.

 One of the problems involved in a person giving up his or her belief in the fantasy of race depends on how they identify themselves. If his or her identity depends on an association with a so-called race, then all the privileges and benefits will be forfeited. However, a new self-image will replace the vague and nebulous old one. In other words, if someone refers to himself as a black; that term makes only symbolic reference to identities throughout the world. No country or culture is referenced in the word black. So, if that word is dropped for the words African American then not only is a country identified but also a wonderful culture with a history unmatched by any other ethnic minority in the world.

Similar, those people who identify themselves as white instead of European American are simply holding on to a fantasy about race. For too long America has allowed its citizens to accept the falsehood of race until hate groups who base their identity on being white have decided to protect and defend their false belief. If society was to take away the concept of a white race, an Aryan race, and a Caucasian race, where would that leave all the groups that have built their existence on this concept? If the leaders of these ethnic hate groups did a little investigating they would have discovered that the word Caucasian or Caucasian race did not exist prior to 1795. The word actually referred to the residents or native people of or near the Caucasus Mountains. A German scientist, Johann Blumenbach is responsible for introducing this word to describe the people of Iranian and Turkish descent. However, Caucasian has been misused to represent the white race, just like the tomato has been misidentified as a vegetable. Also, the word Aryan is simple another way of spelling Iran, so those people who profess membership in an Aryan race definitely do not belong to a so-called white race; their ethnicity would be Iranian and/or Persian.

Understanding the words race, ethnicity and culture in their appropriate context is an empowering experience. Once one understands the context and application of these words, he or she can better understand us, our society, and other societies around the world that are still trapped in the race box.

NOTE: If this blog has helped you to better understand these concepts, please pass it along to someone you feel might benefit from this discussion. Thanks.

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14 Comments »

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  1. May I place a link to your page on my page? I do like this post very much.

    • Yes you may. I have read your page and appreciate the matter of fact approach you bring to your comments. Your challenges seem to revolve quite a few government misunderstandings. Hang it there.

  2. Thank you Dr Lehman. 🙂

  3. Seems like such a simple thing. Excellent example!

    • James, sometimes the human race has an amazing capacity to complicate that which is simple. Why, I have no idea, but I do wish it could be stopped! 🙂

  4. Thanks for this post. I logically agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my father so may this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!

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  9. Thanks for this post. I mostly agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my father so let’s hope this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!

  10. Typically when I use the term Race I use it the way most people understand it, but not the way I understand it. Just like the Tomato, the tomato is a variety of fruit, fruit being the family from which varieties of fruits comes from, thus each variety is a variation of the fruit family, and within each or nearly each variation there are sub-varieties.

    The Human Family consists of variations of humans, they all being human, and through intermarriage we obtain variations out of the major groupings of humans. For my reference I use the Bible as my authority of what a family head is. Instead of the word family, the word Kind is used to denote categories of plants, vegetation, and human, so that within each major category of Kind (category being a major family sub-grouping) there are variations.

    A Black man, White man, Yellow man, Red man are all what we define as race and as ethnicity but they still remain as variations of one Kind – Human. The variations are superficial not substantive. The variations are in major language groups, and major color groups, but we know from where the major groups are derived. They are derived from the befuddlement of one language into many languages at Babylon that caused the spread of humans in groups over the surface of the earth.

    Our genesis is that of one language in the before the beginning of the migration, and possibly of only one major family group with the superficial variations before the befuddlement and migration over the surface of the earth.

    People in general don’t think this deeply about race and its more correct meaning, just as they don’t with many subjects that provide separation amongst us humans, so that most of the hatreds are based on superficial things on a tribal level.

  11. Revision of previous comment.

    Typically when I use the term Race I use it the way most people understand it, but not the way I understand it. Just like the Tomato, the tomato is a variety of fruit, fruit being the family from which varieties of fruits comes from, thus each variety is a variation of the fruit family, and within each or nearly each subgroup there are varieties of that same fruit.

    The Human Family consists of variations of humans, they all being human, and through intermarriage we obtain variations out of the major groupings of humans. For my reference I use the Bible as my authority of what a family head is. Instead of the word family, the word Kind is used to denote major life form categories of plants, vegetation, animal, bug, insect, etc., and human, so that within each major category of Kind (category being a major family sub-grouping) there are variations.

    A Black man, White man, Yellow man, Red man are all what we define as races and as ethnic, but they still remain as variations of one Kind – Human. The variations are superficial not substantive. The variations are in major language groups, and major color groups.

    We know from where the major racial groups (families) (defined by color or language) are derived. They are derived from the befuddlement of one language into many languages at Babylon that caused the spread of humans in language groups over the surface of the earth. In-breeding made each major language group or major family to become more dominate in their tribal outward superficial appearances. The significance of dominance is another story for another time. All differences no matter how significant physically, results in no change in what a human is within that main category of: Human Kind.

    Our genesis is that of one language before the beginning of the befuddlement and migration from Babylon, and possibly of only one major family group before the migration over the surface of the earth that came to define the great races/racial groups.

    People in general don’t think this deeply about race and its more correct meaning, just as they don’t with many subjects that provide separation amongst us humans, so that most of the hatreds are based on superficial things on a tribal level. The tribe defining what is and what is not, from which we have the great family or race divides amongst humans.


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