Paul R. Lehman, Understanding Race, Ethnicity, and CultureJanuary 2, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Posted in American Racism, Ethnicity in America, Media and Race, Race in America | 14 Comments
Tags: black and white race, culture, ethnicity, Homo sapiens, race
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.