How is race defined? Consider the image above. The couple in this photo has a mixed race heritage. When you look at the picture of their twins, do you see one twin as white and the other as non-white? Does knowing that these girls are biologically twin sisters change your understanding of how race is defined? Does it challenge preconceived notions of the importance of race?
Ethnicity and Identity
Ethnicity is often used interchangeably with race but it is not the same thing. Ethnicity refers to a cultural background while race refers to biological characteristics that are used to categorize individuals. Ethnicity is important to self-identity. Beginning with the Nativist movement and anti-immigration campaign during the Great Immigration, the discussion of ethnicity and hyphenated Americans remains controversial in the United States. One side of the controversy argues that if you are born in the U.S., you are an American and should only claim that nationality. This tends to confuse nationality and ethnicity. Nationality refers to the country in which you hold citizenship. Hyphenated Americans are those that embrace symbolic and situational ethnicity. They retain elements of the culture that their ancestors brought with them during immigration and that have passed down through the generations of their family. Do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because your last name is O’Malley? Do you celebrate Cinco de Mayo because your last name is Gomez? If so, you are participating in symbolic ethnicity. These are public behaviors that are driven by your family’s ethnic identity. Ethnicity can also be situational. You might celebrate your Mexican heritage on Cinco de Mayo, but not mention it at work if you are the only Latino employee. You might be inclined to downplay your ethnic identity to fit in better with the work place culture. That doesn’t change the importance of ethnicity to self-identity. It just illustrates that ethnic identity can be socially manipulated when necessary.
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