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Stephen Cornell is Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona,
where he also directs the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy. His PhD
is from the University of Chicago. He taught at Harvard University for
nine years and at the University of California, San Diego, for nine more
before joining the Arizona faculty in 1998. He has written widely on eth­
nicity and race and on issues involving indigenous peoples in the United
States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cornell, Stephen E. (Stephen Ellicott), 1948Ethnicity and race: Making identities in a changing world /
Stephen Cornell, Douglas Hartmann.—^2nd ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-4129-4110-5 or 978-1-4129-4110-5 (pbk.: alk. paper)
1. Race. 2. Ethnicity. 3. Minorities.
4. Group identity. 1. Hartmann, Douglas. II. Title.
HT1521.C64 2007
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Douglas Hartmann is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of
Minnesota, where he teaches and writes on social theory, multiculturalism,
popular culture, and race relations. He received his PhD from the University
of California, San Diego. He is the author of Race, Culture, and the Revolt
of the Black Athlete: The 1968 African American Olympic Protests and
Their Aftermath (2003).
Preface to the SecondEdition
Preface to the First Edition
1. The Puzzles of Ethnicity and Race
An Unexpected Persistence and Power
A Puzzling Diversity of Forms
Ethnicity and Race as Sociological Topics
An Outline of What Follows
2. Mapping the Terrain: Definitions
The Definition of Ethnicity
The Definition of Race
Ethnicity and Race
Nationalism and Belonging
3. Fixed or Fluid? Alternative Views of Ethnicity and Race
The Assimilationist Assumption
Primordialism and Circumstantialism Compared
4. A
Constructionist Approach
The Construction of Ethnic and Racial Identities
The Nature of Ethnic and Racial Bonds
The Problem of Authenticity
The Reconstruction of Circumstances
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rontations led by the American Indian Movement to the angry protests of
government of Malaysia amended that country’s consti­
tution, adopted at independence from Great Britain in 1957, to secure the
preferential treatment of Malays in education, business, and gorern^nt
yainst the objections of the sizable Chinese and other ethnic populations
»’ “““ “
Coast of Texas, competition over scarce
hing resource kd to violence between Euro-Americans and immigrant
Vietnamese. A White fisherman was killed; Vietnamese fishing boats were
burned; and eventually the Ku Klux Klan joined the fray. Many Vietnamese
immigrants finally fled the region.
In the 1980s and 1990s, minority Tamils launched a violent insur­
gency against the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the
utheastern coast of India, crippling its economy and killing thousands In
rratricide (Tambiah 1986) continues.
of the Soviet Union-one of the world’s most
ethnically diverse states-pried open the lid on what was supposedly a
socialist melting pot, to reveal a boiling stew of ethnic sentiments^Ld poHt
jcal movements. Ethnic conflicts followed in several regions of
Soviet Union. Among them, Ukrainian and Russian minorities in Moldova
struggled for their own independence in newly independent GeorgiaanTrr’h
Azerbaijanis fought over territorial rights and occupancytatt^^”^’“ envisioned independence from Russian and entered a Ivastatmg war m an effort to achieve it.
other right-wing groups directed against Turks, Greeks, Spaniards North
^ricans of various ethnicities, and other immigrant groups who came to
Germany over the preceding three decades in search of jobs. Arsonists
torched immigrant-occupied apartment houses; men, women, and children
re beaten on the street; and dozens of foreigners were killed.
• In 1993, in a special issue devoted to multiculturalism in America,
Time magazine published a story titled “The Politics of Separation.” The
subject was the impact of growing ethnic diversity on U.S. campuses. The
magazine reported a perception among some students that “to study
anyone’s culture but one’s own … is to commit an act of identity suicide”
(W. Henry 1993:75).
• In 1995, French Canadians in the province of Quebec came within a
few votes of deciding that the province should separate from the rest of
Canada, in all likelihood eventually becoming an independent country.
“We were defeated by money and the ethnic vote,” said the province’s pre­
mier, a leading separatist, referring to non-French-speaking voters of vari­
ous ethnicities who narrowly defeated the separatist effort (Farnsworth
1995:1). Before the vote, the Crees, indigenous people living within the
province, took out a full-page advertisement in Canadian newspapers
announcing their own overwhelming vote against Quebec’s separation. The
Crees promised that if Quebec were to separate, they and the vast lands
under their control, in turn, would separate from Quebec, remaining part
of Canada.
• Also in the 1990s, the term ethnic cleansing emerged from the chaos
that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslav federation in southern
Europe and engulfed the nascent country of Bosnia. The term, coined by
Serbian nationalists, referred to the forced removal of non-Serbs from ter­
ritory claimed or sought by Serbs. It was accompanied in the Bosnian case
by wholesale human slaughter, starvation, and rampages of sexual violence
directed against Bosnian Muslims by Serbian and Croatian soldiers and
civilians. As one commentator pointed out, “ethnic cleansing” had now
joined “the euphemistic lexicon of zealotry,” along with Nazi descriptions
of the Jewish Holocaust as “the final solution” (Williams 1993:H-3).
These examples admittedly focus on conflict and division, which were not
the whole of the ethnic story in the 20th century. Ethnic and racial diversity
and identity were also sources of pride, unity, and achievement. The United
States often paid tribute to its immigrant origins and the cultural pluralism
that resulted (for example, Kallen 1924). Various groups—from Mexican
Americans to Haitians to Arab populations from the Middle East—^proudly
celebrated their own cultures and identities even as they struggled for entry
into American prosperity. The Kwanzaa festival, for example, became an
annual African American celebration, a time for family, reflection, and com­
mitment. On U.S. college campuses, in corporations, and in major cities, lead­
ers dealing with ethnic and racial issues argued that diversity should be a
Ethnicity and Race
strength not a weakness. When the U.S. women’s gymnastics team won a
gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the ethnic composition of
the team- an Asian American, an African American, and white girls with
names like Miller and Moceanu” (Lexington 1996)—was itself viewed as an
merican accomplishment, something the entire nation should look upon
with pride. Debates about affirmative action, the content of school curricuum, and immigration policy led at least one American analyst to suggest, at
century s end, that “we are all multiculturalists now” (Glazer 1997).

““^’^iculturalism and its insistence on recognizing and valu­
ing the differences associated with ethnicity and race were not unique to the
nited States. Since its founding, Mexico has proudly proclaimed its mulnracial heruage, which mixes Indian and Spanish blood and cultures.
hnic bonds brought Germans together in a reunified country in 1990
after decades of division into East and West. In the early 1990s, Australia
mally recognized, after a century and a half of systematic denial, that its
Aboriginal peoples had some claim to the continent European settlers had
taken from thein. In Nigeria, long troubled by ethnic tensions and conflict,
novelist and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka (1996) argued that Nigeria’s via1 ity as a stat^epended on learning to reconcile and even celebrate its eth­
nic diversity. With massive global migration, ethnic festivals, foods, and
customs enriched cultural life in cities across the world, while the advance
ot technology and mass communications made it easier than ever before for
maintain ties and identities even as they
moved Whether one views ethnicity and race as sources of conflict or
causes for celebration-or both at once-the point is the same: The 20th
century demonstrated that they were among the most potent forces in con­
temporary societies.
As the 21st century began, these forces showed little sign of abating. At
he very start of the new millennium, the horror of 9/11 threw the Arab
population of the United States on the defensive. Arab Americans, many of
the Middle East, suddenly became the collective object of suspicion. Four
years later. Hurricane Katrma exposed a stark racial divide in New
Orle^ans, reminding many Americans of the high cost that some people pay
for being Black. Nor was America alone. The first years of the new century
saw enraged young North African Muslims torching neighborhoods in
\Paris, the City of Light, and Kurds struggling for autonomy in Iraq
Violence erupted between White Australians-some wearing T-shirts say­
ing ethnic c eansing unit” (Sallis 2005)-and Middle Eastern immigrants
m the city of Sydney Warfare with ethnic overtones drove hundreds of
thousands of people from their homes in the Darfur province in western
The Puzzles of Ethnicity and Race
Sudan, while ethnic tensions slowed economic growth in the Ivory Coast of
West Africa. Anti-Semitism appeared resurgent in much of Europe, and
opposition to Korean and other minority populations simmered m Japan.
As these and a hundred other examples from around the world illustrate,
race and ethnicity continue to serve as vehicles of political assertion, tools
for exclusion and exploitation, sources of unity, and reservoirs of destruc­
tive power. (The map in Figure 1.1 shows the locations of countries men­
tioned in this book.)
An Onexpected Persistence and Power
It was not supposed to be this way. Ethnicity and race had been expected to
disappear as forces to be reckoned with in the modern world. The latter half
of the 20th century, by numerous accounts, was supposed to see a dramatic
attenuation of ethnic and racial ties. These and other seemingly parochial,
even premodem attachments were expected to decline as bases of human con­
sciousness and action, being replaced by other, more comprehensive identities
linked to the vast changes shaping the modern world.
Certainly a good many sociologists expected as much. As early as 1926,
Robert Park, a professor at the University of Chicago and perhaps the most
influential American sociologist of his day, observed that certain forces at
work in the world were bound to dismantle the prejudices and boundaries
that separated races and peoples. Powerful global factors, argued Park
trade, migration, new communication technologies, even the cinema—were
bringing about a vast “interpenetration of peoples.” These factors. Park
(1926/1950) claimed, “enforce new contacts and result in new forms of
competition and of conflict. But out of this confusion and ferment, new and
more intimate forms of association arise” (p. 150). Indeed, wrote Park,
In the relations of races there is a cycle of events which tends everywhere
to repeat itself… .The race relations cycle which takes the form, to state it
abstractly, of contacts, competition, accommodation and evenmal assimilation,
is apparently progressive and irreversible. (P. 150)
Park wrote at a time when the term race had a broader meaning than
it does now. His conception of “races” treated separately, for example,
the Slavic peoples, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Portuguese, and
others (Park 1934, 1939; see also Banton 1983, chap. 3). Today, if we were
to encounter these peoples in communities outside their countries of origin,
we would consider them ethnic groups or would combine them mto more
Figure 1.1
Approximate Locations of Countries or Regions Mentioned
in the Book
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thing here, another
has ttany distinctive core at all? As John ComTrlaff (l9?lVpu“r
flict, even genocide,
arother fthe basis of bitter connomic totemism? (P. 663)
times, it is no more than the stuff of gastro-
of variation and changl^ThrsecTn’d^
accompanied by the puzzle
this book. How are we to account for Te
and fdr7 ^h^

identities and conflicts and for their mvriad
We? Will ethnicity and race continue to JidWh u^?
21st century? What forms will they talte and I,
have for human beings and for sodety?
” “Mequenees will they
Ethnicity and Race as Sociological Topics
nize their ideas about who they are tn
^’cings use to orgalor, and to understand the world arounT^hT^^ T
^^P^^^cnces and behavethnic and racial categories and ties are mom
increasingly evident, nevertheless that ^tb
damental organizing concepts of the
would male them cLral ClSin^Sr
and aaion. Th^unlntopl^d and oftm’d’^ “
and racial tdentities deLnstt at“ uT Gr
ethnicity and race are reshanimi
challenging established systems of powi
significant parts of the modern world

oti.»s a„ aeve,
of collective identity
organized around
oW assumptions, and
Another of the great strengths of sociology has been its insistence on
placing social phenomena within broad social and historical contexts.
From its beginnings in the classical works of 19th- and early-20th-century
thinkers, sociology has been preoccupied with social change on a grand
scale, in particular with the onset of modernity and industrialism and with
their diverse effects on human relationships and on the human search for
meaning, community, order, and understanding.
Ethnicity and race are arenas in which those relationships and that
search .are continually in flux. They have to do with fundamental group
processes: fiow human beings come to see themselves and others in partic­
ular ways, how they come to act on those perceptions, and how their under­
standings and actions are shaped by social and historical forces. Two very
different—if typically related—sets of factors are at work in those pro­
cesses. One set consists of the attributes,, resources, and ideas of groups
themselves; the other consists of the environments that those groups
encounter. To understand ethnicity and race, therefore, we have to study
both composition and context. We have to look both at what groups bring
with them to their encounters with other people and with the world around
them and at what the world that they encounter consists of. We need to
undetstand both how people interpret and negotiate their lives in ethnic or
racial ways and how larger historical and social forces organize the arenas
and terms in which those people act, encouraging or discouraging the inter­
pretations they make, facilitating some forms of organization and action
and hindering others.
These issues and concerns also shape the inquiry in this book, most of
which has do in one way or another with the following questions:
• What is it that makes ethnicity and race such powerful bases of identity and
action, and how do we explain their striking diversity?
• How are ethnic and racial identities constructed, maintained, and transformed?
• Under what conditions are ethnic or racial forms of identification ‘and action
likely to arise?
• What will happen to ethnicity and race in the future? Will they survive as pro­
minent organizational themes in the modern world? Or will the 21st century
finally realize the misplaced predictions of the 20th and see the demise of eth­
nicity and race as bases of identity and action?
An Outline of What Follows
words, is a fundamLdly sXS emtl”‘’”‘“^
We begin our approach to these questions with definitions. Chapter 2 maps
the confusing terrain of ethnicity, race, and nationalism; discusses the ways
Ethnicity and Race
that are used in thiTbr^
confused); and provides the definitions
years, commonly known as the
accounts. We situate these schools
change, discuss thdr strengthst^d
“ recent
ethnicity and race. It uses pieces of hnrh • onstructionist conception of
perspectives to account for ethnic and
tion but adds to those perspectives a centrar’^'”’
variagroups participate in the construction ofThe
ways that
In Chapter 5, we illustrate some m . ^
titles through a series of case studies'” b rhT’
tacial idenThe emphasis in these narratives is on’th
tical and contemporary,
teristics and ideas, on one hand and
interplay between group characntakxng and remakmg of idenrity
in the
nomic relations were IhTonts^hafwodd
w»ld.- he wrote, -wil, be nr^re andlot “t
aUy ruperseded by. the confl/ct. of clarses- (Path S””
*’ “™’°” of
ines some of the arenas of social life__the
^^^Pter 6 examand racial identities are built and tran.f “””“struction sites-where ethnic
factors shape those constructions Chaot^^y
groups bring to those sites and the wat .
“^’^”als that
struction process.
factors are used in the conFinally, Chapter 8 looks aheari
j •
tor, tre„d,-„ixi„g and mnltiplicik veTsnsTparr ‘“’T””’’
“hat g.,e to othnidty and race two very differem 1 o”
^ airterent faces as the 21st century
Mapping the Terrain
efore exploring ethnicity and race in detail, we need to clarify what it is we
are talking about. We have made no attempt thus far to distinguish
between ethnicity and race and have written as if the two were more or less
interchangeable terms. They are not. They refer to distinct sets of phenomena
that at times overlap. Some of the groups we think of as races are at the same
time ethnic groups, and some of those we think of as ethnic groups may be or
may at some point have been races, but the two are not the same.
Distinguishing between race and ethnicity, on the other hand, is not easy,
but the task is worth spending some time on—not only to be clear about
what we are analyzing but also because these definitional distinctions are
linked to analytical distinctions that are keys to thinking sociologically
about the range of racial and ethnic forms in the modern world. We also
need to map the sometimes confusing terrain that includes both ethnicity
and nationalism, which again sometimes overlap but are not the same thing.
We take up ethnicity in the first section of this chapter and race in
the following section. The next section explores both the differences
between ethnicity and race and their commonalities. Finally, we consider*
nationalism and its relationship to ethnicity.*
The Definition of Ethnicity
Beginning in the 1960s, words such as ethnic group, ethnic identity, and eth­
nicity became increasingly commonplace both in academic analyses of social
Mapping the Terrain
Ethnicity and Race
Iv in the 20th century, in which he says.
entertain a subjec!CshaU call ‘ctoic groupj
o( physical type
tive belief in then common hesce
colonization and nugiaor of customs ot both, or hecau
whether ot not an
Economy and Society, written ear y
phenomena and in the mass media. By the last decade of the century, the
‘terms were firmly entrenched in the popular vocabulary. The Los Angeles
Times, for example, published a story in 1992 on tribal conflict in Ethiopia,
under the headline “Ethnic Pride Gets a Test in Africa” (Hiltzik 1992). A
1995 New York Times article on disputes among groups within some Middle
Eastern states was headlined “Arabs, Too, Play the Ethnic Card” (Hedges
1995). Another story a week later in the same paper, discussing recent
Irish immigrants’ dissatisfaction with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the
United States, announced that “Ethnic Cliches Put Anger in Irish Eyes”
(Clines 1995). Today, any Internet search will quickly yield literally millions
of ethnically framed stories, events, and references from around the world;
our last such search on “ethnicity” offered 136 miUion results.
Although most people who encounter such terms probably believe that
they know, at least approximately, what they mean, words such as ethnic,
ethnic group, and ethnicity are, in fact, slippery and difficult to define. The
confusion has not been limited to readers of mass media; they are slippery
terms in the academic lexicon as well.
The word ethnic has a long history. It is a derivative of the Greek word
ethnos, meaning “nation.” The reference, however, is not to a political
unity, but to the unity of persons of common blood or descent: a people.
The adjectival form, ethnikos, eventually entered Latin as ethnicus, refer­
ring to “heathens,” those “others” who did not share the dominant faith.
This is more or less the meaning that the word carried when it first found
English usage around the 15th century. In English, ethnic referred to some­
one who was neither Christian nor Jew—in other words, a pagan or hea­
then. The matter of belief is less important in this usage than the drawing
of a boundary. “Ethnic” clearly referred to others, to those who were not
“us” (Just 1989; Oxford University Press 1993; Petersen 1981).
By the 20th century, the meaning of the word had changed again but had
reasserted some of the original Greek conception. Gone, for the most part,
was the specific reference to religion and with it the idea that only “oth>iers”—certainly not “us”—could be ethnics. Increasingly, ethnicity referred
to a particular way of defining not only others but also ourselves, and this
is how it entered sociology.
f Sociological Definitions
The shift toward the subjective in the meaning of ethnicity is most read­
ily apparent in a discussion of ethnic groups by the German sociologist Max
Weber, the only one of the classical sociological theorists to offer an explicit
definition. Weber (1968) devoted a chapter to the topic in his great work
non- (P. 389). He
se.etal things ate worth noting about
objectiye blood relationship exists.
„s„med common»e
Mihe foundation of edmican.chm.nts he, re
Ethnic ties are blood ties.
in^portant than belief m comn
relationship acmally exists, but
The fact of common descent
^Sr ^yha. mattes is not *«Xtbn.
P^ceicc” (Conno.
. rtm»dalbas.softhisbdiefmc^m-te..t-^^^^
basis or justificauon of our assump
connection—this belief
• A- ^^”-“/^Jfjlrtlfrfoundmionofco^^^^
common descent
to one another to some degree.
Weber’s emphasis on comrnon descent
Connor 1978,1993;
and Kwan 1985). Much rf
Horowitz 1985; Schermerhorn 1978, bhio^^^^
,1 definitions of ethnicity
sociology, however,
ethnicity with shared culture. The core
Weber’s definition and caine to q
of the definition shifted from Weber s_c
shared history-for the most part th
self-concepts-to currently shared cuto ,
An ethnic group became a group o P
culture, typically including
and belief. For example, one
an ethnic group as “a group o p P
selves and/or by others as a dist
social or cultural characteristics
either culture or naUo« – ^
group as “a group socially distingu
primarily on the basis of cultural or
Ld Feagin 2003:8).
a third definition argues that when
origins an
„ow do^
j^^gely by common
, widely used textbook defmes
generally recognized by themrecognition based o
^^f^^^rion accept
^^^nieiry, defhung an ethmc
^p,,, ^y others or ^
^ characteristics (Feagm
of individuals reveals,
Mapping the Terrain
Ethnicity and Race
or is perceived to reveal, shared historical experiences as well as unique
organizational, behavioral, and cultural characteristics, it exhibits its ethnic­
ity” (Aguirre and Turner 1995:2-3).
A moment s reflection will reveal the ambiguities that such specifications
of ethnicity create. If all that is reqnired to distinguish an ethnic group is some
level of shared “social or cultural characteristics” or “historical experi­
ences,” then lawyers, military families, university students, hip-hop enthusi­
asts, the citizens of Switzerland, prison inmates, physicists, and numerous
other groups potentially join Polish Americans, the Chinese minority in
Malaysia, and the Kurds of Iraq, among others, in the pantheon of ethnic
groups. Analytical precision and utility suffer as the concept of ethnicity slips
away into the enormously diverse mosaic of self-conscious collectivities—
sharing varying degrees of history and culture—that any society generates.
This definition nevertheless has become common. Even the massive and
hugely informative Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups
(Thernstrom, Orlov, and Handlin 1981:vi) defines an ethnic group in effect
as a group sharing cultural attributes. It then leaves out of its survey all sorts
of groups that, if it takes its own definition seriously, ought to qualify.
Our concern about such definitions goes beyond their imprecision. One
of the striking things about ethnicity in recent decades has been its survival,
in some cases, despite rapidly declining cultural distinctions. This develop­
ment is widely apparent in the United States. In Chapter 1, we mentioned
Anny Bakahan’s (1993) discussion of the path Armenian Americans have
followed, “from being to feeling Armenian.” Distinctive cultural practices
have declined over time, but the identity—that sense of ethnic distinctive­
ness—has not. Similar processes can be found among other Americans of
European descent as well, many of whom display few culturally distinct
practices but proudly proclaim their ethnic identities (see, for example
Alba 1990; Cans 1979; Waters 1990). Much the same is happening else­
where in the world. Thomas Fitzgerald (1998) wrote, for example, of some
offspring of Cook Islander migrants to New Zealand who adhere to a Cook
Islander identity but have dropped most of the culture of their parents. It
also seems reasonable to wonder what role culture conceivably plays in the
supposedly ethnic category Asian American, embracing immigrants from
such culturally diverse places as India, Japan, Laos, and the Philippines. In
what way is such a composite group ethnic? Once the supposedly primary
definitional element shared cultural characteristics—disappears, of what
does its ethnicity consist?
The colloquial American understanding seems closer in some ways to the
Weberian one than to some of the more recent academic usages. Although
most Americans may consider various ethnic groups culturally distinct to
one degree or another, they generally seem to view the origins of these
groupsTs what sets them most clearly apart and accounts
nncL cultural characteristics remain (cf. Hirschman Alba, and Farley
2000) The classic case is immigrant groups. To say that you are Ins or
Italian in the United States is to say that most importantly, your people
came originally from Ireland or Italy. To many Americans the fact that
group members came originally from “there, not here ” or at least not from
where “we” came from, is ultimately the source of their distinctiveness,
with homeland approximating Weber’s concept of shared ancestry.
Ethnicity as a Distinctive Set of Claims
It is most unlikely that any one definition of ethnic group or ethnicity will
satisfy all the specialists or fully escape the ambiguities that seem an
inevkable part of the study of ethnicity. We nevertheless join those so^
gists who have remained close to the Weberian tradition, and we follow
Richard A. Schermerhorn’s (1978) definition, which describes an ethnic
group as “a collectivity within a larger society having real or putative com­
mon ancestry, memories of a shared historical past,
one or more symbolic elements defined as the epitome of their peopl hood
(p 12). Among the examples Schermerhorn offers of such symbolic elements
that may be viewed as emblematic of peoplehood are kinship patterns geo­
graphical concentration, religious affiliation, language, and physical differLL. The common history a group claims may be viewed the same wj Fo
example, the historical experience of slavery plays a powerful symbolic ro
inmany African Americans’conceptions of themselves.
Schermerhorn (1978) adds to this definition the criterion of
consciousness. Ethnic groups are self-conscious populations; they see them
selves as distinct.
, ■ j c„
Again, there are several points to be made about this definition.
. It involves three kinds of claims: a claim to kinship, broadly defined; a ^ ro
a common history of some sort; and a claim that certam symbols capture the
wtbeFsTna^on^these claims need not be founded in fact. The kinship
cZ ior example,
ro do with either “real or putative” common ancestry. ^
. The extent of actual cultural distinctiveness is irrelevant. Contrary to many
common definitions, not aU ethnic groups are culture groups (and “ot all c^ub
ture groups are ethnic groups). Although group members may draw attention
to certain cultural features as “the epitome of their peoplehood they are not
necessarUy practitioners of distinct cultures, and such
frequendy have
more symbolic power than practical effect on group behavior. In fact, the
Ethnicity and Race
Mapping the Terrain
An eAnic group is a subpopulation within a larger society.
• An ethnic identity is self-conscious.
«we” share something that “they” do not. An ethnic group cannot exist in
isolation. It has meaning only in a context that involves others—ultimately,
in a collection of peoples of which it is only a part. An ethnic population,
however, is not necessarily a minority population. An ethnic group may be
nolitically or numerically dominant within a single state; it may dominate
one state and at the same time be a minority in others. It is never concep­
tually an isolate.
• • u .
Ethnicity, then, is identification in ethnic terms—that is, m the term
outlined above. An ethnic identity is an identity conceived-in such terms. A
population or social collectivity may be simply an ethnic category, assigns
an ethnic identity by outsiders. But once that identity becomes subjectivethat is, once that population sees itself in ethnic terms, perhaps m response
to the identity outsiders assign to it—it becomes an ethnic group.
among group members, a bond we think of as rnnf-f»rl I.’
t • i
distinctive origins (see Horowitz 1985, chap 2)
^ shared.
This definition still casts the net fairly widely-variatinn in d ‘
assertion can be substantial-but it gives us a mLe d’ r

erouDs and if
distinctive universe of
J P’
It classifies those groups according to the particular kinds nf
“ ‘k’
»; idi„„
one to someone else) is to distinguish ourselves from others iXrdZ®^
boundary between -us* and ■■,hem» on the basis of the clai; we make tiat
The Definition of Race
What about race? Are races ethnic groups? Consider African Ameri^ns.
Certainly many people consider them a race or at least a part of one. How
so? If they are a race, are they not an ethnic group? Could they be both.
Before we can answer these questions, we have to wrestle with the
definition of a race. As with ethnicity, it is common in contemporary society
to talk about races, race relations, and racial conflict as if we had a clear i ea
about what constitutes a race and where the boundary falls between one race
and another. Race, however, is as slippery a concept as ethnic group, and its
slipperiness has an even longer and more consequential history.
Race as Biology
In technical terms, a race can be thought of as a genetically distinct sub­
population of a given species. This statement is of little use m thinking
about human races, however, for the genetic differences among human
groups that we commonly view as races are inconsistent and typica y
insignificant. This has made it difficult to figure out what a race, conceive
in terms of human biology, actually is. In fact, biologists, physical anthro­
pologists, and other students of human physiology and genetics have long
disagreed about which, if any, genetic differences mark the boundaries
between races and about how many human races there are. For several cen­
turies, scholars of one stripe or another from various countries tried to spec­
ify the number of races in the world:
Ethnicity and Race
Linnaeus had found four human races; Blumenbach had five; Cuvier had three;
Jo n Hunter had seven; Burke had sixty-three; Pickering had eleven; Virey had
two “species,” each containing three races; Haeckel had thirty-six; Huxley had
four; Topmard had nineteen under three headings; Desmoulins had sixteen
species ; Deniker had seventeen races and thirty types. (Gossett 1963:82)
Clearly, consensus regarding the nature and number of human races has
been elusive.
The federal government of the United States has been anything but
consistent in its own classifications. In 1870, according to historian Paul
Spickard (1992), the U.S. Bureau of the Census listed five races in the
^ United States: “White, Colored (Blacks), Colored (Mulattoes), Chinese, and
Indian…. In 1950, the census categories reflected a different social under­
standing: White, Black, and Other” (p. 18). By the 1990s, federal programs,,
responding more to the demands of various groups than to any biological
theory, required various public and private entities to report racial data
using, once again, five categories, but they were different from the 1870 cat­
egories: White, Black, Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska
Native, and Hispanic, with the last specified as an ethnic group, not a race
A new category was added when “Native Hawaiian” and “Pacific Islander”
were pulled out of the Asian category just prior to the 2000 census, and
e ore 9/11 there was talk of adding yet another, “Arab,” to the scheme.
Ultimately, the 2000 census produced a different innovation: Individuals
cou ist multiple races. “‘Mark one or more’ converts six categories into
sixty-three, which, when cross-tabulated by the ethnic category of Hispanic,
generates … 126 categories of race-ethnicity” (Prewitt 2004: 152).
Other societies have made other choices. For a long time, the South
^African government recognized four races: White, African, Colored, and
Asian. In many parts of Brazil, where there has been widespread mixing
among Europeans, Africans, and the indigenous Indians, many people gave
up on the notion of distinct races and instead established a set of informal
and sometimes overlapping categories that recognize varying degrees of
racial mixture, usually determined by an individual’s appearance and rang­
ing from the lightest complexions to the darkest. In the census, the Brazilian
government counts by color using a tripartite classification: white, brown
and black (see Bailey and TeUes 2006; Nobles 2002).
If biologically distinct human races do exist, it seems odd that there is
so little agreement on what they are. Indeed, the persistence of the idea of
biologically distinct human races owes more to popular culture and pseu­
doscience than to science, and the idea’s pedigree is not scientific, but
historical and political. It emerged originally in the extended encounter
Mapping the Terrain
between European and non-European peoples that began in the late 15th
and early 16th centuries. Discovering human beings in Asia, Africa, an
the Americas who looked-and often acted-very different fro™
selves Europeans drew upon the Spanish concept of “purity of blood,
which sanctioned discrimination against converted Jews and concluded
that often, superficial differences surely indicated more fundamental di ferences as well (Fredrickson 2002). This conclusion, which asserted their
own inherent superiority, helped them justify their efforts to colonizj
enslave, and sometimes exterminate many of the peoples they encountered.
Europeans came to believe that races are, in fact, distinct and identifiab e
human (and some of them, in the extreme version, nonhuman) groups;
that there are systematic, inherited, biological differences among r^ces;
and that the non-White races are innately inferior to Whites—that is, to
Europeans (see also Jordan 1968).
Systematic physiological differences among many human groups are
obvious. Skin color is only one example. Deciding which of these physio­
logical differences should serve as racial markers is a complicated process
Racial boundaries turn out to be messy. For one thing, the distribution o
human physical characteristics, aided by millennia of mixing among human
communities, is persistently irregular. Blood types, hair textures, s in co ors, and body forms vary, sometimes dramatically, not only between pop­
ulations we often think of as racially distinct, but within them as well. In
fact, the extent of genetic variation among individuals within supposed
racial groups typically exceeds the variation between the groups. We can
speak of a group of persons as having, on average, a greater frequency o
some set of genes than some other group has, but those genes seldom wi
be limited to that group; the differences in frequency will be differences
of degree.
. -r u
It would be easier to know how to mark racial boundaries if the sup­
posed physical differences among races were consistently apparent, but they
seldom are. It would be easier, likewise, if some set of characteristic physi­
cal distinctions were correlated consistently with some set of characmristic
abilities or behaviors, but science has been unable to link such physical
differences persuasively to differences in ability or intelligence or very much
else. In other words, the scientific arguments for any particular way o
dividing up and identifying races of human beings are at best modest. As
geneticist Richard Lewontin and his colleagues point out.
In practice, “racial” categories are established that correspond to major skin.color groups, and all the borderline cases are distributed among these or made
into new races according to the whim of the scientist. But… t e i erences
Ethnicity and Race
Mapping the Terrain
Human “ral^l” dUintiSnT’i^d
Kamin 1984:126-27)
a mt:
Rose, and
““ –
human beings (Gould 1981 1994- Kine 1981^
separate groups of

Lewontm et al. 1984; Smedley
The Social Construction of Race
huma^mcef racettm
basis for the conception of distinct
popular minja bal of 30^
“ ^^e
and often a justification for distincre LatmenTof
Even some academics and intellpr’t- i -ii
group by another,
rally given and
inequaLo- (for example, Heirnacein and Mur^Ti’s^ato
nil td Td:nd“em 1
groups, are not established by some set of not- i
forces, but are orodurtQ nf
they are social consMcl
‘■> ‘bon,
what constitutes a “L o
turally determined” In 156) WeT ’71″““ ”
tics-usnally skircolo,’ bn, LT 7 7‘
featnres-will be primary markeTof’^oup tTndTrfe’w^
gones of persons marked by those cbaf„,…..:- 7 ^
socially significant to the extent that wp n«P ^h

^^.’^^gories become
experience, to form social relatinnc
organize and interpret
live action. In other words the cate’en”‘
individual and collecdecide they have particular mP
important only when we
■ gqish one racal group from anST^ol,.t r
Morning (2005) reports, articles in a number of medical and scientific jour­
nals, including Science, the New England Journal of Medicine, Genome
Biology, and the International Journal of Epidemiology, have highlighted
certain supposedly racial differences, such as the overrepresentation of
spina bifida among Caucasians, especially the Welsh and the Irish; the dis­
proportionate frequency of Tay-Sachs disease among Ashkenazi Jews; or
the prevalence of sickle-cell anemia among African Americans. But, as Troy
Duster (2003) demonstrates in Backdoor to Eugenics, even these patterns
emerge from the ways we group people together, think about genetics, and
determine public health priorities. Furthermore, they often give rise to gen­
eralizations and conclusions that go far beyond these narrow and excep­
tional medical conditions.
We can define a race, then, as a human group defined by itself or others
as distinct by virtue of perceived common physical characteristics that are
held to be inherent. A race is a group of human beings socially defined on
the basis of physical characteristics. Determining which characteristics con­
stitute the race—the selection of markers and therefore the construction of
the racial category itself—is a choice human beings make, and it is the rea­
son some social scientists put “race” in quotes. Neither the categories them­
selves nor the markers we choose are predetermined by biological factors.
These processes of selection and construction are seldom the work of a
moment. Racial categories are historical products and are often contested.
In one famous case from the early 1980s, a Louisiana woman went to court
to dispute the state’s conclusion that she was Black, claiming a White racial
identity. The state’s argument was that her ancestry was at least l/32nd
“Negro,” which according to state law meant she was Black (Dominguez
1986). The law had roots in the long history of Black-White relations in
Louisiana and in the American South more generally, in slavery and its
legacy, and in the enduring White effort to maintain the supposed “purity”
of their race. It was a legal manifestation of what is known as hypodescent,
or the “one-drop” rule, which in the United States holds that any’degree of
African ancestry at all is sufficient to classify a person as Black (see Davis
1991). This rule has a history. People have fought over it, and as the
Louisiana case shows, it has been tested in the courts. It has been reserved
largely for Blacks. Americans do not generally consider a person who is
1/32 Japanese or Dutch to be Japanese or Dutch, but “one drop” of Black
blood has long been considered sufficient for racial categorization.
The woman in Louisiana lost her case (although the law was eventually
changed), but her story underlines the point made by Michael Omi and
Howard Winant (1994) in their pathbreaking study of race in the United
States: Racial categories are not natural categories that human beings
Ethnicity and Race
discover; on the contrary, they are “created, inhabited, transformed, and
, destroyed” by human action and are, therefore, preeminently social prod­
ucts (p. 55). They change over time as people struggle to establish them,
overcome them, assign other people to them, escape them, interpret them,
and so on. The outcomes of those struggles often have enormous conse­
quences for the individuals involved, but it is not biology that determines
^ who will suffer and why. People determine what the categories will be, fill
them up with human beings, and attach consequences to membership in
those categories.
Ethnicity and Race
To pose again the question we raised some pages ago: Are races ethnic
groups? The answer, which may not yet be obvious, is sometimes yes, some­
times no. Ethnicity and race are not the same, but they are not mutually
exclusive categories, either. They sometimes overlap. In short, races may be
but are not necessarily ethnic groups. In the following two subsections, we
first explore the ways that ethnicity and race are different and then the things
they have in common.
Differences between Ethnicity and Race
Most societies have treated groups defined in racial terms very differently
‘ from those defined ethnically, and the differences have been crucial. In
the United States, for example, although some ethnic groups have been
privileged over others at various times in history, Whiteness~a racial
category—has been consistently privileged over non-Whiteness, with per­
sons of color consigned to the margins of American society and culture.
In different ways at different times, race has been institutionalized in the
organization of the society and ideologized in its culture.
Race has been the most powerful and persistent group boundary in
American history, distinguishing, to varying degrees, the experiences of
those classified as non-White from those classified as White, often with dev­
astating consequences. The racial boundary that White society has histori­
cally drawn around itself has excluded different groups at different times.
Along with Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans, both Jews and
the Irish, among others, have been perceived as non-Whites at one time
or another in the United States (Ignatiev 1995; Sacks 1994). Both groups
struggled to alter the perception, knowing all too well the costs of being
non-White in the eyes of Whites.
Mapping the Terrain
Designating a group of people as a distinct race has been sufficient in thb
United States to mark them off as more profoundly and distinctively
“other”—more radically different from “us”—than those ethnic groups
who have not had to carry the burden of racial distinction. Where racml
designations have been used, ethnic distinctions within racial categories
have tended to be overshadowed by the racial designations. All of the com­
monly designated racial groups in American life are multiethnic: for exam­
ple, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and others among Latinos; West
Indians and American-born Blacks, whose ethnicities operate at a less
comprehensive level than the African American ethnicity they more gener­
ally share; various groups among Asian Americans; a multitude of cultur­
ally diverse peoples among American Indians; and various ethnicities of
European descent among Whites. With the important exception of Whites,
however, society at large generally has either ignored or minimized these
identities throughout much of its history, emphasizing more comprehensive
racial distinctions.^ Furthermore, it has been far more reluctant to allow
movement across racial boundaries than across ethnic ones. For example,
“A Cambodian American does not have to remain Cambodian, as far as
non-Asian Americans are concerned, but only with great difficulty can this
Cambodian American cease to be Asian American” (Hollinger 1995:28).
This does not mean these ethnicities are unimportant. They are of great
importance to the groups involved and a key to understanding much of
what goes on among and within those groups. It does illustrate, however,
the particular power of race, which has been a foundational feature of
American life in a way that ethnicity has not: the ultimate boundary
between “us” and “them.” This pattern of racial categorization also illus­
trates the tendency in American life to recognize diversity among Whites
but to ignore it among others.
Not all societies have experienced race in this same way. Relative to eth­
nicity, race has played an even greater and more obvious role in the orga­
nization of society and culture in South Africa, for example, than it has in
the United States. Race was a fundamental organizing principle in most
colonial societies around the world, remains a significant dimension of
social organization in various societies of the Middle East and Latin
America, and is of rapidly growing significance in much of contemporary
Europe. In Canada, on the other hand, as the case of French-speaking resw
dents of Quebec indicates, ethnicity has been fully as important a fault line
as race. In Belgium, ethnicity has considerably overshadowed race as a
dimension of social organization and politics.
Despite the varying prominence of racial categories across societies, race
everywhere has taken on a distinctive set of meanings and uses. Some of
Ethnicity and Race
Mapping the Terrain
these are apparent in remarks made by a British gold and tin miner in colonial Malaya, m Southeast Asia, in the early part of the 1900s. Malaya was
a British colony, populated by an ethnically diverse indigenous population
nown to the British as Malays, along with significant numbers of Chinese
and Asian Indians (Tamils), brought in both before and during British colo­
nial rule to meet growing labor needs. Writing of the situation in Malaya
the miner remarked,
^ ’
From a labour point of view, there are practically three races, the Malays
(including the Javanese), the Chinese, and the Tamils (who are generally known
as Khngs). By nature the Malay is an idler, the Chinaman is a thief, and the
mg IS a drunkard, yet each m his own class of work is both cheap and effi­
cient, when properly supervised, (quoted in Hirschman 1986:356-57)
A good deal of importance about race is apparent or hinted at in these
remarks and we can use them to further elaborate the differences between
race and ethnicity. Fmst, race typically has its origins in assignment, in the
classifications that a dominant group imposes upon a less powerful collection
of others. Ethnicity can have similar origins, but it frequently begins in the
assertions of group members themselves. The ethnically diverse Malays did
not see themselves originally as a single people, much less as a distinctive
(Nagata 1981). There are exceptions to the rule of racial assignment. For
^^^^^here have
more and more forcefully asserted Whiteness as a self-conscious racial idenfiXr
categories, however, have been constructed
first by those who wished to assign them to someone else; race has been first
and foremost a way of describing “others,” of making clear that “they” are
as iTnnf
contemporary meanings and uses
s part of a monumental historical meeting of peoples. It is a product of the
g obal era, with roots in European colonialism in places such as Malaya and
elsewhere m Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Beginning late in the 15th cen­
tury, m an enduring burst of expansive energy, certain European nationsin particular Spam, Portugal, England, France, and the Netherlands—sent
explorers, exploiters, missionaries, and settlers across the world, most of
which was previously unknown to them. Human beings have long noted
the physical differences among themselves, but the magnitude of the
ifferences that Europeans encountered over the next two centuries was
unprecedented m their experience. Entire continents entered European con­
sciousness for the first time, with populations that differed dramatically
both physically and culturally from the peoples of Europe. These differ­
ences prompted classifications that were unprecedented in their comprehen­
siveness, >a grand division of the world between Europeans and racially—
physically—distinct others.
Third, this meeting of peoples and the ideas that came out of it were
aspects of power relations. The designation of race is, in and of itself, an
assertion of the power to define one culture against the “other” and in
doing so to create a rigid and presumably permanent social hierarchy
(Fredrickson 2002). Europe exerted such power in its racial classification of
the world’s peoples, inventing the contemporary idea of race in the process.
Racial designation has also been linked to power in more material ways. It
was not idle curiosity that drove Europe’s captains and missionaries across
the globe, but a massive quest for wealth, political clout, and souls. They
found justification for their activities in part in the idea of race, in the belief
that human groups are inherently different and that those differences con­
stitute “natural” physical and moral hierarchies that are replicated in social
organization, with Caucasians in dominant social positions and various
“others” ranging downward from there (Spickard 1992). “From a labour
point of view,” wrote the miner in Malaya—the only point of view that
mattered to colonialists—“there are practically three races,” and each of
those three, “in its own class of work,” is cheap and efficient “when prop­
erly supervised” (quoted in Hirschman 1986: 356-57). The place these
races occupied in the European conception is clear in these remarks: They
are a resource to be exploited. Such beliefs both nourished and were nour­
ished By colonialism, but they have been among the more durable products
of human intellectual ingenuity, and not only in the hands of Europeans.
From the slaughter of indigenous peoples in the Americas to the racial
exclusionism of Japan, and from Europe’s exploitation of colonial labor to
the extermination campaigns that Hutus and Tutsis have repeatedly waged
against each other in Rwanda and Burundi, the domination of one group
by another has turned repeatedly to race for its dubious legitimacy. Thus,
race and power, historically and today, have been tightly intertwined. If we
combine this point with the previous one about physical difference, we are
brought to Paul Spickard’s (2005) pithy comment that “race is about
power, and it is written on the body” (p. 2).
Tourth, as this history suggests, racial designation typically implies infe­
riority. Sometimes it is physical or biological inferiority, as in the notions—
prevalent at certain times in various societies—that some races are
inherently less intelligent than others or have attained only a lower stage of
evolution. It is also, most importantly and almost invariably, an inferiority
in moral worth. “By nature the Malay is an idler, the Chinaman is a thief.
Ethnicity and Race
Mapping the Terrain
and the Kling IS a drunkard” (quoted in Hirschman 1986:357). The history
or less worthy categories of persons. The ways in which some persons fail
to meet the standard of worthiness may vary, but the idea of fadure is usunation TO ^Th
^^.^ignation. The primary exception is the desig­
nation Whtte. This designation commonly occurs as the unspoken flip side
of the assignment of some other group to a racial category. In asZnl
no er group to a racial category, Whites inevitably—if only implicitly—
-ign themselves to a different racial category. Historicaljthe cat^Ly
Whne has been the moral opposite of non-White categories. There is noth
mg inherent m Whiteness that produces such a difference; other groups may
ke racial assignments that simultaneously define and positively valul
ttv toT’
^he world’s recenrh”
tory, Whites have been more likely than others to have the power to make
racial assignments, to organize social life in racial terms, and to define and
value the categories as they have seen fit.
is inw’Tlet’
The unworthiness attached to race
were so “by “L””” ‘
claimed they
European conception. Whites represented the norm
and others were just that-Other. The norm was taken for granted ‘Ue’
hite Western self as a racial being has for the most part remained unex
L“1med“ the^”™'”*!!’

1993:17). Its normality has been
are uncivilized or pagan or incapable; perhaps more
1’“ T””™’ ”
to oatUK, L fully
tha” those more fortunate in their racW
akeup. Of course in defining others, we implicitly define ourselves if
r°T“’ “
Ito g»od; if
Zdlfen^ry'””;:’.™*^ “
Ethnicity usually escapes these burdens, although it is by no means
.immune to them. Like race, ethnicity may be an assigned identity That is
t may have its origins in the claims others make about us or we Zke Zut
immigrants to the United States came not in
their own minds as Italians, but as carriers of narrower regional identitiesNeapo itans or Sicilians or Lucanians or something else. U S. immigrltiln
officials and the larger public, however, saw them as Italians !nd so
classified them. Over time, Italian immigrants came to see themselves the
same way and subsequently as Italian Americans (Alba 1985). At that
point, they moved from an ethnic category (assigned an identity as Italian)
to an ethnic group (asserting an identity as Italian American). Assignment
thus may sow the seed of ethnicity by creating an ethnic category, but an
ethnic group emerges only when that identity becomes part of the group’s
own self-concept.
Assignment, however, is not necessary to ethnicity, which often has its
origins in assertion, in the claims groups make about themselves instead of
the claims others make about them. The people known for a long time as
Eskimos in Alaska and northern Canada have joined hands with others of
the northernmost peoples around the globe and call themselves Inuit. They
assert their own commonality, rooted in history, culture, and kinship, tran­
scending national borders. As this case suggests, ethnicity’s primary concern
is as often identifying ourselves as it is identifying and classifying others
(Eder et al. 2002; Nagel 1994).
In fact, this process of self-construction—“self” in this case referring to the
collective or group—is not only a common characteristic of ethnicity but also
part of what makes some races at one and the same time ethnic groups.
Ethnic and racial categories may be delineated first by others, but when
groups begin to fill those categories with their own content, telling their own
histories in their own ways and putting forth their own claims to what their
identities signify, then they are engaged in a classical process of constructing
ethnicity. When a racial group sets out to construct its own version of its
identity, it makes itself both a race and an ethnic group at once.
Such typically ethnic activities are usually bound up in social interests
and power relations. Ethnicity, like race, is often linked to power and
wealth. Subsequent chapters will show that the origins of both ethnic and
racial identities are frequently to be found in conflicts of various kinds, in
struggles over scarce resources such as land or jobs or status oi; power.
Ethnic identities also emerge or become important sometimes in an effort
unattached to concrete material interests or assertions of power simply to
make sense of the differences among persons in complex situations. They
may also emerge during people’s search for identities that can provide them
with meaning, that can make them feel a part of some manageable com- „
munity of sentiment and cultural heritage. The links between ethnicity anc^
power, therefore, are more context dependent than are those between
jiower and race. Power is almost invariably an aspect of race; it may or may
not be an aspect of ethnicity.
As for moral worth, ethnicity certainly makes such claims often enough.
For example, the historian George Fredrickson (2002) suggests that virulent
Ethnicity and Race
forms of racism, such as the German anti-Semitism that led to the
Holocaust, are essentially an aggressive and exclusionary form of the selfassertion of a collective identity based upon presumed kinship that we have
referred to here as ethnicity. Such cases show that ethnicity can be as
destructive m its claims of differential worth as any racial designation,
but this kind of malignancy is less common to ethnic identification!
Ethnocentrism—3. belief in the normality and superiority of one…
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