Re: Ethnic

ralph ambrose (
24 Apr 1995 07:06:12 GMT

In <> (a luta
continua) writes:
>>Hello !
>>I would like to start a thread about the meaning
>>of the word/adjective "ethnic"
>>What is an "ethnic group"
>>how differ from other similar
>>like population, tribe and....race ?
>>All suggestions are welcome and book references
>>Thank you
>>University "La Sapienza" Rome
>Just a brief comment (leaning also on what Shook posted): IMHO it is
>more useful to focus on how terms such as "ethnicity" are (ab-)used,
than to
>attempt to define them in any meaningful way.
>a luta

I think Vincenzo has a lagitimate question here. My social
anthropology instructor couldn't give me much of an answere when I
asked a similar question years ago. The lack of a serious response may
be due to the fact that "race" and "ethnicity" are often poorly
defined. Even when they are well defind it is hard to abandon the same
groupings of people- we simply rename them in a slightly less
offensive, but no more accurate manner. I feel that these terms still
deserve serious reflection and critical evaluation of how they are
currently used.

"Race" is a confusion of expressed genetic traits, or phenotypes, with
cultural or behavioral characteristics. The main problems with linking
phenotypes with behaviors are: 1) Phenotypic characteristics, such as
skin color, eye color, bone structure, hair color, etc., vary between
individuals within the so called "races." In fact, these
characteristics vary more within these "races" than they vary from any
one "race" to another "race."

2) Also, individuals with a certain set of physical characteristics
(individuals with a specific phenotype) may not be incultered into a
cultural group, or for other reasons may not associate mostly with that
group- even though it may be the group of origin. Whenever we make
conclusions about the behavior of a group of people with certain
phenotypic traits, we are flawed because it is inculturation which
governs cultural behavior, not the physical appearance shaped by our

An ethnic group is a group of individuals of the same cultural
background. This has nothing to do with phenotype.

Many of the names of what we now call ethnicities or ethnic groups in
the United States are only softer versions of "races." We have not, in
many cases, learned to abandon the characterization of people based on
appearance when we are making conclusions on behavior. Often, we only
bring a new element into the naming process: Nationality (e.g.
Africa-American, Anglo-American). We may still be "racist" but we are
trying to imply some unity amoung the groups.

Terms such as population, tribe, and civilization have other
definitions and they are based on seperate principles.

Population is a very general term which may be applied to a tribe, a
civilization, or an ethnic group. The most useful way to think of
"population" is in the statistical sense- we define a population and we
examine a sample of that population, then make conclusions about the
population based on our sample. (i.e. Any group about which we want to
talk is a population.)

Tribe, and civilization are levels of social structure or organization.
Band, Tribe, Cheifdom, Civilization, it goes something along those

As for names of ethnic groups- My fiance and I are working on a system
to name ethnic groups- an adaption of the aspects of current practices
which do not confuse phenotype with ethnicity or other arbitrary
factors. This very weekend I was discussing nomenclature of ethnic
groups with my fiance who is doing a project on ethnic intermarriage,
and we decided to adress the problem. I already have shared with you
some of the ideas of the conversation.

We should all keep in mind that it is useless to rename the "races."
We need to truly abandon the "race" system in order to accurately
describe ethnic groups.

Many ethnic groups are well defined, especially in the field of
anthropology because it simply must find names for so many ethnic
groups. But the same problems still exist in anthro'.

In my view, "race" although it does not truly exist, is a concept that
dies hard. And ethnic grouping is a concept sometimes hard to pin