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Race and Racism – Some Concepts Defined
Despite adamant claims to the contrary, racism continues to plague many peoples around the world. The first step toward resolving issues of racial intolerance and prejudice is to develop an understanding of the underlying concepts and their labels. This (rather long) article touches on the following topics: • Stereotypes, Race, and Racism • Culture and Cultural Imperialism • Nationalism and National Imaginary I hope you find this article helpful. Stereotypes According to Stroebe and Insko (1989), the term 'stereoptype' originated in 1798 to describe a printing process that involved casts of pages of type. The term was first used in relation to the social and political arena in 1922 by Walter Lippman, referring to our perception of different groups. Since then, the meaning of the term has been vigorously debated.
Stereotyping was considered by some as the oversimplified, biased cognitive representations of "undesirable rigidity, permanence, and lack of variability from application to application" (ibid, 1989, p. Others, such as Brown (1965), considered it a natural fact of life like any other generalisation; "many generalisations acquired by heresay are true and useful" (cited in Stroebe & Insko, 1989, p. Stroebe and Insko (1989) settle on a simple definition which sits somewhere in between these two schools of thought.
They define a stereotype as the “set of beliefs about the personal attributes of a group of people" (p. They obviously accept that stereotypes are not necessarily rigid, permanent, or invariable, but they do still distinguish between stereotypes and other categories, claiming that stereotypes are characterised by a bias towards the ingroup and away from the outgroup (p. Yzerbyt, et al (1997) attempt to explain the existence of stereotypes, suggesting that stereotypes provide not only a set of (often unjustified) attributes to describe a group, but also a rationale for maintaining that set of attributes. This allows people to “integrate incoming information according to their specific views” (p.21). Race When used in everyday speech in relation to multiculturalism, the term ‘race’ has come to mean any of the following: • nationality (geographically determined) - e. the Italian race • ethnicity (culturally determined, sometimes in combination with geography) - e.
the Italian race • skin colour - e. the white race The common usage of ‘race’ is problematic because it is esoteric, and because it implies what Bell (1986) calls “biological certainty” (p.29). When we talk about race, there is always a common understanding that we are also talking about common genetic characteristics that are passed from generation to generation. The concept of nationality is generally not so heavily tarred with the genetics brush. Likewise, ethnicity allows for, and gives equal weight to, causes other than genetics; race does not. Skin colour is just a description of physical appearance; race is not. The concept of race may masquerade as a mere substitution for these terms, but in actual fact, it is a reconstruction.
Further, there is the question of degree. Are you black if you had a black grandmother? Are you black if you grew up in a black neighbourhood? Are you black sometimes, but not others? Who makes these decisions? Racism Having established the problems associated with the term ‘race’, we can now discuss how these problems contribute to issues of racism. Jakubowicz et al (1994) define racism as “the set of values and behaviours associated with groups of people in conflict over physical appearances, genealogy, or cultural differences. It contains an intellectual/ideological framework of explanation, a negative orientation towards ‘the Other’, and a commitment to a set of actions that put these values into practice.” (p.27) What this definition fails to address is the framework of explanation. Perhaps it should say “…framework of explanation based on various notions of race and racial stereotypes…”. This would bring us back to our discussion of the concept of race. Because race is almost impossible to define, racial stereotypes are even more inappropriate than other kinds of stereotypes. Racism is an infuriating phenomenon because, irrespective of this, behaviour is still explained, and actions are still performed, based on these racial categorisations.
Culture “Culture” is a term we’re all familiar with, but what does it mean? Does it reflect your nationality? Does it reflect your race? Does it reflect your colour, your accent, your social group? Kress (1988) defines culture as “the domain of meaningful human activity and of its effects and resultant objects” (p. This definition is very broad, and not particularly meaningful unless analysed in context. Lull (1995) talks of culture as “a complex and dynamic ecology of people, things, world views, activities, and settings that fundamentally endures but is also changed in routine communication and social interaction. Culture is context.” (p.66) As with other categorisation techniques, however, cultural labels are inherently innaccurate when applied at the individual level. No society is comprised of a single culture only. There are multitudes of sub-cultures which form due to different living conditions, places of birth, upbringing, etc.
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