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Racial, Ethnic & Sexual Identity & Difference - Pt 1

Introduction
Definition of Race
Definition of Culture and Ethnicity
Concept of National Identity
Categorisation and Labels

Last Updated: 14 June 2016

 

Introduction

This section is really a philosophical exploration of the concepts and notions of difference and identity. It is not intended to be judgemental in any way, and is intended to encourage readers to question their own ideas and beliefs about what makes up their identity and to provide impetus for their further development. I am in no way looking to promote discrimination or intolerance, but to attempt to provoke open and honest thought into sensitive issues, promote understanding and tolerance in society, regardless of an individual's background, origin, sexual and psychological orientation.

Whatever an individual chooses to use as his identity is his business, regardless of what I or anyone else thinks, however positive and/or negative (frequently both) that might be for the individual, or indeed for wider society. Acting on one's beliefs regarding difference may however have legal implications in certain instances.

If you want to read more about this whole topic, then please go to the Psychology Bibliography page, and read one of Paul Gilroy's books, The Black Atlantic : Modernity and Double-Consciousness, or 'There Ain't no Black in the Union Jack' : The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (Black Literature and Culture Series). In society as a whole, in different areas, for a variety of historical reasons, various groups of people have used a particular attribute as a strong determinant of their sense of identity. For historical reasons, persons with a particular attribute may have suffered discrimination in areas such as personal relations, relations with the general public, in employment, in education and many others. Using a particular attribute as a sole/main source of identity has both a positive and a negative effect. A unifying aspect, between the holders of this attribute (who can feel good about possessing this attribute), and a divisive aspect, between those who hold this attribute and those who do not. Now, it is not my place to say whether this is right or wrong, but just to point out that there are two sides to every story. A concept of identity can have its uses for a period of time, but for it to be set in stone is perhaps counter productive in the long run. 

Definition of 'Race'

In Anthropological and Biological Terms, there is no definable concept as 'race'. There are no physical distinctions between what most people consider as distinct 'races'. 'Race' is not a useful scientific term. Yes, of course, one can generalise about what characteristics constitutes a race, but this cannot categorise all members of a so-called 'race'. One can of course look at general physical and biological attributes for a certain segment of a population, but there is no absolute anthropological or biological definition of race. One can talk of ethnicity, however this is a product of various elements, including perhaps national/regional origin, geographic location, language, cultural practices and religious beliefs. Even these are by no means clearly defined, as cultural practices vary considerably between age groups, geographic areas and individuals. Some people mistakenly refer to a nation as a race, e.g. the Japanese race or Swedish race. Are 'races' neatly divided and allocated a country each? With no intermixing? No nation state contains a homogeneous population in terms of the concept of 'race' or anything else. One can speak of a majority or minorites perhaps, but how useful is this? To imply that people of a certain skin colour are not members/citizens of a nation or do not represent the national characteristics may be viewed as 'racist' in itself. A person who is a nationalist is not necessarily a racist. Does speaking a different language constitute a different 'race'?! Unfortunately, our vocabulary is somewhat limited, with terminology often ambiguous, so it is understandable to make such errors occasionally.

It is possible to determine the approximate composition of one's DNA by means of a genome test. This uses 'typical' DNA patterns associated with historical geographical regions, and can be used to determine the approximate geographic % mix of one's DNA over several hundred years. Companies that current offer BioGeographic Ancestral DNA profile as part of their genome analysis include 23andme, ancestry.com and DNA BioScience. According to DNA BioScience, "BioGeographical Ancestry admixture" is the heritable component of what we commonly refer to as "race". The person's DNA profile is compared against 250 worldwide population groups, and ranks the top 20 closest matches in descending order. One can therefore accurately pinpoint the populaces that have contributed to one's genome make-up. Whilst based on stereotypes, such a test may be of interest to those interested in family trees, genetics and/or anthropology. Those we consider to be clearly defined as belonging to a specific 'race' may thus be seen to be made up of a small percentage of one of more other stereotypical biogeographical ancestry types, e.g. African or Middle Eastern.

In addition, genome tests can show the percentage of Neanderthal DNA in one's genome. Neanderthals, aka Homo neanderthalensis, were a separate Hominid species that coexisted alongside Homo sapiens. Neanderthals became extinct approximately 28,000 to 40,000 years ago. Whilst the last common ancestor to both ancient humans and Neanderthals was 1/2 million years old, there is 99.5% similarity between the two species in DNA, and opinions of scientists vary on the subject of interbreeding and its contribution to common DNA found in modern humans. There is some evidence of limited interbreeding, but it is not known to what extent this occurred. Modern studies show between 2 and 6% Neanderthal DNA in modern humans. Extinction hypotheses of Neanderthal populations include climate change and increased marginalisation by the more dominant human populations and spread of pathogens for which Neanderthals had little immunity resistance against. It is also possible that Neanderthal populations were absorbed into ancient human populations through interbreeding. A study from June 2016 suggests that inbreeding in declining Neanderthal populations led to excessively mutated DNA, which was incorporated into the European human populations through interbreeding, thereby reducing their reproductive efficiency for several generations.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160606103654.htm

Recent research suggests that people of a more mixed race genetic background are genetically stronger, in other words more heterozygous and less homozygous, than individuals with a less mixed race background (or preceived single race heritage). 

Definition of 'Culture' and 'Ethnicity'

What is culture? It means different things to different people, depending on 'ethnicity' and certainly regional geographic location, and indeed the individual. However, common items thought of as culture could include: national language, regional languages, regional dialects, national television network and popular television shows, regional and 'national' food dishes (sometimes associated with a special occasion or national holiday), style of dress, ways of socialising, music (both traditional and popular), art (usually high art), old and new popular literature, newspapers and tabloids that influence so many minds, perception of historical events, famous historical, popular or media figures, sports or recreational activities, celebrities, learned interactive behaviour which is situationally dependent, the physical landscape - both natural world and building architecture, government, institutions, military history, class structure, historical artifacts, etc.

Wikipedia defines ethnicity at the link below. It is clear that the definition of the term is far from an exact science:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnicity

Wikipedia defines culture at the link below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture

Culture is a means of communication between individuals, defining shared core beliefs, attitudes and behaviour in many respects. It also defines how people perceive their sexuality, and in what manner they associate their sexual identity and sexuality with different types of display of affection towards others of the opposite sex and same sex. Unconsciously we may adopt ideas about how we should act and behave to belong to the 'right' part of the 'male' or 'female' group. Modern western society is gradually blurring its boundaries in this respect, but unhindered non-sexual affection or touching between males (e.g. holding hands, giving a shoulder massage, sitting in close proximity, walking with arm around the other person, showing and discussing one's mental weaknesses or more sensitive emotions etc.) is not something that society understands or tolerates in many respects. Certain behaviours such as hugging or telling someone you love them may be acceptable in small doses, but not when engaged in too frequently. Women may well freely engage in such modes of communication and interaction without giving it a thought, but men may well feel extremely uncomfortable about this if it is not with a woman (a sexual or gender-based interpretation.) Men may feel insecure that their essence of being male is under threat when they are presented with such unusual non-sexual, affectionate behaviour. Gender identity and behaviour is very much defined by our culture to a large extent, although each person's interpretation is of relevance. 

Concept of National Identity

The concept of national identity is a relative new one, which has only been utilised by nation states in relatively recent history. The modern nation state has only existing for a few hundred years. Modern nation states have themselves promoted the concept of national identity for their own benefit through advertisements and national tournaments, and in many cases through genocide (which is not focussed on too much in historical discussions besides the obvious examples) to strengthen their own position, and also during times of war to recruit soldiers and to keep up 'morale'. This process has clearly accelerated with the advent of television and the modern road and railway networks. For us to think that national identity is a tradition is a matter of philosophy. What constitutes a tradition? How long does something have to be practised or believed until it is traditional? Answers on a postcard please. Are any of our traditions actually static? In reality 'national identity' or 'national culture' cannot be clearly defined and the patterns and traditions of the majority group change by the spread of new technology, adoption of music, food, fashion and behaviours from other cultures or nations, from individual influence, changing values, international media and travel, immigration and emigration, and by the random and chaotic nature of the variables and changing balances within society. In some areas, a national culture may become richer and more diverse, and in other areas it may lose its focus and interest in some of its old literature and arts. In addition, the global economy, fashion, fickle tastes, and mass consumerism can affect a culture too, and means that cultures in each national state become increasingly similar, although ways of adopting some of the same products may vary. Over time a culture may lose its sense of social responsibility, community and family, honesty in tackling social problems, and become more vain, consumption and less community orientated.  

Categorisation and Labels

Categorisation can clearly be seen to be problematic. Even the term 'racism' is problematic, as it cannot be easily defined, and is sometimes used to describe prejudice against those of a different nationality alone, or a different nationality and culture, or a different culture, or a different skin colour, or a different skin colour and nationality, or a different skin colour and culture, or a different ethnicity etc. In some cases it is used to describe any kind of prejudice. Can any of these terms actually be clearly and absolutely be defined in all individuals?

The use of pride in difference, for example, sex, sexual orientation and 'race' as identity, has clearly had its uses during the last hundred years. It has helped to gain (theoretically) equal civil rights for all people in modern, industrialised countries. It has been very positive in this respect. Whilst clearly prejudice will never be completely eradicated, neither will crime nor acts of immorality. It is highly unlikely that we will reach a utopian or perfect society as long as people live on this planet. However, the indefinite continued use of stereotypes and a characteristic to define which 'group' one affiliates with, rather than just being an individual, may no longer be constructive, but may in the long term reverse some of the progress it has made, creating more divisions that it once helped to break down. Cultural identities evolve and feed from each other, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

A set of behaviours and methods of communication, often viewed as a 'culture' or 'ethnicity' are not necessarily what defines who were are. They are a set of behaviours and beliefs that we have adopted because other people around us have adopted them. We may not necessarily like them or if given a choice of models of behaviour on a rack, particularly pick that particular one. These patterns of behaviour in many cases existed before we were born and will continue to propagate themselves after we are dead. They spread throughout the population not unlike a virus, slowly mutating over time. It is in a sense an entity unto itself, detached and seperate from the people in a group or in the population but controlling it and its behaviour. Is something that existed before you were born and will exist after you die really something that defines who you are? In many cases, learnt behaviours are useful, for example, the highway code, and the way of driving to ensure efficient interaction and understanding with others, but in other cases, it may not necessary be so useful and indeed have negative consequences as well as positive.

The labels of 'race' and skin colour are defined in normal usage by clumsy use of language and concepts of polarity. For example, hot is seen as the opposite of cold, as opposed to cold being the relative absence of heat. What does the 'opposite' of anything really mean? The implication in language is that 'black' is the opposite of 'white' and they are by definition incompatible. Therefore, using this terminology does nothing but create conflict and division by its very definition and people's perception of language. If nothing else, they are not correct, as 'white' people are not literally white, and 'black' people are not literally black. Language implies that 'coloured' is the opposite of 'white'.

Religion, ethnicity and 'race' are often confused. What is in reality cultural and religious difference is translated to racial difference, but only in the context of interacting with those who we find objectionable. Religious fundamentalism is often the cause of racial tension, and the terminology is not strictly correct. Fundamentalism implies a going back to the core beliefs of a religion, and holding the written teachings of the religion vehemently and to the letter. However, ironically, fundamentalism in every religion it occurs in, is a perversion and distortion of religious truth, used to control people, using religion as a vehicle of control, a means to an end. Fundamentalism is often used in a repressive and in many ways 'right wing' or pseudo-nationalist context. For example, many moslems consider wearing a veil an expression of Islam, but it is simply a cultural fashion amongst fundamentalists. There is no mention in the Koran that women must wear veils. Early Islam was a very progressive and egalitarian religion from inception and early moslems were at the forefront of scientific and cultural revolution. Both Christian and Moslem texts state quite clearly that one should not kill another human being, yet fundamentalist bullies from each camp have historically and currently use their 'faith' to justify killing. Fundamentalists use fear, rigid thinking and brainwashing to coerce the population into their line of thinking. Prejudices arising from a distortion of religion often contribute to racial and cultural tension in the communities they find themselves in. It is one thing whether religious texts reflect the spiritual truth message and faith of the prophet, Messiah or religious teacher. But it is quite another when people claim to represent a religion and flagrantly break many of the teachings of that religion, in particular with relation to violence, killing and war. And quite often people associate these fundamentalist bullies with that religion, so that the faith becomes tainted in the public mind, and that fear can be used to fuel further racism and dubious defensive policies.

Even well educated journalists confuse 'Israeli' with 'Jew'. Within Israel, many Jews are far from convinced about the policies of its government, but outside of Israel, if anyone publicly criticises Israeli policy, they are branded 'anti-semitic' or anti-Jewish. On the Jewish comedy show Seinfeld, there is a sketch where he mocks his uncle Leo on the Today Show - Leo brands everyone and everything as anti-semitic if he doesn't get his way, e.g. losing a bet on a horse etc. When Leo's girlfriend laughs at the joke, Leo gets angry and accuses her of anti-semitism and dumps her!

It is easy to confuse 'race' (if such a thing really exists) with 'nationality'. Indeed, many use the term Jew to refer to a 'race', others to someone of Israeli nationality, others to someone of Jewish ethnicity and others against to someone of the religion of Judaism (Judaic or 'Jew'; 'Jewish' religion). Indeed, many people who have converted to Judaism, but who are not of the 'Jewish race' are termed as Jews. Why have society and people who consider themselves to be 'Jewish' have become accustomed to using confusing terminology and confusing concepts depending on context? Given the vast number of words in our language, it is rather ridiculous to be so imprecise and ambiguous.

Wikipedia defines 'Jew' as follows.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jew

If we take the example of Asian cuisine, and compare it to South East Asian cuisine, then there are noticeable differences in approach to labelling. South East Asian takeaways and restaurants tend to focus more on their national identity, of the food, and likely the mother country of the owners or the owner's parents. This practice is followed as it probaby serves to describe what kind of food people can expect to buy. If the restaurant does not have the Country's name in it, it likely says so underneath the name on the sign, e.g. Chinese takeaway. Of course, the food served up in any Asian or SE Asian restaurants is not really typical of what people in these countries actually eat, as it is 'fancy' food or food prepared to appeal to western palates or the stereotype they have come to expect from such establishments. There are significant differences in the food people expect to eat at a Chinese restaurant compared with an Indonesian or a Japanese restaurant. However, when it comes to Asian food, or at least the type of food which is served in Asian restaurants and takeaways in the USA and Europe, less effort if any effort is made to identify the 'national origin' of the food style or owners. Indian and Pakistani restaurants and takeaways either do not state it, and refer to themselves as curry houses or Balti houses, or they call themselves Indian restaurants, regardless of whether they are/were Indian or Pakistani. From my perspective, there seems to be a gentleman's agreement to do this in both communities in the UK at least, presenting both cultures as 'Indian' and neither restaurant serving pork or beef, to respect the relative religions of Islam and Hinduism. 'Meat' when it appears on the menu normally refers to the red meat lamb only. This is normally the only type of red meat sold at such establishments. Whether this perceived strategy, if in fact a national or international phenomenon, actually benefits these ethnic communities or works against them is another matter. Why cannot the establishment owners be clearer about where they are from, and make the food dishes more authentic to where they came from, to educate people with food? Or perhaps at least call themselves Pakistani when they in fact are, instead of 'pretending' to be Indian, or at least having people confuse them with Indians? Otherwise, 'Pakistani' becomes a 'dirty word' or at least one that people are not proud of or feel comfortable about using for marketing reasons. Where there is fear, it will breed ignorance and prejudice. Such strategies serves only to reinforce racial and cultural stereotypes.

In the 1960s, some British tabloid newspapers referred to immigrants from former colony states, particularly Indian and Pakistan, as 'Pakis', in a manner which was deemed to be racist and derogatory. The term was more widely adopted as a derogatory label for South Asians, including Indians and Bangladeshis. The above clearly is not a cause but certainly does not help. The word is derived from Pakistani, and is an abbreviated form. It is unfortunate that the context in which the term was used was not criticised and labelled as inaccurate and racist rather than the term itself, which is just an abbreviation of a nationality.

Technically speaking, it is not a racial term but a term identifying a national or emigrant of a particular country. The fact that it was applied to various nationalities or 2nd and 3rd generation emigrants from those countries in a blanket manner implies that those persons all are the same in some respect - which is most likely a reference to a combination of skin colour or shades of skin colour, facial characteristics and culture - and how such individuals were perceived to have integrated into British culture and to what degree and in what ways they retained their homeland's culture and so forth. The term 'Paki' is not exclusively a 'racist' term, but also refers to Paki in California - a former Maidu Native American settlement; a Hawaiian high chief during the reign of King Kamehameha III; or Theitia Paki, the current Maori King (at the time of writing) in New Zealand. To label the use of the word 'Paki' in all contexts as 'racist' is therefore slightly presumptuous and ethnocentric.

Because the abbreviation of the word Pakistani has been widely regarded by the public, by the government and the media in the UK as being 'racist', it's use as a legitimate abbreviation for Pakistani nationals has been potentially forever denied to mainstream British society. If the context in which the term was criticised instead of the term itself, then perhaps the term could be used in the same way that the word 'Brit' is used to describe a British national, i.e. in a positive manner. This is not only unfortunate but disrespectful to the Pakistani community that they are not able to reclaim an abbreviation of their own name. Those politically correct 'white caucasian' middle classed busy bodies who continue to perpetuate the meaning and understanding behind the term as being 'racist' continue to disrespect Pakistani nationals or 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation immigrants even if they set out to achieve the exact opposite and believe they are trying to show them respect. In recent years, members of the Pakistani community have begun to use the word 'Paki' as street slang, when referring to each other, much in the same way as Afro-Americans may refer to each other as 'Nigga' in street slang. They are reclaiming the word 'Paki' but in the sense that it is still taboo and naughty. It is still however taboo for any non-Pakistani community outsiders to use the term, including those 'traditionally' labelled as 'Pakis' but 'racists', including Indians and Bangladeshis. This usage of the term is then perhaps more nationalistic than racial. However, it is still not yet 'cool' for the 'white caucasian' middle classes to use the word, and to bring it into the mainstream of popular UK culture, so for now, 'Nigga' is more socially acceptable to use for the youth of all races, and its overuse in the street slang context has resulted in much of its racial connotation having been destroyed. A similar pattern could emerge for the term 'Paki' but then, at least in the UK, Afro-American culture has always been regarded as highly fashionable in the UK since the Mod era and before, and it is not certain whether music from the UK's Southern Asian communities will ever see the same level of popularity.

[Continue to Part 2]



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