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Friday, June 28, 2013

Essay on Ethnic Collectives and Ethnic Categories

INSTRUCTIONS:  Using Haitian Americans and African Americans as examples, explain the
concepts of ethnic collectivities and ethnic categories.

Ethnic Collectives and Ethnic Categories
            Never in the course of history has the world witnessed ethnic collective movement than in the twentieth century. In fact, various ethic movements were present in both developed and underdeveloped countries such as Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Spain, and India among many others. According to scholars, collective identity of ethnic group is an inherent part of social life. These identities are constructed based on experiences, traits, or characteristics that set a group of people distinct from others. Many analysts however, argue that ethnicity as a phenomenon is socially constructed primarily as individuals choose a particular part of history as well as focus on their difference from the others. This means that collective ethnicities are not simply dependent on inherent traits such as skin color, but rather on shared values and beliefs which were acquired by choice. This includes religious beliefs and political ideologies. Often times, these identities are passed on from one generation to another or at times modified. It is through this process that ethnic status and collectiveness is achieved. What is more important to point out is that such characteristics are open to varying interpretations (Kriesberg, 2003, p.1).

            According to scholar, collective ethnicity is shaped through a number of elements. This includes internal factors within the group (i.e. leadership, past experience, etc.), relations with other groups (i.e. negative or positive characterization, violence, coercion, etc.), and social context (i.e. belief system, modelling, etc.). African Americans for example, have developed a collective identity based on their race’s history. In this case, African Americans refer to their ancestor’s history of civil rights struggle and discrimination. As such, an ethnic consciousness has been formed aligned to this experience. This includes ascribing the words “negros” or “niggers” as offensive terms particularly when used by someone outside of their racial group. This is because, as an ethnic group, African Americans have related the past violence and antagonistic interaction of other races towards their group (Ribeau, 1991, p.501).

            Ethnic collectiveness is similarly derived from social negotiation in which identity is aligned with various elements similar to other ethnic categories. This means that some ethnic group tend to identify and affiliate themselves with another group in an attempt to establish an ethnic identity. Such is the case of Haitian Americans. As the number of Haitian immigrants began to increase, many have assimilated and fully adapted the African American culture. In fact, second generation Haitians who commonly reside in locations dominated by African Americans see themselves as one of Black Americans. Their association with the African Americans includes adapting to group’s ethnological speech patterns as well as cultural practices, and food preferences among many others. This process allows them to a part of the group’s ethnic collectiveness (Fisher, 2012, p.25).

            On the other hand, individuals with mixed ethnic background draw their identity by negotiating between the two ethic groups or category. For example, children with Haitian and African American parents may adapt the culture of both ethnic groups although it is likely that the child will identify with only one ethnic group. Some of the factors that dictate this include the ethnic influence exerted by the parent and racial socialization. As such a child will more likely adapt Haitian identity if the parent promotes and constantly exposes the child to their culture. Alternatively, a Haitian American child will identify to the African American ethnic group if he or she is brought up in an environment dominated by this culture (Fisher, 2012, p.1).

Fisher, C.B. & Lerner, R.M. (2012) Applied Developmental Science. CA: Sage Publications
Kriesberg, L. (2003). “Identity Issues”. Beyond Intractability. Retrieved 27 June 2013, from
Ribeau, S. (1991). “Sociocultural Roots of Ethnic Identity”. Journal of Black Studies, 21, pp.501

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