Unit Eight – Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism

What to Do for Unit Eight

What to Post

Start you unit eight ethnographic notes posting by introducing the concepts of race, ethnicity and nationalism to your audience. Also, there is no violence where you come from, so you need to introduce violence, its different forms, and lynching to your audience too. 

1) Ethnographic Notes  A – Without Sanctuary

Watch the film, pictures and read the text of the site. Imagine you are a cultural anthropologist/visual ethnographer with a time machine from your planet visiting a lynching event. How would you write about it for your audience? What do you include in your notes? What aspects of the event do you cover and how? Give examples (2 examples or 2 aspects of an event per group member).

Provide feedback to  another post on Without Sanctuary as an individual class member on Canvas.

2) Ethnographic Notes B – An American Ethnic Group

Choose an American “racial” or ethnic or ethno-religious group. Do some research on one particular aspect of the group of your choice by relying on reliable sources. Share the results with proper citation.

Digital History – Ethnic America


Provide feedback to  the global aspect of a different research project as an individual class member on Canvas.

3) Research Project

Please do some research and thinking about the communal identity (race, ethnicity, nationalism, …) of your topic and share the results with proper citation.

Provide feedback to  the global aspect of a different research project as an individual class member on Canvas.


What to Read

Read about “race,” ethnicity, and nationalism (see notes and links below).


Unit Eight Notes    Communal Identity (Racial/Ethnic/National)


Anthropologist consider racial, ethnic and national groups as socio-cultural constructions or “imagined” communities.

It should be emphasized that communal identities (such as racial and ethnic identities) co-exist or are intertwined with class and gender identities (or  identities pertaining to one’s religious orientation or sexuality).


The contemporary concept of race developed in the context of European exploration and conquest beginning in the fifteenth century, as light-skinned Europeans came to rule over darker-skinned peoples in different parts of the world.

The so-called races, whose boundaries were forged during the nineteenth century, are imagined communities.

Human biological variation does not naturally clump into separate populations with stable boundaries.

Despite variations in opinions and practices regarding race over the centuries, a global hierarchy persists in which whiteness symbolizes high status and blackness symbolizes the social bottom.

The following notes on the concept of “race” are based on “the American Anthropological Association’s Statement of Race”

A unanimous consensus among anthropologist on the definition of “race” or approaches to the study of “race” does not exist. Most anthropologists, however, view the various aspects of the “race” issue as follows:

“Racial” Groups Are Not Clearly Demarcated – Human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups.

Greater Physical Variation Occurs Within “Racial” Groups – Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them.

Populations Interbreed and Share Genetic Material– In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.

Physical Variation and Geography – Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits are inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one trait does not predict the presence of others.

Association of physical Characteristics – For example, skin color varies largely from light in the temperate areas in the north to dark in the tropical areas in the south; its intensity is not related to nose shape or hair texture. Dark skin may be associated with frizzy or kinky hair or curly or wavy or straight hair, all of which are found among different indigenous peoples in tropical regions. Any attempt to establish lines of division among biological populations both arbitrary and subjective.

“Race” as a Socio-Cultural Construction–The idea of “race” has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.

Historical Context of the Idea of Race in America–“Race” as it is understood in the United States was a social construction and a social mechanism invented during the 18thcentury to refer to and interact with those populations brought together in colonial America: the English and other European settlers, the conquered Indian or native peoples, and those peoples of Africa brought in to provide slave labor.

“Race” and the Colonial Situation— “Race” was a mode of classification linked specifically to peoples in the colonial situation. It included a growing ideology of inequality devised to rationalize European attitudes and treatment of the conquered and enslaved peoples.

“Race” and SlaveryProponents of slavery in particular during the 19th century used “race” to justify the retention of slavery.

History of “Racial Ideology”—  The ideology magnified the differences among Europeans, Africans, and Indians, established a rigid hierarchy of socially exclusive categories underscored and bolstered unequal rank and status differences, and provided the rationalization that the inequality was natural or “God-given.”

The different physical traits of African-Americans and Indians became markers or symbols of their status differences.

Arbitrary and fictitious beliefs about the different peoples were institutionalized and deeply embedded in American mainstream thought.

Nineteenth Century Science and Society –Early in the 19th century the various growing fields of science began to reflect the public consciousness about human “racial” differences.

“Race” as an ideology — “Race” as an ideology about human differences was a strategy and ideology for dividing, ranking, and controlling colonized people used by colonial powers.

But it was not limited to the colonial situation. In the latter part of the 19th century it was employed by Europeans to rank one another and to justify social, economic, and political inequalities among their peoples, e.g., the Nazis.

Race and Culture —Human cultural behavior is learned and always subject to change and modification. A basic tenet of anthropology is that all normal human beings have the capacity to learn any cultural behavior.

The American experience with immigrants from hundreds of different language and cultural backgrounds who have acquired some version of American culture traits and behavior is the clearest evidence of this fact. Moreover, people of all physical variations have learned different cultural behaviors and continue to do so as modern transportation moves millions of immigrants around the world.

“Race” and Inequality – How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The “racial” worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power, and wealth. Present-day inequalities between so-called “racial” groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances.


Race: The Power of an Illusion





Please visit the following website. It is about lynching in America.

Without Sanctuary


The once existing divide between anthropology and history has, to a large extent, disappeared. In the past two decades, anthropologists have been reflecting on history and historical processes. Historical anthropology has become an established research interest in the field.

The following is a dissertation abstract written by a historian with anthropological interest. She studies lynching, in a particular time and region, as a form of ritual, or a brutal form of spectacle. Her approach is holistic. She studies lynching in the context of other forms of visual display and public ritual of a particular region during a particular historical period. She studies lynching in the context of historically specific class and race relations. She also studies the lynching events in the context of religious ideaspertaining to “witnessing.”

“Spectacles of Suffering: Witnessing Lynching in the New South, 1880-1930”
Amy Louise Wood.
American Quarterly.
College Park: Dec 2003.Vol.55, Iss. 4; pg. 823

Dissertation Title:

Spectacles of Suffering: Witnessing Lynching in the New South, 1880-1930.

Emory University, December 2002.

“This dissertation explains why lynching was enacted as a particularly brutal form of spectacle in the New South by situating it within the context of other forms of visual display and communal ritual in this period: public executions, evangelical religious ritual, photography, and cinema.

I use the term “witnessing” to unite these disparate, if not competing, cultural practices to understand how they all relied upon similar conceptions of truth and evidence and established comparable modes of spectatorship.

The overlaps between practices of “witnessing” and lynching lent the authority of divine truth and irrefutable veracity to white supremacist ideology and conditionedlynching spectators to accept and even celebrate horrific acts of racist violence.

This dissertation also addresses two historiographic questions.

First, I consider how the lynching spectacle aided in the construction of an imagined community of white Southerners united in their communal devotion to racial superiority.

I argue that the ritual of lynching created, envisioned, and coerced a sense of inter-class white unity at a time when Southern society was teeming with all sorts of class tensions and social disruption.

Secondly, I interrogate why lynching arose with such frequency and intensity within New South modernization and social transformation. 

By looking at mob violence in relationship to public executionsreligious ritual, and modern visual media, broaden our understanding of lynching as a cultural practice,wedded to a complex of social institutions and values, both traditional and modern. 

The research for this project is organized around nine localities in which lynching took place and which represent different geographical regions across the Deep South.

I used a variety of sources-newspaper reports, pamphlets, city directories, census records, church records, photographs and early films-in order to obtain an understanding ofboth the lynchings and the social contexts in which they took place.”


The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice


Donald Matthews.

Black History Bulletin. Silver Spring: Jul 2002-Dec 2003. Vol. 65/66, Iss. 3-4/1-4;  pg. 20, 28 pgs


 Ethnic Groups and Ethnicity

Ethnic consciousness existed in precolonial and precapitalist societies.

Contemporary anthropologists are interested in forms of ethnicity that were generated under modern nation-states and capitalist colonial domination. In such casesdifferent groups are subordinated within a single political structure under conditions of inequality.

The following are some examples of areas of study on ethnicity and race in the U.S.:

* Cultural production or cultural representations of particular racial groups.

* Social issues that affect racial or ethnic groups (e.g., racial or ethnic inequalities in health or education).

* History of particular racial and ethnic groups.

* Comparative process of racialization and ethnic identity formation.

* Formation and history of diasporas and/or transnational communities.

Esssentializing Ethnic Groups and Identities
Conceptualizing these forms of identity as essences can be a way of stereotyping and excluding, but it has also been used by many stigmatized groups to build a positive self-image and as a strategic concept in struggles with dominant groups. Although strategic essentialism may be successful in such struggles, it also risks repeating the same logic that justifies oppression.


An online text on ethnicity written by anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen.


Nations and Nation-States
Modern nations
 were invented in Europe, but they have spread throughout the world along with capitalism, colonialism, and eventual political decolonization.

Nationalist thinking aims to create a political unit in which national identity and political territory coincide, and this has led to various practices designed to force subordinate social groups to adopt a national identity defined primarily in terms of the culture of the dominant group.

Because membership in social categories such as class, caste, race, ethnicity, and nation can determine enormous differences in peoples’ life chances, much is at stake in defending these categories, and all may be described as if they were rooted in biology or nature, rather than culture and history.  

The following website and inform yourself about different debates and definitions of nationalism:


Norwegian National Identity and American National Identity

The following is from chapter 6 (Nationalism) of a the book titled
Ethnicity and Nationalism: Anthropological Perspectives, by Thomas
Hylland Eriksen (Pluto Press, 1993, 102-104).

It is about nationalism as a modern socio-cultural construction by focusing on the case of imagining the Norwegian nation.

Question: What are some of the similarities and differences between construction of the Norwegian nation and the construction of the American nation?


Nationalism is a modern phenomenon.

Although nations tend to be imagined as old, they are modern.

Nationalist ideology was first developed in Europe and in European
diaspora (particularly in the New World) in the period around French

We must distinguish between tradition and traditionalism.

Nationalism is a modern phenomenon which has unfolded in the full
light of recorded history.

The `ethnogenesis” of nations lends itself easily to historical

Creation of Norwegian national identity:
Took place throughout the nineteenth century, which was a period of
modernization and urbanization. The country moved to full
independence, leaving the union with Sweden in 1905.

Early Norwegian nationalism mainly derived its support from the
urban middle classes. Members of the city bourgeoisie traveled to
the remote valleys in search of “authentic Norwegian culture” and
brought elements from it back to the city and presented them as the
authentic expression of Norwegianness.

Folk customs, painted floral patterns (rosemaling), traditional
music and peasant food became national symbols even to people who
had not grown up with such customs.

Actually it was the city dwellers, not the peasants, who decided
that reified aspects of peasant culture should be the “national

A national heroic history was established.

The creation of “national arts,” which were markers of uniqueness
and sophistication, were also an important part of the national
project in Norway and elsewhere.

Typical representatives of this project were the composer Edvard
Greig, who incorporated local folk tunes into his Romantic scores,
and the author Bjornstjerne Bjornson, whose peasant tales were
widely read.

Certain aspects of peasant culture were thus reinterpreted and
placed into an urban political context as “evidence’ that Norwegian
culture was distinctive, that Norwegians were `a people” and that
they therefore ought to have their own state.

This national symbolism was efficient in raising ethnic boundaries
vis-à-vis Swedes and Danes, and simultaneously it emphasized that
urban and rural Norwegians belonged to the same culture and had
shared political interests.

This idea of urban-rural solidarity, characteristic of nationalism,
was, as Gellner has pointed out, a political innovation.

Before the age of nationalism, the ruling classes were usually
cosmopolitan in character,

Anderson writes with a certain glee (1991[1983]:83n) that up to the
First World War no “English” dynasty had ruled England since the mid-
eleventh century.

Furthermore, the idea that the aristocracy belonged to the same
culture as the peasants must have seemed abominable to the former
and incomprehensible to the latter before nationalism.

Nationalism stresses solidarity between the poor and the rich,
between the propertyless and the capitalists.

According to nationalist ideology, the sole principle of political
exclusion and inclusion follows the boundaries of the nation—that
category of people defined as members of the same culture (or
community of co-citizens).

The political use of cultural symbols

The example of Norwegian nationalism indicates the “inventedness” of
the nation.

Until the late nineteenth century, Norway’s main written language
had been Danish. It was partly replaced by a new literary language,
Nynorsk or “New Norwegian,” based on Norwegian dialects.

Vernacularization is an important aspect of many nationalist
movements, since a shared language can be a powerful symbol of
cultural unity as well as a convenient tool in the administration of
a nation-state.

When it comes to culture, it could be argued that urban Norwegians
in Christiania (today’s Oslo) and Bergen had more in common with
urban Swedes and Danes that with rural Norwegians.

Indeed, the spoken language in these cities is still, in the 1990s,
closer to standard Danish than to some rural dialects.

Further, the selection of symbols to be used in the nation’s
representation of itself was highly politically motivated.

In many cases, the so-called ancient, typically Norwegian customs,
folk tales, handicrafts and so on were neither ancient, typical nor

The painted floral patterns depict grapevines from the
Mediterranean. The Hardanger fiddle music and most of the folk tales
had their origin in Central Europe, and many of the “typical folk
costumes” which are worn at public celebrations such as
Constitutional Day were designed by nationalists early in the
twentieth century. Most of the customs depicted as typical came from
specific mountain valleys in southern Norway.

When such practices are reified as symbols and transformed to a
nationalist discourse, their meaning changes.

The use of presumably typical ethnic symbols in nationalism is
intended to stimulate reflection on one’s own cultural
distinctiveness and thereby to create a feeling of nationhood.

Nationalism reifies culture in the sense that it enables people to
talk about their culture as though it were a constant.

Nationalist discourses are attempts to construct bounded cultural

The ethnic or national boundary mechanisms as well as inventive uses
of history wcreate an impression of continuity.

When Norway became independent, its first king was recruited from
the Danish royal family. He was nevertheless named Haakon VII as a
way of stressing the (entirely fictional) continuity with the
dynasty of kings that ruled Norway before 1350.

The discrepancy between national ideology (comprising symbols,
stereotypes and the like) and social practice is no less apparent in
the case of nations than with respect to other ethnic groups. What
is peculiar to nationalism is its relationship to the state. With
the help of the powers of the nation-state, nations can be invented
where they do not exist, to paraphrase Gellner (1964).

Standardization of language, the creation of national labor markets
based on individual labor contracts and compulsory schooling, which
presupposes the prior existence of a nation-state, gradually forge
nations out of diverse human material.

While it would have been impossible a hundred years ago to state
exactly where Norwegian dialects merged into Swedish dialects, this
linguistic boundary is now more clear-cut and follows the political

The earlier, dynastic states in Europe placed few demands on the
majority of their citizens, and they did not require cultural
uniformity is society. It did not matter that the serfs in one
region spoke a different language from those in another region.


Asian American Ethnic Options: How Cambodian Students Negotiate Ethnic Identities in a U.S. Urban School; [1]

Vichet ChhuonCynthia HudleyAnthropology and Education Quarterly. Washington: Dec 2010. Vol. 41, Iss. 4;  pg. 341, 19 pgs


Research suggests that Cambodian students often endure conflicting ethnic stereotypes from larger society and their school and communities. We examine the ways in which Cambodian youth negotiated their ethnic identities in response to these stereotypes and argue that Cambodian students adopted, rejected, and affirmed certain ethnic identities in relation to perceived advantages associated with different labels across varying school contexts.

Accesible via the College’s databases of academic journals.


Ethnic America – Digital History



Arab Americans – One Hundred Questions and Answers



 Brooklyn style: Hip-hop markers and racial affiliation among European immigrants in New York City

Cecelia CutlerThe International Journal of Bilingualism. London: 2008. Vol. 12, Iss. 1/2;  pg. 7, 19 pgs

Abstract (Summary)

Many immigrants and expatriates of European heritage who come the United States are surprised at being inducted into a system of racial categorization in which they are labeled as ‘White’. This paper examines data from informal interviews with teenage immigrants who come from a number of eastern European countries including Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, and Bulgaria and are bound by their affiliation with hip-hop culture. They live mainly in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and express their affiliation with hip-hop through stylized language and lifestyle practices. For many, hip-hop culture and Black American culture more broadly offer more attractive models for identity formation than the surrounding White mainstream culture. Their use of hip-hop linguistic markers and other forms of identity display place them at odds with their compatriots who have chosen to align themselves with the White mainstream. This is evident in verbal interactions at both the linguistic and discursive level as young people negotiate a place in their adopted homeland. Taken together, the data raise interesting questions about the relationship of hip-hop stylized speech to existing ethnolects such as African American English and the extent to which this speech style represents an emerging ethnolect in its own right.

Article accessible via the College’s databases of academic journals.



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