Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rehash on "ethnicity" and "racism"

Over at The Hole™, grammar Nazi Sonagi writes:
Koreans are a nationality not a race in the outdated traditional sense, so it was actually a nationality taunt. The teacher would not have made the reference to North Koreans if the student wasn’t from South Korea.
This is a common meme nowadays, but it is, I believe, misguided. I wrote about this back in August 2005, but here is the gist: While the word “race” is most properly used today to refer to a racial category such as Blacks (formerly Negroids), Caucasians/Whites (formerly Caucasoids), and East Asians (formerly Mongoloids), the word “racism” came about when “race” was used interchangeably with what we now call “ethnic groups” or “ethnicity" (or "a people").

Therefore, “racism” and “racist” are reasonably used to refer to discrimination or prejudice based on race or on ethnicity (which used to be widely referred to as “race”).

For reference, these are the American Heritage Dictionary definitions of “race” (#1 is for the three major divisions of humans; #2 and #3 would apply to ethnicities):
  1. A local geographic or global human population distinguished as a more or less distinct group by genetically transmitted physical characteristics.
  2. A group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality, or geographic distribution: e.g., the German race.
  3. A genealogical line; a lineage.
  4. Human beings considered as a group.
  5. (Biology). a. A population of organisms differing from others of the same species in the frequency of hereditary traits; a subspecies. b. A breed or strain, as of domestic animals.
  6. A distinguishing or characteristic quality, such as the flavor of a wine.
Definition #2 clearly refers to what is more commonly known as "ethnicity" today, but in the past was typically referred to as "race." In the past when "racism" and "racial" developed with meanings #1 and #2 in mind. 

Until there is a substitute in such cases for the word "racism" that is widely accepted and easily rendered, expect "racial discrimination" and "racism" to be used also to refer to discrimination against ethnic groups. 

[left: No matter what the Hongs tell you, Koreans are NOT the "Amazing Race."]

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