ethnicity is the curse of culture

I wrote the above phrase in an email to a senior scholar (not a social scientist) I enjoy arguing politics with. I’m not entirely sure what I meant by it, but he liked a lot so I thought I’d flesh it out here.

I think the point I was getting at is that culture is about patterned behaviors, ideas, thoughts, styles, skills, habits–it’s something that’s done or thought. By contrast, ethnicity is a static label–a categorization implying exclusivity. It’s based on culture (whether practiced or just perceived), but it’s more than culture. Ethnicity is culture ossified, abstracted from culture and (re)presented to the bearer of culture, confronting her as if it were an alien reality beyond her control.

my jaw dropped

I study racial disparities in criminal justice, but this still completely blew me away. I started clicking around and have ended up collecting links to a large number of quite amazing videos of racial interactions that would be great discussion-starters in class. The two segments that just make my jaw drop were broadcast last February on ABC 20-20’s “What Would You Do?” series last February. They are a little over six minutes each after a 15 second commercial*. The setup is a parking lot in a public park in a White suburb. In part 1, for several hours three White boys overtly vandalize a car. Dozens of White people walk by, looking but doing nothing. Only one ever calls the police; a few say something to the boys. It’s quite amazing to see. In part 2, three Black boys do the same thing: lots of people call the police, many more people intervene.   Continue reading “my jaw dropped”