Symbolic Ethnicity Essay

1365 words - 5 pages

"Symbolic ethnicity" is a term coined by Herbert Gans. It refers to ethnicity that is individualistic in nature and without real social cost for the individual. These symbolic identifications are essentially leisure time activities, rooted in nuclear family traditions reinforced by voluntary enjoyable aspects of being ethnic (Gans 424-429). "Symbolic ethnicity" is practiced and enjoyed by white Americans. It is a way for descendants of white Europeans to learn about and be proud of their heritage. That is not the case for non-whites who are grouped together by the white majority making ethnic identity difficult .

This type of ethnicity is rooted in immigrants of European descent. It could be the Feast of Saint Anthony or Columbus Day for the Italians. The Kosciusko Day Parade for the Polish, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the St Patrick's Day celebrations for the Irish, the Greek festivals and carnivals held at the various Greek Orthodox churches and German festivals that abound during Oktoberfest in the five county area in the course of a year. These are parades and celebrations are attended by county commissioners, mayors and governors and are usually televised on the local network. They are functions that celebrate the ethnicity of the people. In many cases, the participants dress in traditional garb and eat traditional foods.

As Waters points out in her essay these people draw on what is called "specialness" which is taking the positive images of one's ethnicity while not having to deal with any of the negative features (Waters) in her paper Choosing Identities in America. White immigrants are able to be who they want to be ignoring the traits that they find unfavorable. Blacks and Asians in America are not typically afforded the luxury of specialness because they are grouped into one large category. The white majority does not allow these people to experience "symbolic ethnicity" whether they are from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic (Caribbean blacks) or any other nation that has black citizens they are classified as though they are an American Black and a descendant of the slaves. This creates a situation where Caribbean blacks who are steeped in heritage are typically unable to partake in their own ethnic celebrations like their white counterparts. When Caribbean blacks arrive in America, they attempt to distance themselves from the American black (Ogbu, J.U. 425-429). When a black group attempts to celebrate its heritage, other groups march in order to disrupt these types of celebrations. Every time a black organization wants to march or celebrate, the KKK or other white supremacist group alternatively marches to cause conflict. When this type of celebration does take place, it is typically limited locally to black neighborhoods with no media coverage. Asians are treated in a similar fashion being grouped together as one nation. There are Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Cambodian to name a few. These...

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