Questions for Dr. Enid Logan

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What is the difference between race and ethnicity?

posted on Wed, 11/16/2011 - 12:48pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

This is one of the first things we talk about in my race relations classes- how race is different than ethnicity. And it’s an important issue so I’m going to discuss it at length here.

An ethnic group may be defined as a collection of persons who share common culture and identity. According to Norman Yetman, they are "constructed out of the material of language, religion, culture, appearance, ancestry, or region of origin."

Race on the other hand is fundamentally a SOCIAL CONSTRUCT, meaning something that is created by people, in society. So-called "races" are often comprised of members of many different ethnic groups that may have relatively little in common.

Take the "Latino" or "Hispanic" race in the U.S. The members of this "racial" group originate from societies with their own racial categories—including indio, blanco, negro, mestizo and mulato. People in the Dominican Republic or Honduras or Brazil would never consider themselves members of a single race, as the racial categories referenced above have tremendous social and political importance. They are "racialized" as Latino-- meaning socially constructed, or socially understood to be members of a single, supposedly monolithic "race" in the U.S., once they come here.

Furthermore, all the ethnic differences between Latinos from different countries tend to be flattened out or ignored. As for ancestry- Latinos, or Latin Americans have roots in Europe (Spain or Portugal), West Africa, China, and the Americas. As for culture—Foods typical of the Spanish Caribbean (plantains, black beans and rice etc) are more similar to the foods consumed in other parts of the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, than say in Mexico, because these nations are close to each other, and have very large populations of West-African descent (who were formerly slaves). Music too- mariachi music has roots in Mexico, salsa in New York and Cuba, bachata in the Dominican Republic, etc. . .

And a similar break down could be done with the category "Asian" -- it is a socially constructed category made up of members of many different ethnic groups that may not have much in common in terms of culture, religion language, music, or history.

To return to the Latino example for a moment, it can be argued- well language is what they have in common, their shared language is what makes them a race. If that were the criteria we used to determine racial groups, however, then blacks and whites in the U.S. would similarly belong to the same racial group, as the primarily language of each group is English.

The point of all of this is to say that the process of determining who belongs to a racial group is a social, historical, and political process, rather than one that is objective, scientific or based in straightforward notions of shared ethnicity or culture.

posted on Wed, 11/23/2011 - 1:15am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

If you don't think we are now, do you think America will ever be a post-racial society?

posted on Wed, 11/16/2011 - 12:50pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

I think that's a great question. What does it mean to be post-racial? It means to be in a society when "race" doesn't matter. And race wont matter when racial inequality no longer exists. When we no longer have such dramatic differences between racial groups in terms of average wealth, income, employment, infant mortality, life expectancy, educational achievement and attainment, social capital, rates of imprisonment, rates of arrest, home ownership, etc.

So i'm not sure that we can ever become completely "post-racial" but we sure can come a lot closer than we are now. Can we become post-gender, or post-class or post-

To become post-racial is about a lot more than "overcoming stereotypes" or electing a single black man as president (though that was a major historical accomplishment). It would mean that we had overcome, or become post-inequality. Hopefully the next generation will take us in that direction.

posted on Wed, 11/23/2011 - 1:18am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What is affirmative action? Is it legal?

posted on Wed, 11/16/2011 - 5:50pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

Well I think that the two questions you ask are related. Whether or not affirmative action is seen as "legal" or legitimate, or fair, has to do with how it is defined, and with how you understand the reasons that racial inequality exists.

Affirmative action policies were designed towards the end of the Civil Rights Movement in order to "level the playing field" between more advantaged and less advantaged groups. They focused primarily on people of color and on white women, as these groups were vastly underrepresented in higher education, higher-salaried jobs, and the like.

The assumption was that things would not simply "gradually improve over time," but that policies had to be put into place to ensure equal opportunity for all. This is at the heart of affirmative action-- ensuring that talented and motivated people from underrepresented groups have an equal chance to succeed.

What does it mean to "level the playing field?" It is to recognize that some people have more historically accumulated advantages than others, and that in a “race” to the finish line, the more advantaged persons start yards ahead of their less-advantaged counterparts.

Leveling the playing field has to do with a consideration of both the PRESENT and the PAST. It takes into account current, ongoing practices of discrimination that take place in areas such as housing and employment (there is lots of sociological data on this).

And seeking to level the playing field also involves taking into account the accumulated effects of PAST discrimination.

For example, if your grandparents were able to purchase a home in the suburbs in the 1940s and accumulate wealth through the appreciation of that home over the decades, they could then pass that wealth down to your parents, and then to you.

You're more likely to be able to afford to attend better schools, to participate in more extra-curriculars, to live in safer, cleaner neighborhoods, to be exposed to a wide range of opportunities, and to be able to network with other successful, advantaged people.

If on the other hand, your grandparents were unable to purchase a home in the 1940s, because of discriminatory housing policies such as redlining, or because of residential segregation, and therefore were forced to become renters, they were unable to accumulate wealth in their homes and pass it down to your parents and later on to you.

If they were also forced to attend underfunded "colored-only schools" with little heat in the winter, crowded classrooms, broken windows, no inside toilets, and outdated text-books, then they were not given the same quality of education as others, and could not pass that educational advantage down to their children and grandchildren.

Affirmative action policies assume that intelligence, motivation and talent are equally distributed throughout the population, and if there are some groups of people that are perpetually at the bottom, it’s because there are factors keeping them down there. And therefore they need a hand up.

If you believe that the playing field is already level, because you do not understand the idea of historically accumulated advantages, and are not aware of the ongoing practices of discrimination today, then affirmative action will seem to be unfair, illegal, and unjust.

If, on the other hand, you understand the realities that I have discussed above, then you recognize affirmative action to be an important step towards helping everyone to achieve their American dream.

posted on Wed, 11/23/2011 - 2:00am
Benjamin gulbrandson's picture
Benjamin gulbrandson says:

Would you judge a person by the way they look.

posted on Thu, 12/01/2011 - 1:32pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

Id say that nearly everyone judges people by the way they look, in some way or another! That's part of being human, being in any society that has standards of beauty, or intelligence, attractiveness, criminality, etc. The problem is when we have negative preconceived notions about people, that we have "learned" from the media, our parents, peers, history books, teachers, or others, rather than on the basis of our one on one interactions with a person.

posted on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:27pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

where did you grow up?

posted on Fri, 12/02/2011 - 3:42pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

I grew up in the Washington DC area, by the campus of the University of Maryland.

posted on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:22pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

you are born into race and are raised in ethnicity
race is blurry to me. I feel the individual should chose his or her race and not be catagorized by others

posted on Sat, 12/03/2011 - 3:05pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

Ah yes, well if race is blurry to you, then I think you're a lot better at "understanding" race than most people are! It would be nice to chose your own "race", but your race is not really something that can be chosen. It is after all, a social construct, defined and imposed largely by others, based upon the history, laws, geography, customs of a given society. What makes me "black" in the U.S. would make me "mulata" in Cuba or "colored" in South Africa, or maybe "white" in the Dominican Republic. Our race is not real in any biological or objective sense, but neither is it something that we can freely choose or reject. If it were really up to us, would any of us choose a "race" at all?

posted on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:30pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

If you judge a person by the way they look, do you think that they are a cold hearted person? Or is it just me?

posted on Sun, 12/04/2011 - 3:47pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

Well as I said above, on a related topic, I think that everyone judges people on the basis of how they look. And this includes judgements pertaining to race. Because all of us "learn" about race in this country, whether we "intend" or "want" to or not. And that includes LOTS of judgements- both "positive" and "negative" about the habits, likes, tendencies, attractiveness, hygiene, etc, of other people.

So i think that the first step in moving beyond this is not to hope that we never have preconceived notions in the first place. But to *recognize* them, (rather than deny we have them) and then try to move forward past them.

Now if others are intentionally and openly judging someone based on how they look- by which I assume you mean what race they are assumed to be-- it could be that they are cold-hearted. Or they may be afraid, confused, anxious, angry, threatened... there are many reasons that we cling to stereotypes and build walls between ourselves and others.

But i think that none of us is fully exempt, or fully innocent of doing this on some level of another. Its part of our cultural inheritance in this country to have preconceived notions. As I said above, the key is what you do about them-- which is, acknowledge them, recognize them, and then challenge them internally.

posted on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:36pm
Anna's picture
Anna says:

What role does clothing play in political and/or racial identity today?

posted on Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:34am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How does religion factor into racial identity?

posted on Wed, 12/07/2011 - 8:37pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

Religion is an aspect of identity, as is race. None of us is just a member of a race, or a gender, or a religion, or a nation, or a daughter or son, we are all of these things at once. The relevance of religion can be more important than race for some.

On the other hand, there are times when religion is a proxy for race; in other words, members of religious groups become "racialized" or treated in ways similar to others identified by their race. Jews (historically) and Muslims (in the U.S. today) would be two such examples

posted on Fri, 12/16/2011 - 10:33pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What does sociology really tell us?

posted on Fri, 12/09/2011 - 7:22pm
Tedd's picture
Tedd says:

Why do so many americans have white guilt?

posted on Sat, 12/10/2011 - 6:37pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

I think that guilt stems from the discomfort we have in dealing with the issue of race in this country. It comes from a sense that profound racial injustices have been committed in the past, and that racial inequality persists today, followed on the other hand by a sense of powerlessness and fear. Since we have become so segregated racially in this country (which has much more to do with socioeconomic inequality, practices such as redlining, mortgage discrimination, unequal educational opportunities than with personal preferences) then there is not as much dialogue across lines of race, or more importantly race and class. Furthermore, the fact that the our politicians and government have abandoned the quest for a more racially just society, compared to the decisive action that was taken a generation or so back, means that again, there is little sense that progress is being made, or that all people- whites, and non-whites, are together in the struggle.

But if one stays mired in it, then guilt is a very unhelpful emotion. Having an awareness of the kinds of everyday, interpersonal, as well as broader material and structural racial privileges that whites have is actually more empowering than a sense of hopelessness and guilt; because it allows whites to better understand how racial inequality is perpetuated,and how they can move from feeling frustrated, confused, and perhaps unfairly blamed, to becoming part of the solution.

posted on Thu, 01/05/2012 - 1:40pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How do you define racism and prejudice; and what are the differences between them here in America?

posted on Sun, 12/11/2011 - 2:54pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

These are important concepts to understand as we try to make sense of race and racial dynamics in the 21st century.

Racial prejudice is a negative, preconceived idea about a person/group of people on the basis of their socially constructed "race."

Racial discrimination can, and often does occur in the absence of overt prejudice; in fact it is crucial to understand that racial inequalities are perpetuated in many cases today because they've become entrenched in our social system and social institutions; even though most Americans today are not overtly "prejudiced," in the sense of being "old-fashioned racists," or explicitly thinking that any one group is superior to the other.

Ofcourse, many/most of us hold more convert prejudiced views; but these also many have little to do with how racial inequality, or racial discrimination is reproduced in our society.

A lot of it happens through residential segregation, the prison industrial complex, unequal sentencing laws and prosecuting in the criminal justice system, redistricting of voting precincts and school districts, school choice initiatives, the public school funding system, property values, the physical location of factories and other places of employment, the ways that public transportation routes are drawn.

Support for or against these practices, policies, social arrangements which largely *guarantee* the inter-generational perpetuation of racial inequality may be linked to overt prejudice, but many times it is not. Often it is linked to an unhelpful "colorblind idealism," which holds that all people not only should be, but already ARE treated as equals in this society, and that talking about race causes racial problems.

It is this set of attitudes, or ideology- that of colorblind idealism, which most people labor under today. And while this ideology holds that all people are created equal, in the abstract, it also helps to perpetuate and justify, or naturalize, or legitimize, racial inequality and racial discrimination by insisting that they do not exist, or that if they do, they must be the fault of those who are racially disprivileged.

posted on Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:04pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How does a sociology professor's race matter to her students?

posted on Sun, 12/11/2011 - 4:16pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

why do peoplemake a big deal out of race, but not ethnicity? my art teacher says "every skin color is a shade of brown." good advice, huh?

posted on Tue, 12/13/2011 - 12:00pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

I think that your art teacher makes an excellent point. Which can, potentially, help us to see even more clearly that race is a *socially constructed* phenomenon, made out of the "stuff" that we come up with in our societies, rather something that naturally comes from our biology, phenotype or genes.

posted on Fri, 12/16/2011 - 10:38pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

are girls more racist than boys?(and vice versa).

posted on Tue, 12/13/2011 - 12:05pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

What an interesting question. Here's how I think about it. We can start by taking into account the fact that all of us live the different aspects of our identity at once.

Meaning, anyone who is Asian, also belongs to a social class, has a socially ascribed gender, sexual orientation, etc. Also, it means that if I'm a black woman, the way I experience race, or the way that I experience what it means to be black, is different in some important ways from how a black man experiences his race.

(What region of the U.S. we are in, what age we are, what decade this is, what country we're in, these are all relevant too).

Sometimes, among members of a certain group, say Latino boys, race becomes a particularly important part of their identity-- for themselves, as an a means of distinguishing themselves from others. Girls in say a boarding school setting, may also use race as a criteria to decide who is part of their in-group, or on the outs. Others may use class-- meaning, if they think someone looks like they dont have enough money that they should be friends with them. Often all these things may come together at once.

So I would not say that girls are necessarily more or less racist than boys; it depends on the social context. But you are right to look at both race and gender, because they can function, or work, in different ways.

posted on Fri, 12/16/2011 - 10:47pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

why does race matter so much?

posted on Tue, 12/13/2011 - 1:18pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

One way to answer this is to say that race matters because there is so much racial inequality. If inequalities were to be leveled, then race would not matter, and races would cease to exist. Because race is a category of identity, or a series of dividing lines, organized around notions of hierarchy, difference and inequality. To the extent that people not only begin to "see" each other as the same, but really *become* more similar to each other, then racial lines will begin to fade.

posted on Fri, 12/16/2011 - 11:05pm
Barb's picture
Barb says:

My husband and I are caucasian and we have two bio kids and six adopted children of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds. Do you think that my children, growing up in an ethnically diverse family, will be at an advantage or disadvantage in social situations when they are adults?

We do embrace and encourage their unique heritage as much as possible, but the reality of it is that they are growing up in a very unique home.

posted on Fri, 12/23/2011 - 4:48pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Dr. Logan, what are some good resources for racial reconciliation?

posted on Fri, 12/23/2011 - 6:20pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

I think that documentary films are a great way to spark really productive discussions about race. They often help to bring multiracial groups (students, coworkers, church members) together by bringing to light embedded but often unspoken assumptions about race. Many of the best films inspire everyone to work towards racial reconciliation and provide models for how this can be done.

Some of my current favorites are- We Still Live Here, and Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action, which focus on Native Americans, (both fantastic!), Just Black? and Hardwood, which concern identity and multiracial Americans, the Essential Blue Eyed, or anything in the Blue Eyed series by anti-racist activist Jane Elliot, the documentary short A Girl Like Me, which discusses identity issues facing girls of color, and Honk if you Love Buddha, which looks at the diversity of the Asian American experience.

posted on Thu, 01/05/2012 - 1:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Some people say they are not racist (this is sometimes followed by, "I have friends who are black, etc.). Is it possible for a person to not be racist at all?

posted on Wed, 12/28/2011 - 1:04pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

I think this is a great question. I often state at the beginning of my race class that our task will not be to identify who is a "racist," and who is not. Looking at things this way is more a way to shut down a discussion about racial inequality, I find, than anything productive at all. As we all live in a society suffused with ideologies, images, and concrete manifestations saying that some are better than others based upon their socially ascribed "race", to say that any one person is exempt from having ingested that kind of "smog," is preposterous. A much better step towards being anti-racist (i.e. opposed to racism, and in favor or racial inequality) is not to declare that one is not a racist (in whatever form, i have black friends, or what have you) but to recognize that we all struggle with racialized ideas of inferiority and superiority, and then actively challenging these ideas within ourselves. And in working towards a more racially just society.

posted on Thu, 01/05/2012 - 1:13pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I am an Asian girl and I was just wondering why people think Asians are smarter than other races.

posted on Thu, 12/29/2011 - 5:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is racism a result of human society evolvement, or is it part of "human nature" that we are all born with to various extents?

posted on Fri, 12/30/2011 - 4:52pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

This is such a good question; often at the start of my race classes students will assert that its "natural" or "normal" for others to fear, dislike, or hate people are things that are not like them. But this ignores a crucial point-- why is it that we come to think of others as so fundamentally different than ourselves? It is the "racial knowledge" or "racial learning" that we get from our wider society, peers, family members, televisions shows, jokes, politics, that convinces us that others are unlike us in some way that is threatening, different, inferior. So to me, there is nothing "natural" or "innate" about racism.

posted on Thu, 01/05/2012 - 1:16pm
pete's picture
pete says:

Is it possible that all of this dialogue about race actually worsens racism by increasing our sense of difference and differentiation?

posted on Sun, 01/01/2012 - 6:20pm
Enid Logan's picture
Enid Logan says:

Thanks for your question Pete. I think that far more dangerous than having a dialogue about race is acting like we dont need to have it at all! Whites in this society are better positioned to ignore race and racial inequality in their daily lives because it doesn't impact then as directly, or strongly. But for many others, the concept of race, the material structure of racial difference, shapes many many aspects of their existence. If we pretend that we are already in a colorblind society where racial conflict and discord is caused by *talking about* race, then too often this actually becomes a way of maintaining the current racially unequal system that we live in, and which impacts so many people living here in the U.S. on a daily basis.

posted on Thu, 01/05/2012 - 1:20pm