Sociology – Topic 6 Ethnic Identities

Notes on ethnic identities for AS Sociology

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Sociology ­ Pete Emma Rudd BMA
31st October
Sociology ­ Topic 6 Ethnic Identities
Ethnic Identity
Ethnic identity and ethnicity refers to the fact people recognise that they share a
cultural distinctiveness within a group based on:
Common descent ­ This could be represented by colour, race or other
physical characteristics.
Geographical origins ­ Links with a country of origin are important as
ethnic identity may involve seeing oneself as `Pakistani', `Indian' or `Irish'
first and foremost.
History ­ Members of ethnic cultures may share a sense of struggle and
oppression, which originate in particular historical contexts such as
slavery, colonialism, persecution etc.
Language ­ As well as speaking English, members of particular groups
may speak the language(s) of their country of origin at home.
Religion ­ For some ethnic minority groups, this is the most important
influence on their daily lives. Traditions and rituals normally cultural or
religious events, ceremonies and celebrations reinforce a sense of ethnic
community and therefore identity.
Ethnic Identities as Resistance
Sometimes ethnic identity is used as a means of resisting racism.
Black identity and pride may be celebrated as a response to Black
peoples perceptions of racial exclusion and stereotyping by white people.
Jacobson (1997) argues that many young Pakistanis are adopting Islamic
identities in terms of diet, dress, and everyday routines and practices.
She suggests that it is a defensive identity that has developed as a
response to racism and social exclusion. Islamic identity compensates for
such marginalisation because it stresses the exclusion of the white
excluders by the excluded.
Gilroy notes that young AfroCaribbean's often adopt identities based on
ethnic history and popular culture to challenge racism and exclusion.
Black Identities
Paul Gilroy
Paul Gilroy (1987) states that Black people have made great contributions to
mainstream popular culture in Britain, in dance, music and dress. He believes
that there is not one single Black culture or Black identity but that there are
certain common themes that run through all Black cultures. One of which is
awareness of the historical experience of slavery, which still has an effect on the
outlook of Black people.
Clare Alexander
Clare Alexander made a close study of Black youths in London. She concluded
that there are many different ways of being Black and that it is an art that takes a
lot of effort and work. The youths she studied felt there was something about
certain styles of dress, music, walking and talking that made them instantly
recognisable as Black.
Similarities Between Asian Groups Differences Between Asian Groups
Arranged marriages Place of worship
Extended families Calendars of fasts and feasts

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Sociology ­ Pete Emma Rudd BMA
31st October
Family honour Dress codes
Moral attitudes
Asian Identities
White Identities
Roger Hewitt (1996) studied a group of young white people living in a deprived
working class area of London. He found that they felt that they inhabit an invisible
culture. They also felt a sense of unfairness as every culture seemed to be
celebrated except their own, they were constantly frustrated whenever they tried
to adopt symbols and emblems of white or `English' cultural identity.…read more

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Sociology ­ Pete Emma Rudd BMA
31st October
1. Firstly they feel that they do not fit into the dominant mainstream culture,
they feel rejected by it.
2. Secondly they become anxious about how they are perceived by society,
and especially by their black peers. Therefore they seek to position
themselves in a positive way and construct a highly masculine identity.
3. Thirdly, many aspects of this identity are taken from the media culture.
This culture of masculinity is valued as a comfort zone.…read more

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Sociology ­ Pete Emma Rudd BMA
31st October
Black Identities
There is no single Black identity, but Caribbean cultural traditions do still
have an influence.
Religious faith still plays an important role for the first generation but has
declined among their children.
The main identity among Caribbean's is `Black' although the first
generation describe themselves as `West Indian' and their children
sometimes call them `AfricanCaribbean'. Very few describe themselves
as `British' because of the widespread racist assumption that only white
people can be British.…read more


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