Sunday, May 14, 2017

On the Tuvel Affair

Regarding the Tuvel controversy there is something that I have not seen brought up. That is the difference between ethnicity and race. Ethnicity is often racialized and the term ethno-racial is a useful one. But, such racialization is dependent upon the prevailing legal and social norms in a particular time and place. To be succinct, an ethnic group is defined by culture and membership is partly voluntary. More importantly it is possible to assimilate in and out of ethnic groups over generations. Race is in contrast defined by ancestry or lineage regardless of culture or individual preference and is imposed from outside either by the state or a larger society. Assimilation into and out of racial groups is generally quite difficult and almost always requires actual genetic mixing. However, a given group can be ethnic in one context and racial in another. To give a simple example, Jews were classified as a racial group in Nazi Germany. They are an ethnic group in the US today. Under this dichotomy it is quite possible for somebody to change ethnicity through acculturation and assimilation. It is certainly possible to bring up your children in an ethnicity other than the one you are born into. It is not generally possible to bring them up as another race. This gets confused by the fact that ethnicity can be racialized or deracialized by the state and society. So "transracialism" except in the case of people "passing" and their descendents being accepted into the new group isn't really possible. But, assimilation into ethnicities that had been previously racialized is possibe. The problem with the one example given by Tuvel is that Black is still a racial and not yet an ethnic category in the US.

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