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Being clear about. It is important to consider how unique the current racial context is, and its meaning for theorizing about race. Alba argues that many commentators and social scientists seize on the increasing complexity of race to reject, in blanket fashion, prior and existing understandings of racial transformation. Processes of assimilation render demographic projections, and the significance we impute to them, problematic because they rest on the assumption that racial and ethnic categories are stable enclosures.

There is much here to consider. First, clearly there are historical continuities in patterns of relevance to race in the United States. But I believe the current historical moment is a relatively unique one with respect to racial meanings. Over the past 50 years, White supremacy has been significantly challenged, not only in the United States but on a global scale.

Since the end of World War II, there has been an epochal shift in the logic, organization, and practices of the centuries-old global racial order. Opposition to fascism, anticolonial struggles in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States facilitated the rupture with biologic and eugenic concepts of race.

Race & Ethnicity: Crash Course Sociology #34

In the United States and South Africa, particularly, antiracist initiatives have become crucial elements of an overall project to extend political democracy. These developments provide a unique historical context for understanding the meaning we impart to race.

Race and Ethnicity Defined

The vast influx of different groups of European immigrants at the turn of the century stimulated sociological thinking regarding assimila-. In a similar manner, the current influx of immigrant groups from Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere, provides an opportunity to rethink the nature of immigration, identity, and community formation; but the jury is still out on whether older models need to be modified to capture new realities, or if new and radically different models are called for.

Old theories, of course, are often revisited and remodeled. Traditional theories of assimilation, for example, have been substantially revised. That said, it is important to critically examine racial trends and their interpretation through a conceptual framework such as assimilation. What is missing is sufficient attentiveness to the processes of racialization — the ways racial meanings are constructed and imparted to social groups and processes.

From an assimilationist vantage point, one could examine the intermarriage patterns among Asians to support the idea of their incorporation into the White mainstream. Such a conclusion draws on a troublesome aspect of the traditional assimilationist paradigm, namely, its lack of attention to differences in group power. Interracial marriage has been seen as a crucial subprocess of assimilation Gordon, Increasing rates of marriage between minority and majority groups were read as an important indicator of narrowing of social distance, a reduction in group prejudice and discrimination, and the lessening of strict group boundaries.

But increasing intermarriage could also illustrate inequalities in racial power and the complex articulation of race, gender, and sexuality Shinagawa and Pang, Given the pervasiveness of these representations, can increased rates of intermarriage between Asian women and White men simply be read as an indicator of assimilation? I think not. What it does suggest is the need to look at the cultural representations and discursive practices that shape racial meanings. This has crucial implications for the examination and interpretation of racial trends.

By looking at levels of educational attainment, residential patterns, median family incomes, and poverty rates, Asians, as one group, do not appear to be structurally disadvantaged by race. But there lurks beneath these glowing social indicators a repertoire of ideologies and practices that can be evoked in particular moments to render Asians foreign, subversive, and suspect.

The Asian campaign finance controversy Wang, ; Nakanishi, and the recent Chinese spy scandal provide illustrations of this. Popular interpretations of these events have had a chilling effect on both Asian American political participation and employment in scientific research settings. The point of all this is to underscore the necessity of an interdisciplinary, multidimensional approach to the study of race and its changing meaning. Social scientists often treat the category of race in an unproblematic fashion.

Seeing it as an independent variable, correlations are established between a host of other variables, and trends are discerned with respect to life chances. But we need to problematize race in our work; to look more closely and critically at the connections between structures and discursive practices—linking, for example, labor-market stratification with cultural representations.


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In focusing on such dynamic relationships, we can more fully appreciate how racial meanings change, and what those changes mean to our collective identity as a people. Alba, R. New Haven: Yale University Press. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D. Almaguer, T. Berkeley: University of California Press. Berry, M. Lee, C.


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  • Reynoso, and L. Higginbotham Closing our eyes to discrimination. San Francisco Chronicle September 8 :A Blauner, B. Pincus and H. Ehrlich, eds. Boulder, Colo. Bobo, L.

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    Glenn, E. In Revisioning Gender , M.

    Multicultural Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Identity: Introduction

    Ferree, J. Lorber, and B. Hess, eds. Thousand Oaks, Calif. Goldberg, D. Gordon, M. New York: Oxford University Press. Hacker, A.