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Encounters with American Ethnic Cultures
By Philip L. Kilbride, Jane C. Goodale, Elizabeth R. Ameisen
The University of Alabama Press Copyright © 1990 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
Ethnic Culture Analysis—A Course of Study
Jane C. Goodale Philip L. Kilbride
In 1972 Idi Amin, the dictator of the Second Republic of Uganda, announced on national television that he was free of "tribalistic sentiment" as was evidenced by the fact that he had fathered children in every "tribe" (more than thirty groups) in the country. Some weeks later, Philip Kilbride's wife, Janet, was questioned at a military roadblock as to her "tribal" affiliation, to which she responded with some felt but non-expressed amusement "I'm an American." In retrospect, we at the time found Amin's statement affectively neutral and "culturally appropriate" (if perhaps impractical) while a sense of unfamiliarity and bemused annoyance was elicited in us by his soldier's use of the word "tribe." It is perhaps paradoxical that many years later it now seems reasonable to argue that "the tribe" or, more precisely, some more or less comparable term needs to be conceptually worked out for application to the American and Ugandan social scene (as suggested by Amin's soldier in his question to Janet). At the same time, social and cultural life in modern East Africa (and elsewhere in the developing world) needs to be conceptually divorced from an overdependence on a "fossilized" tribal social formation idea (R. Cohen 1978). Fortunately, there is progress in the social sciences such that we can now conceptually offer the term "ethnic group" as a contemporary substitute for the older term "tribe," not only as applied to social formations in the modern developing world, but also for certain social groups in the United States and other industrialized nations. In this way, we intellectually achieve the long-pursued goal of conceptual "universalism," itself essential for a truly comparative theoretical perspective in anthropology and related disciplines.
To be sure, the term "tribe" may be historically appropriate for certain more or less bounded societies in existence prior to the modern era. Novak states: "The new cultural self-consciousness is first of all post tribal, arising in our era in which almost every culture has been obligated to become aware of many others ... in contrast to the isolation of ancient times ..." (1980:32). Ethnicity is an expression of diversity within and across modern borders. In Australia, for example, the aboriginal tribes are described as "a collection of persons who speak a common language, or what they themselves regard as such, practice the same custom and normally have a name by which they distinguish themselves and their language" (Hart 1930:169–170).
Jane Goodale in 1987 participated in a Tiwi Land Council meeting. It was pointed out in the discussion that one need only consult an NT telephone directory to discover that there is a suburb of Darwin called Tiwi, with a Tiwi primary school, a shopping center with a Tiwi supermarket, a Tiwi fish and chips carryout, and a Tiwi butcher. Outside the suburb are Tiwi Plumbing and Roofing, Tiwi Motel, and Tiwi Steel Fabricators. In addition to these non-island uses of the name, there are local industries called Tiwi Design and Tiwi Pottery on the islands, and a company called Tiwi Tours guides visitors through the islands and elsewhere.
Jane Goodale writes: "In 1986/87 I frequently heard media and other Territory public speakers (including Stanley Tipoloura MHA, himself a Tiwi) make reference to the Tiwi Islands, to be found on no map. But in spite of the increasing use of the name by aboriginals and others, I continue to ask, as I have since my first visit to Milikapiti (Snake Bay) in 1954, is there a Tiwi ethnicity, a Tiwi cultural identity? If so, in what collective and individual contexts is it expressed?" (Goodale 1988).
New terms such as "ethnic group" and "ethnic identity" are now necessary to capture the modern use, for which older "tribe" labels may once have been appropriate.
The purpose of this introductory essay is to develop the term "ethnic group culture" as an important idea for theoretical and applied application in the United States. Specific field studies follow that illustrate some of the remarks considered below. We will emphasize the "culture" concept in the newer context of ethnicity, an approach that we believe justifies continuation of the culture concept as a robust and viable "cornerstone" concept for anthropology (Langness 1975). It was our theoretical concern with culturalphenomenon that several years ago prompted our intellectual interest in ethnicity in the United States, for example, in the Philadelphia urban and periurban context.
Our colleagues in sociology have been, for many years, engaged in the study of ethnic minorities in the United States. For example, M. Weber (1968), the pioneering German theoretical sociologist, popularized in this country by T. Parsons, long ago defined the ethnic group as one that possesses a subjective belief in a common descent because of similarities of physical type or of custom and where this belief is particularly salient in the continuation of non-kin communal political relationships. Presently, sociology is mainly concerned with ethnicity as a social process having important connections with class, stratification, and politics, though ethnicity as cultural (customary behavior) process is not without interest to the sociologist (cf. Yinger 1985).
It seemed to us that the discipline of anthropology, and our experience in Africa and Australia, with its cross-cultural comparative perspective particularly concerned with cultural analysis, might also contribute insight to the study of ethnicity as a cultural process here in the United States. We took heart in R. Cohen's conclusion to his excellent review article on ethnicity, which states: "To summarize, ethnicity, as presently used in anthropology, expresses a shift to multicultural, multiethnic interactive contexts in which attention is focused on an entity—the ethnic group—which is marked by some degree of cultural and social communality" (1978:386).
In the same review, Cohen provides a rationale for research efforts such as this volume represents. Following Kunstadter, Cohen (1978:386) believes that the ethnic group is "a set of individuals with mutual interests based on shared understandings and common values. How much is shared is an empirical question" [emphasis ours]. We also follow Yinger, who believes that an ethnic group is "a segment of a larger society whose members are thought, by themselves and/or others, to have a common origin and to share important segments of a common culture and who, in addition, participate in shared activities in which the common origin and culture are significant ingredients" (1985:159). In sum, the ethnic group is by definition cultural.
The average American today experiences his or her life in a variety of social contexts. There are commonly "mediating structures," which, for example, serve to orient the individual in today's all too bureaucratic world (Burger 1977). The impersonal world of office and factory is mediated by special clubs, churches, and community organizations. Recreational facilities, bars, shopping centers, and so forth are also significant. Our national popular culture provides for most Americans common experiences that can become instant conversation pieces for even strangers. Disneyland, the evening news, the Super Bowl, and McDonald's are known by most Americans (Kottak 1982).
In spite of the growth of a common U.S. experience with Anglo values that are reinforced in the schools, there still persists a strong sense of ethnic culture in America. This life-style orientation pertaining to a subpopulation of Americans, however, varies in intensity. For some, ethnicity is a self-chosen experience, as among Irish-Americans who choose to join Irish dance clubs (Hebard this volume) or among Ukranian- Americans who become involved in Easter egg decorating (Krier this volume). For others, ethnicity is a strongly religious experience, as among the Amish or Jewish Hasidists (Part III this volume). Ethnic grouping may also be a neighborhood experience, as in "Little Italys," "Chinatowns," or Hispanic "barrios," or it may involve commuting from various neighborhoods to a common church, as in some Greek Orthodox churches in Philadelphia (Belsley this volume). In sum, ethnic experience is variously "marked" by cultural, linguistic, and social criteria, but "how so" remains a researchable issue.
For many Americans, however, ethnic background is denied entirely in the desire to achieve respectability or middle-class status. The American school system, in particular, has often extinguished ethnic languages and habits. The denial of ethnic difference would appear to be not unlike a more general denial of differences in social class, wealth, and personal attributes—all in conformity to the "average" person (how many of us are "just middle class?"). In fact, Riesman's lonely "other-directed" American (1961) and the Spindlers' (1983) point that individualism is in dialectical opposition to conformity as competing values in American social life suggest a characterological backdrop for the denial of diversity. Thus, all Americans are, in fact, "ethnic," but there is considerable variation in degree and kind of experience.
The most significant factor in determining ethnic experiential variation is, of course, the variable "class." Affiliation by class is not only known to cross-cut ethnic groups, but is itself an important source of variation within the ethnic group. The significance of class in American life as well as various social, cultural, and economic criteria for its composition is brilliantly treated in Warner et al.'s classic book Yankee City (1963). In the present volume, questions of class are secondary to those of culture, though some papers do touch specifically on class and ethnic interaction. The "Exclusivity in an Ethnic Elite" piece by Ameisen on WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and the work of Belsley on Greek Orthodox religious affiliation are particularly sensitive to the question of class. For "non-white" ethnics, ethnicity is often "attributed" by other features irrespective of a person's self-chosen life-style.
For American Indians, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans, ethnicity also involves a racial experience. American racism has been particularly harsh on those citizens who have been here the longest: the Indians; and those who came soon after the Europeans, the African-Americans. Unfortunately, racial stereotypes still structure the national view of Indians and blacks. Erroneous facts and omissions of historical events are typical in U.S. schools (Rosenfeld 1971). Significantly, the powerful WASP ethnic group has many derogatory jokes pertaining to blacks, even though they do not live by, attend school with, or otherwise associate with them (Ameisen this volume). For "racial" ethnic groups, there can be no self-chosen ethnic experience.
Whatever the merit of earlier assumptions, it is clear that those social formations once thought to be "tribes" are now clearly "ethnic" groups when viewed in the context of modernizing, "multiethnic" nation-states. For this reason, R. Cohen suggests that the term "tribe," with its assumptions of isolation, primitiveness, non-Westernness, and boundedness, among other things, be replaced by the idea of ethnic group that is conceptualized to be not isolated and is contemporary, universal, and characterized by shifting boundaries (1978:384). The effect of his program would be to subsume American ethnic groups (hyphenated-Americans) and the social formations once labeled tribal in the same category. This strategy requires, of course, a shift of focus in cultural analysis because the older holistic assumptions about culture, linked as they were to assumed isolated social formations, have little to recommend them in the modern U.S. context. Precisely how cultural analysis can be useful is, of course, the subject of the essays in this volume.
Looked at from the "outside" (or etic perspective), it is clear that ethnic-group life-styles are not usually "holistic" along exclusively ethnic lines. There is, for example, no formal African-American "government," Italian-American religion, or Polish-American economy. Most ethnic groups are thus "segmented" in the sense argued for the African-American experience when Blauner (1970) compared African-American culture with its African "tribal" and more holistic social antecedents. Nevertheless, these essays show that there is variation in the degree of holism. The separatist Lubavitchers (Part III this volume) are more culturally holistic in ethnic life-style when compared with the more segmented experience of other groups included in this book.
Issues of culture and power are also important when ethnic groups are viewed from the "outside." The editors of this volume follow A. Cohen (1974:97), who believes that "ethnicity is fundamentally a political phenomenon as the symbols of the traditional culture are used as mechanisms for the articulation of political alignments." He contends that use of symbols is often "unconscious" by group members but in practice becomes obvious to anthropologists when they notice that only members of the powerful "elite" group are invited to the wedding, funeral, or other cultural events (events where important political alliances are maintained). Therefore, just as holism is a variable in ethnic cultural study, so also is the domain of power. This idea is illustrated by the inclusion of a study of WASP ethnic culture in this series of essays (Ameisen). It will be surprising for some to discover that there is even a WASP ethnic culture, so successful have been symbols of exclusion (as in racial jokes). WASP power maintains symbolic devices that overall serve to segregate WASPs from other ethnic groups in exclusive churches, schools, and neighborhoods.
There is, of course, some conceptual continuity with the older ideas about culture as viewed etically. The editors of this volume still assume, for example, that ethnic culture emerges as a historical process. Thus, this study offers materials that are consistent with Herskovits's (1958) argument that black American behavior and institutions show numerous "Africanisms," which constitute historical survivals from preslavery experience in West Africa. This unpopular view flies in the face of extreme assimilationist theory, which, among other things, sought to see only deficiencies in the black experience, which, it was hoped, would improve once such things as female-dominated homes, "pathological" language, and "unwholesome" ethics were eradicated. The popular current term "African-American" symbolically shows that today to argue for African cultural antecedents is not only respectable but is also scholarly correct. The consideration of African-American food customs (Friedman this volume) illustrates the centrality of a temporal dimension in ethnic cultural process. Nevertheless, the processual development is not widely recognized given the powerlessness of African- Americans and racist attitudes in America. This is seen in the following remark: "It is not possible for Negroes to view themselves as other ethnic groups viewed themselves because—and this is the key to much in the Negro world—the Negro is only an American and nothing else. He has no values and culture to guard and protect" (Glazer and Moynihan 1963:153).
Movement of populations, forced as in slavery or, for example, voluntary as in immigration, reveals not only the historical but also the structural aspects of ethnic cultural analysis. Popenoe (this volume) demonstrates that recent Cambodian arrivals to America largely conform to traditional positive Cambodian ideas about arranged marriages. In time, she speculates that this current preference will lessen (perhaps to become a future cultural "survival"?). Arranged marriages, of course, are counter to a U.S. national preference for companionate marriage. Thus, for Cambodians, there is a structural contradiction or a particular example of a more general "assimilation" versus "pluralism" tendency in American ethnic life (cf. Pettigrew 1976). The dynamic of assimilation is often quite stressful. Popenoe's essay is in a category that focuses on expressions of ethnicity by individuals and groups under culturally traumatic experiences of homelessness or enforced refugee status in an alien nation and culture.
These essays contain several examples that illustrate how such expressive things as music and material culture objects (for example, calendars [Dahlem], Easter eggs [Krier], and dance [Hebard]) are "meaningful" not only to group members themselves but also as symbolic representations of the group conceived of as a social community. Geertz (1973) emphasizes ethnicity as grounded in a primordial tie of "longing" to belong to that group alone. Symbolic attachments clearly reveal this attribute at the level of affect.
Excerpted from Encounters with American Ethnic Cultures by Philip L. Kilbride, Jane C. Goodale, Elizabeth R. Ameisen. Copyright © 1990 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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