entral to the concept of ethnicity is the idea that belonging to one group or another somehow informs the way others perceive us, but perhaps even more importantly, how we see ourselves. The right to self-determination of identity has become a political adage in modern America. Consequently, minority ethnic groups have long been in a position to dictate to other Americans how they wish to be referred to as a group.
However, controversy remains, because group identity is never clear-cut.
For example, Native Americans do not necessarily think of themselves as
belonging to the same group, for tribal cultures had developed along
separate lines for thousands of years before Columbus first set his foot
on the American continent. The various tribes often had as little in
common as citizens of nations on opposite sides of a continent. Likewise,
people classified as "hispanics" come from a variety of separate cultures.
It is not immediately clear what "hispanics" have in common other than
often distant ties to one or more Spanish-speaking North American
So who gets to name these groups? Should they even be referred to by the
same name? And what happens when members of the majority group,
people who have usually been thought of only as "white" Americans, start
questioning the assumption that all whites can be subsumed under one
label? What if we enter other dividers such as the concept of class into
These are questions that frequently are debated on H-Net networks. Below
we have collected a few of the most interesting threads from
H-LatAm, and H-West. Note that
original queries often are posted to more than one list, and sometimes are
repeated almost verbatim by someone else unaware of the first discussion
some time later. These threads therefore might begin in the same or
similar way, but develop differently.
1) Even if white ethnics were largely working-class in the 1970s, can the ethnic revival in the late sixties and the seventies be accurately described as having been a working-class movement? Are the images of white ethnic, working-class Americans constructed by contemporary writers borne out by the statistical evidence?
2) Is the movement properly understood as having been a politically
comment and suggest some readings.
Should Americans of European origin be called European Americans?
The 1993 H-Ethnic
The 1995 H-Ethnic
Is there a distinctive "Germanic American" ethnic group, and if so, should this group have its own rubric on the 2000 census?
A statement from the
Co-Moderator of the Conference of Americans of Germanic Heritage, plus
some responses from H-Ethnic.
Can anyone give some suggestions and input on the use of "Indian" (versus "indigenous," "native," etc.) in scholarly writing?
Can anyone suggest sources for the study of "passing" among American ethnic groups that is not limited to the "passing" of African Americans for "white," or women passing for men, etc.?
Can someone become Southern, or can you only be born that way?
Can a Southerner be a Yankee?
H-South responds again.
Are white Africans naturalized to the United States African Americans?