Date: Wed, 11 Oct 1995 08:55:00 -0700 (PDT)
[Co-editor's note: H-Teach has been the arena of an interesting names
controversy over the past week. Below are four contributions. JB]
1) [The original query: ]
From: Sara Tucker <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'm enjoying the discussion of group labels. My biggest problem, interestingly enough, comes in what to call the US majority. Specifically, when I am dealing with the settlement of the Great Plains, who to say was doing most of the coming. I definitely don't want to use Whites, Europeans, or Americans. Euro-Americans is the best I've done, but it feels awkward. Suggestions?
2) ["Euroamerican" as a term of art:]
From: "Hughie Lawson, Murray State" <email@example.com>
>Date: Tue, 10 Oct 1995 09:28:35 -0500 (CDT)
>AS someone who has also moved to using Euroamerican rather than white in my teaching, I would be inerested in having Hughie Lawson expand on his idea that Euroamerican is more inauthentic than white as a label. I would think that the opposite is the case.
>Wilbert Ahern, U of MN, Morris
Euroamerican in my view is an artificial, technical term of art (as the lawyers say), created primarily for strategic purposes-to deprive Americans who want it of the acceptance of their former simple label of "American", and thus to label them hyphenate-style, when this is not a choice they would have made themselves.
People don't call themselves Euroamericans. People do call themselves white. But the white identity was socially constructed in the New World, not because of European ancestry or shared culture, but because of a desire to mark themselves off from others. A white native Georgian who cannot name a single ancestor that migrated from Europe shares with a recent immigrant from any European country-and some Asian and African ones-the (tragically established) white identity, which is usually far more important in how they are treated than European ancestors. The white-nonwhite distinction may be pernicious, but it is there shaping our lives, whether we like it or not.
My view is that Euroamerican reflects a desire to "afflict the comfortable" by "showing them how it feels to be labelled." I can understand why some want to do this; and I sympathize with some of the impulses that give rise to this desire, impulses that flow, in my view from a praiseworthy awareness of the injustices in American society. For this reason, I don't view using the Euroamerican label as wicked, but simply as evidence of a strategic, unacknowledged purpose.
Hughie Lawson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Murray State University
Murray, Kentucky 42071
3) ["Euroamerica" as a self-identitication?]
From: Bill Cecil-Fronsman <email@example.com>
I agree with Hughie Lawson. The term "Euro-American" is absolutely artificial and ignores the way that people actually live. It seems to me to be a contrivance to avoid saying what we really know-that America is a society polarized along black and white lines and that it has almost always been so.
Within reason, I believe that groups should be called by the terms that they want to be called. I don't know any white people who call themselves Euro-Americans. I know lots of black people who call themselves African-Americans. It strikes me as simple courtesy to use the term. On the other hand, I also know lots of African-Americans who call themselves "black." It strikes me as common sense to use both terms, more or less interchangeably. I don't normally use the term "Native American"-I am a native to America, after all. I also don't know that there is a consensus that Sioux, Cherokee, Creek, etc. people want to be called "Native Americans."
I try to use terms that make sense historically. When talking about the encounter between the people who were living here in 1492 and the people who came from Europe, I refer to one group as Indians and the other as Europeans. Later on, one group becomes Pamunkey, Pequot, Narragansett, etc.; the other becomes English. When talking about slavery, I talk about the importation of Africans by Virginians, Carolinians, etc.
But since people in the times that we examine used terms of "black" and "white" to describe the differences that they saw, we need to have a pretty good reason to impose a framework that is external to the historical context. Americans have seen their society divided along lines of race-not along lines of African versus European ancestry. I don't think we are being true to our callings as historians if we depart too far from that context.
Bill Cecil-Fronsman firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of History Office: (913) 231-1010 x1317
Washburn University Fax: (913) 231-1084
Topeka, KS 66621
4) ["Euroamerican" as situational term:]
Call yourself whatever you want, but I'm pretty sure that the original question was an historical one: what we should call residents of America with origins in Europe? This debate is rapidly degenerating into one of those feel-bad excercises that I usually associate with the "B" section of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Mr. Whealy is talking about self-identification; other contributors are talking about racial self-identification since c. 1820s (thus "white"), or about American exceptionalism (thus "American"), or about particularist identities (thus "Virginian," "Yorkshireman," "Dineh," etc.), or about broad cultural identities (thus "Euro-American," "African-American," and "Native American"). Clearly *all* of these designations are appropriate in some situations. Much depends on what time and place is under discussion, and on how general or particular our analysis is. No single term fits all situations. I'm happy to agree that "Euro-American" doesn't fit all situtations, but it's a useful term to use in mid-level generalizations about topics such as the misunderstandings created by the very different gendered work assignments common among eastern woodlands peoples (on the one hand) and Euro-Americans (on the other hand).
So why don't we all just drop the posturing, stop playing around with identity politics, open our minds, and move on to another topic that will actually make us better history teachers?
* Jim Rice
Central Washington University
Date: Tue, 17 Oct 1995 07:53:43 -0500
Comments: cc: h-teach@MSU.EDU
[Michael Lichter <email@example.com> writes:]
My rule of thumb is that "X-American" designates an ethnic group, where as <color> designates race. White and black are racial designations. This doesn't work so well for Asians and Hispanics/Latinos, since these labels stand both for racial identification (especially problematic for Hispanics/Latinos anyway) and for incipient pan-ethnic groups. This is probably a prejudice of mine, but I while I think that blacks, excluding recent immigrants, do form a cohesive African-American ethnic group, I do not see white identity has having moved from a racial to ethnic identity; there are just too many whites, divided too many ways (religion, national origin, region, class, etc.).
The only context in which I have seen a desire to adopt a "european american" label has been in student or political conferences in which by-race or by-nationality caucuses have met, and a "white" caucus would be out of the question (because meeting and organizing specifically as whites is seen as being associated with racist groups and the enforcement of white domination). The shift from race to origin is also a shift from opposition (dividing the world into races) to content (I have this history). That's the theory, anyway.
Michael Lichter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
UCLA Department of Sociology
Date: Tue, 17 Oct 1995 10:21:28 -0500
Comments: cc: h-teach@MSU.EDU
[George B. Tindall <tindall@EMAIL.UNC.EDU> writes:]
Another good reason for using "white" and "black" is that they better fit Churchill's dictum that short words are best and old words, when short, are best of all. A good rule for both teaching and writing which might well be inscribed over the doors to all academic departments, especially English departments.
George B. Tindall Kenan Professor of History Emeritus
305 Burlage Circle University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27514-2703 Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3195
Tel 919-942-5671 Tel: 919/962-2115
e-mail: email@example.com Fax: 919/962-1403
Date: Tue, 17 Oct 1995 16:52:20 -0500
[Tony Sterrett <sterrett@MANTA.NOSC.MIL> writes, first quoting George Tindall:]
>[George B. Tindall <tindall@EMAIL.UNC.EDU> wrote:]
>Another good reason for using "white" and "black" is that they better fit Churchill's dictum that
short words are best and old words, when short, are best of all. A good rule for both teaching
and writing which might well be inscribed over the doors to all academic departments, especially
The problem with using the term "white" and "black" is that the terms do not convey a correct meaning. It only relates possible skin color. It contains no information about the ethnic background. Besides the fact is that African-Americans are not "black". European_Americans are not "white" so the terms are factually false. These terms also do not take into account that EA and AA are not the only peoples in the U.S.
Let me retort a Chruchill quote with a Einstein paraphase. The best solution is the simplest correct solution. The word correct should be read as factual.
It is important that academic departments present material in the most accurate way possible, to
maintain the academy as a realible source of information.
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 1995 05:41:50 -0500
Comments: cc: h-teach@MSU.EDU
[Scott Wong <Kevin.S.Wong@WILLIAMS.EDU> writes:]
While Euroamerican is not an ideal term (nor are African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Latino, etc), I use it, especially in my immigration history course because it signifies that Americans came from Europe and Africa and Asia and Latin America and elsewhere. If I were to use white, it would not speak to origins. As for those who would prefer to use only "white" and "black," as third generation Chinese American, I will not be silenced by your exclusion of those of us who came from shores other than the UK. If Euroamerican makes you uncomortable, what do you call us?
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 1995 07:40:43 -0500
[John Radzilowski <JRadzilow@AOL.COM> writes:]
A great deal of confusion has been caused by using affirmative action terms in a scholarly context. These terms, as defined by their creators, do not hold water (which, in my humble opinion, is one of the problems with affirmative action). They should not be used by serious scholars.
For example, I recently filled out a job application that used these terms. Here are some of the definitions the form gave for various groups (my paraphrasing):
* White: Anyone whose ancestors lived at any time in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
* Asian/Pacific Islander: Anyone whose ancestors lived at any time in China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, or the Pacific Islands excluding Australia and New Zealand.
* Hispanic: Anyone who ancestors originated in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, or belonged to any of the other Spanish-speaking cultures of Latin America.
Obviously these definitions are devoid of any real meaning. Peoples inhabiting large portions of the world's surface were excluded. The "people whose ancestors lived at any time in..." construction is particularly bizarre. To cite one possible example, Hungarians and Finns apparently have a choice as to whether to check the "White" or "Asian" box. (But, then, coherence has never been a major attribute of the so-called diversity specialists.)
On top of all this is the problem of geographic determinism. "Europe" and "Asia" are after all somewhat arbitrary places, lines on a map. (Are Armenians Asians or Europeans? How about the Romani and Sinti?) Thus a term like "Euro-American" fails, first of all, to cover everyone apparently included in the term "white" (namely Arabs), and second of all succumbs to the same trap that "white" and its allies "Hispanic" "Asian," etc. fall into, that is the assumption that those who fall under such definitions share anything in common other than a somewhat similar melanin level. It strains one's credulity to assume that a Muslim Albanian, a Norwegian Lutheran, and a Spanish Catholic all have something in common because they come from or live in Europe. It is also difficult for me to image what a fifth-generation Japanese-American and a recent emigre from Indonesia share in common other than the fact that both had ancestors who lived in an arbitrarily defined place called Asia. Or that Cuban Americans and Mexican Americans are just like peas in a pod because someone, somewhere decided they were Hispanic. (Even terms like "black" present problems-after all there are certainly differences between, say, the Gullah people of the Carolina sea islands, and African Americans from Texas.)
The history of the term "white" in this country is particularly strange, and this alone should invalidate its use. Benjamin Franklin, for example, railed against the Germans in Pennsylvania, who he felt were trying to turn that state into another Germany. After all, Franklin noted, Germans were members of the "swarthy races" and not white like Anglo-Saxons! Until 1930 the U.S. census classified Mexicans as "white." Most Anglo Americans, of course, did not view them as such. But, then, they did not view Poles and Italians as white either, at least until after World War II. Neither, apparently, did African Americans. I once heard an interview with an elderly African-American man in which he was asked to describe who had lived in his neighborhood when he was growing up. His answer went something like this: "Well, there were some black folks, and white people, and there were some [Poles*], but they're not white folks, you know." [*Ethnic slur deleted.] Recent immigration from Somalia and Ethiopia has even greater potential to confuse the makers of forms and those who like the word "white," since since these groups see themselves as "white" (in contrast to other African groups with whom they have long been at odds).
Immigration makes things even more complicated for those who use the word "white." For example, suppose there are two brothers in Sicily. One immigrates to New York, the other to Buenos Aires. Both marry other Sicilians, raise families, and become citizens. Then, one of the children of the brother in Argentina comes to live with his relatives in New York. The children of the first brother are now "white," while the child of the second brother is now "Hispanic": a truly amazing transformation!
The 1980 and 1990 censuses asked Americans to define themselves by ancestry. The great preponderance of those in the "white" category provided an ancestry group. Only a small proportion listed "white" or "American" and those who did were mostly people living in the former states of the Confederacy whose ancestors came from the British Isles. When allowed to define themselves, Americans have clearly shown they know who they are, and they are not "white." So much for the melting pot!
Ethnicity is incredibly complex, and no doubt many find it easier to use safe, simplifying words like "white" than to deal with the reality of ethnicity and culture in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, such words hide far more than they reveal and seem indicative of an outlook that views the world only in terms of-pardon the phrase-black and white.
P.S. If you're wondering how I responded on the affirmative action form I mentioned above, I did
what I urge all my fellow east and south European Americans to do: drew in a new box, labeled it
with my ethnic group (in this case, Polish American), and then checked away!
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 1995 10:32:06 -0500
Comments: cc: h-teach@MSU.EDU
[Patricia Wood <pkw23@ACPUB.DUKE.EDU> writes:]
I just read John Radzilowski's wonderful rant on ethnicity and the problems of labelling everyone.
If I remember correctly, this debate originated in a professor's search for the right term for
whites/EuroAmericans to distinguish "them" from "the others," mainly Natives. Therein lies the
problem. We, as historians, in our research and teaching, need to organize people in groups in
order to explain "what happened." Tensions of race and ethnicity (& class & gender) are never
steady and clear and yet we would like steady, clear terms with which to describe the various
sides of the battle. Who are the "whites"? Depends on where and when you are talking about. To
draw on the arbitrary geographic framing of origin does not resolve the issue either. To address
Dr. Wong's concerns as well, "Asian" is problematic as a neat category, because (to cite but one
example) Chinese and Japanese immigrants had widely different experiences both in Canada and
the United States. What are our intentions with these group labels? Usually, to try to understand
by conceptualization past and present societies. Instead of mixing race and ethnicity to the
confusion of both, perhaps we should try instead to teach our students how complicated and
insufficient these labels are. Race and ethnicity are not the same thing-although they are difficult
to divorce-and searching for one term to describe a group (that may not even have understood
itself to be that group!) is destined to produce the frustration I have observed in this debate.
Visting Assistant Professor
Department of History
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 1995 13:28:11 -0500
[Simon Katzenellenbogen <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:]
As the debate on terms to be used to refer to different groups of people has gone on, several thoughts have gone through my mind. The first is that be focusing on terminology and whether or not a particular word is accurate or politically correct, we are in danger of losing sight of fundamental issues and concerns. I have not yet taken the time to put these thoughts into a coherent form of argument, so what follows are preliminary thoughts that I offer for discussion.
Patricia Wood suggests that we should try to help our students understand the complexities
involved. I agree but stress to my students the offense that can be caused to people hearing
themselves described in particular ways. The continued use of the word `native' to means
Africans, for example, astonishes me, to say the least Referring to Africans - using the term here
to include all those in the Diaspora - as `Blacks' implicity denies their African roots. We do not
refer to Asians as Yellows. Also, the term `black' used on its own is dehumanising people; we
should at least refer to `black people'. To substitute `African' for `black' also raises contentious
issues and questions about which many people feel very strongly. No single term for any group of
people will be universally accepted. Given that, is there any real point in trying to find one?
Surely what matters is that people, not only but including students and ourselves, should
understand the often racist implications of language, the sensitivities of people identified in
various ways, and just how complex the relevant issues are. By continuing the search for and
discussion of acceptable terminology, we are in danger of sinking into an intellectualy/academic
morass which is largely irrelevant. This comes to mind particularly in connection with the recent
commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the 5th Pan-African Congress here in Manchester.
One criticism was that there was too much theory discussed. While the conference as a whole
showed that the line between academics and activists cannot be clearly drawn, there is always a
danger that we lose sight of what are our real, fundamental concerns. It is the people we are - or
should be - concerned about first and foremost.
P.S. Anyone wishing to reply to me directly will find it easier to use email@example.com as my
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 1995 14:32:30 -0500
[Manny Avalos <IDMXA@ASUVM.INRE.ASU.EDU> writes, quoting Simon
Katznellenbogen in the body of his reply. Throughout this posting, Simon
Katzenellenbogen'a comments are carried to the right of the arrows, and
Manny Avalos's response is interspersed.]
>[Simon Katzenellenbogen <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:]
>As the debate on terms to be used to refer to different groups of people has gone on, several
thoughts have gone through my mind. The first is that be focusing on terminology and whether or
not a particular word is accurate or politically correct, we are in danger of losing sight of
fundamental issues and concerns.
What would be the fundemental issues and concerns? If identity is one issue than the use of labels becomes important in both a social and political context. It has less to do with being politically correct and more to do with how ethnic minorities and or people of color chose to identify themselves.
>I have not yet taken the time to put these thoughts into a coherent form of argument, so what
follows are preliminary thoughts that I offer for discussion.
>Patricia Wood suggests that we should try to help our students
>understand the complexities involved. I agree but stress to my
>students the offense that can be caused to people hearing themselves
>described in particular ways. The continued use of the word `native'
>to means Africans, for example, astonishes me, to say the least
>>Referring to Africans - using the term here to include all those in the Diaspora - as `Blacks'
implicity denies their African roots. We do not refer to Asians as Yellows. Also, the term `black'
used on its own is dehumanising people; we should at least refer to `black people'. To substitute
`African' for `black' also raises contentious issues and questions about which many people feel
However one must look at the origin of the term "Black" as used by that particular group. Out of the 1960s the term had a specific political meaning attached to black power movements and was a term used for both political purposes and as a way to identify oneself internally (within a specific group) and not the external term "Negro" imposed by outsiders (whites). In my mind the use of the term "African American" is simply change in the way people want to be identified. Some may choose this label, others may prefer something else.
>No single term for any group of people will be universally accepted. Given that, is there any real
point in trying to find one? Surely what matters is that people, not only but including students
and ourselves, should understand the often racist implications of language, the sensitivities of
people identified in various ways, and just how complex the relevant issues are.
You are correct, one term cannot possibly be univesally accepted, however this does not diminish
the importance of ethnic/racial identity and the use of labels. I think it is important for students to
not only understand the racist implications of language but to understand the importance of racial
identity within ethnic/minority communities and therefore it is important to understand the
historical uses of ethnic labels and how people of color wish to be identified. To be sure this is no
easy task, but one that should not be ignored.
>By continuing the search for and discussion of acceptable terminology, we are in danger of sinking into an intellectualy/academic morass which is largely irrelevant. This comes to mind particularly in connection with the recent commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the 5th Pan-African Congress here in Manchester. One criticism was that there was too much theory discussed. While the conference as a whole showed that the line between academics and activists cannot be clearly drawn, there is always a danger that we lose sight of what are our real, fundamental concerns.
>It is the people we are - or should be - concerned about first and foremost.
It would be nice if this could be so, but I fear that race is still the most important social division in society today. You simply can't ignore the reality.
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Arizona State University West
P.O. Box 37100
Phoenix, AZ 85069-7100
Internet ID: IDMXA @ ASUVM.INRE.ASU.EDU
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 1995 07:26:18 -0500
[John Radzilowski <JRadzilow@AOL.COM> writes:]
Clearly, we need to use some shorthand terms to describe groups of people; and to some degree those terms will always be imperfect. The question is, do those terms obscure and confuse more than they illuminate? This is the central problem with the black/white, majority/minority terminology. These words can create serious blind spots in our understanding of the past. For example, they can obscure important similarities between groups. In terms of their historic social status, religio- cultural background, and experience as immigrants, Italians and Poles have more in common with Mexicans than with Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Likewise, differences within even seemingly homogeneous groups, like African Americans, can also be obscured. Can we truly say that immigrants from Jamaica, or Africa, the Gullah people of the Carolina sea islands, and African Americans who've lived for several generations in Texas are all alike? If we answer yes, exactly what is the point in studying ethnic history? I agree with Manny Avalos that race is an important history factor. Nevertheless, race (or our "construction" thereof) is too often an obession that hides other historical factors that are more difficult or time consuming to research. It is very neat and easy to ascribe everything that happens to this group or that to race, while ignore potentially more explosive questions, such as class. This was driven home to me during a graduate seminar in which we read two books, one about Swedish immigration to Minnesota and the other on African American migration to Chicago. These two very different groups had certain similarities in their migration experiences and their use of family networks and the family economy to achieve economic success. When I made this argument during the discussion the majority of people in the class reacted as if I put forward the proposition that little green men routinely visit the earth. It was inconceivable, mindblowing even, that anyone could talk about Swedish and African Americans in the same breath. This is a perfect example how a set of terms can restrict the way people conceive of the past. The simplistic, a priori assigment of certain groups to "the majority" (i.e. white oppressors) or "the minority" (i.e. oppressed people of color) is equally troubling. (We even have the bizarre spectre, in states like California where "minority" groups might be, numerically, a majority.) The rationale for assigning most groups to the former of these invidious categories usually ignores, consciously or not, their historical and cultural experiences.
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 1995 07:26:26 -0500
As a U.S. citizen and "white ethnic" Cajun who works in American Indian history in particular and ethnicity in history in general, I have to agree with Jose that it is not useful to make a distinction between American Indians as the natives and everyone else as the immigrants. Indians migrated here too, given that they came over from Asia, and, except that they came over earlier, can only be distinguished from later immigrants by not having displaced any other humans on their arrival. All but one of my great-great grandparents came from families that arrived in North America by 1721. The Forets have been here for twelve or thirteen generations at least. Doesn't that make us natives yet?
Patricia Woods writes about doing interdisciplinary study, which as an ethnohistorian I heartily support. A useful distinction to make, based on sociological perspectives, is one of power. Who among all the "immigrants," i.e., groups/peoples/cultures have power, who don't, and what does that mean for their place in society and history? I wholeheartedly disagree with those who call for discarding race or ethnicity as a useful category for historical study or the construction of a more just and equitable society.
As I tell my students from time to time when I try to convey to them a bit about what we professors do by writing books and articles, or giving papers at conventions, it is a bit scary to throw your ideas out to your colleagues, because they may throw them right back at you. I have been impressed with H-Net lists of all kinds because the throwing out and throwing back have been more like a friendly game of toss than lobbing grenades at each other. May it always be so. Good luck in your work, Pat.
Michael James Foret
Department of History
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Stevens Point, WI 54481
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 1995 09:32:18 -0500
Comments: cc: email@example.com
[Patricia K. Wood <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:]
I would like to say to Michael Foret and the others who have commented on my parenthetical remark that first, I am glad it sparked a new discussion, and second, this was in my introduction to a network and all I was trying to say was that I didn't limit myself to 19th and 20th-century immigration, that I am interested in issues of race, ethnicity and cultural change among early English, French, Spanish etc. settlements as well. I certainly never meant to suggest that I lump them together or that I lump all Natives together either. And I am afraid, Prof. Foret, that while I agree that Natives were once immigrants too, and while I can respect and value the power of 250 years of your family's history in this country, I cannot equate it to the 10,000 years of Native settlement.
And please don't call me Pat.
Patricia K. Wood
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 1995 12:39:16 -050
[Peter J. Herz <email@example.com> suggests:]
"Euro-American" may be better than "white", since there is a growing class of multiracial people recognized and, most importantly, socialized, by their "Euroamerican" families, yet who do not look "white". These people have a claim on mainstream American culture, and should be allowed to enjoy it.
But how's this for an idea?
Perhaps the real American majority consists of those descended from (a) persons who came to colonial and post-independence America (1776-present) voluntarily or (b) assimilated to group (a). Perhaps this does more to explain why Afro-Americans, Amerindians (not "Native American"-I was born here, too), and some Hispanic groups have remained "minority": their ancestors were either brought as slaves or conquered. This might also explain why Asians and certain Hispanic groups mix more readily with the majority. It also explains why the descendents of Oglethorpe's convicts and other white people who came 'tween decks did not remain part of a permanent underclass.
There are indeed lumps in this theory: West Indians came voluntarily, but suffered discrimination and other forms of racism; modern sub-Saharan Africans came voluntarily, but it is as of yet not completely clear how they will fit into the American mosaic/melting-pot/salad bowl/imperfectly blended stew.
Peter J. Herz
613 Glenview Dr.
Carbondale, IL 62901
Date: Thu, 26 Oct 1995 07:17:14 -0500
[Gene Moy <GeneMoy@AOL.COM> writes, first quoting Peter Herz's posting of
>"Euro-American" may be better than "white", since there is a growing class of multiracial people recognized and, most importantly, socialized, by their "Euroamerican" families, yet who do not look "white". These people have a claim on mainstream American culture, and should be allowed to enjoy it.
The following message is not intended as a flame.
I'm not sure, Peter, what you mean by a claim on mainstream American culture and the ability or the prerogative of such peoples on the ability to enjoy said culture. I believe (Correct Me If I Am Wrong (CMIIAW)) you are speaking of people of color who are somewhere in that space defined by the parameters "acculturated" and "assimilated".
That being said, however, European Americans does indeed seem to be a fairly accurate term, more so than "white." Just as white, Oriental, black, Hispanic or American Indian tell you where you come from (per se), European American is a problematic but generally more specific term for the American "majority". This is the term that historian Sucheng Chan, for example, has adopted to identify "whites" in her excellent history, _Asian Americans: an Interpretive History_ (Twayne, 1991). Fortunately many of the problematic essentializing of "European American" are qualified in the text by identifying other qualifiers which delimit the term: class strata, ethnicity, geographic specificity, temporal specificity, gender. Any discourse, IMHO, on such a subject must identify these factors to avoid the pitfall of essentialism and thus racism, as defined in Omi & Winant's _Racial Formation in the United States, Second Edition_ (Routledge, 1992).
Our discourse on this subject is complicated unfortunately by the lack of quality information on race and ethnicity in America. This is a matter of the highest concern for anyone seeking to influence public policy or create social change through opinion-making in America. But this is a matter for later discussion.
Who is/are the REAL American majority? What is the epistemology of race and ethnicity in America? (Sorry about the verbage, I'm not usually this pompous!)
>But how's this for an idea?
>>Perhaps the real American majority consists of those descended from (a) persons who came to colonial and post-independence America (1776-present) voluntarily or (b) assimilated to group (a). Perhaps this does more to explain why Afro-Americans, Amerindians (not "Native American"-I was born here, too), and some Hispanic groups have remained "minority": their >ancestors were either brought as slaves or conquered. This might also explain why Asians and certain Hispanic groups mix more readily with the majority. It also explains why the descendents of Oglethorpe's convicts and other white people who came 'tween decks did not remain part of a permanent underclass.
>>There are indeed lumps in this theory: West Indians came voluntarily, but suffered discrimination and other forms of racism; modern sub-Saharan Africans came voluntarily, but it is as of yet not completely clear how they will fit into the American mosaic/melting-pot/salad bowl/imperfectly blended stew.
Indeed there are lumps in the theory. While I would challenge your assertion that Asians and Hispanic groups mix more readily with whatever constitutes the majority (depends on what you mean by mix, and how the underlying social reality is constructed (!), within certain parameters), I agree it would be interesting to note how power by political control or by force of numbers is either retained or shifted from indigenous peoples of the Americas to the colonial power to whatever it is now, and why such shifts happen. I wonder if such answers can be found in such books as _Race and Manifest Destiny_ by Reginald Horsman (Harvard, 1981) or the _Wages of Whiteness_? Please speak up, everyone, if y'all know.
Apologies if all this is known. :P
Gene Chung-ngai Moy
Graduate student, NewMedia Project Coordinator
UCLA Asian American Studies Center