Essentialist and Post Structuralist Theories of Race and Ethnicity

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Identity Analysis Toward Productive Pedagogies: An Essentialist and Post Structuralist Perspective Race and ethnicity will be used to analyse the central theme of identity from an essentialist and post structuralist perspective. Definitions of race and ethnicity will be presented and distinctions made between the two categories. The character Eva from the film The Freedom Writers will be used as a medium and present an argument that race and ethnicity are social constructs but not absent of essentialist influences. Following a self reflection of my own identity the similarities between Eva and I show a congruence between essentialist perspectives of race and ethnicity to the existence of ethnic tensions and prejudice. In the context of Post structural theory it will be argued that it offers a more realistic and progressive appraisal of identity as fluid and changing through social contexts. Differences between Eva’s and my own identity serve to highlight the inequality of dominant culture over ethnic minorities. Therefore, pedagogical strategies will be examined from a post structural perspective as a means to promote inclusivity and authentic Indigenous perspectives within the classroom. Essentialist theories about ethnicity and race present these identity themes as fixed and unchangeable. Weber (1978) defines race identity as “...common inherited and inheritable traits that actually derive from common descent” (p.368 ).The character Eva from the film The Freedom Writers identities her race as “...those south of the border”, or specifically Hispanic. Ethnicity from an essentialist perspective differs from race as Zagefka (2008) ascribes to the notion that “...essentialist accounts of ethnicity maintain that ethnic groups have a certain ‘essence’ which determines their character” (p. 1). Therefore, essentialist ethnicity elaborates on race identity informing that behavioural traits are also biologically determined. Eva’s statement “We fight over race, pride and respect” illustrates the essentialist nature of fixed, unchangeable boundaries that exist between her group and other ethnic groups. Eva’s racial hatred of the other ethnic groups is evident through her gang affiliations and violent behaviour toward them. An essentialist perceptive would assume that Eva’s racial hatred is determined at birth but as Eva’s character develops throughout the film the essentialist perspective loses validity and Eva’s sense of identity is seen to be socially constructed. Post structural theory maintains that race and ethnicity are socially constructed presenting Eva’s identity as fluid and evolving. However, Morning (2006) concludes that “...the conception of race as rooted in biological difference endures, at least in the United States today”. Therefore, ethnicity offers a more authentic analysis of Eva’s identity formation from a post structuralist perspective then the residual of essentialism that exists in relation to her racial conceptualisations. In Eva’s formative years her subjectivities about race were essentialised from her fathers’ emphasis of her origins and therefore the “...need to protect your own”. The violence from other ethnic groups and the arrest of her father because of his ethnic background resulted in an intense hatred for white people. Eva “...hated white people on sight”. Eva’s hatred developed over time through social contexts involving ethnic and racial violence. Eva’s changing identity is represented from a post structural perceptive through narrative and social interactions in Mrs Gurwall’s classroom. Marra (2005) states that “Narrative is a powerful means of constructing different kinds of social identity, including ethnic identity....” (p. 2). Using a diary as an artefact Eva is able reflect on her own subjectivities about identity to better understand her beliefs and values (J Nailer, 2005 p. 152).Through social interactions in the classroom under the guidance of her teacher Eva’s ethnic identity is...
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