The Future of Ethnicity in America
This paper will examine the future of ethnicity in America by answering three appealing questions. First, how does symbolic ethnicity enter into contemporary American racial and ethnic relations? Second, why might immigrant youths choose to assimilate to the culture of low-income, inner-city youths instead of white middle-class culture? Lastly, why do some cases of interethnic contact generate conflict and others do not? Symbolic ethnicity is a term coined by Herbert Gans. It refers to ethnicity that is individualistic in nature and without real social cost for the individual. These symbolic identifications are essentially leisure time activities, rooted in nuclear family traditions reinforced by voluntary enjoyable aspects for being ethnic (Gans 424-429). Symbolic ethnicity arises “as the functions of ethnic cultures and groups diminish and identity becomes the primary way of being ethnic” (Gans 1985:434). Gans predicted that this form of ethnicity may easily persist into the fifth and sixth generations and beyond (Dale, and Romo 441). People are less and less interested in their ethnic cultures and organizations and are instead more concerned with maintaining their ethnic identity, with the feeling of being Jewish or Italian or Polish, and with finding ways of feeling and expressing that identity in suitable ways. Identity here simply means the sociopsychological elements that accompany role behavior, and the ethnic role is today less of an ascriptive than a voluntary role that people assume alongside other roles. To be sure, ethnics are still identified as such by others, particularly on the basis of name, but the behavioral expectations that once went with identification by others have declined sharply, so that ethnics have some choice about when and how to play ethnic roles. Moreover, as ethnic cultures and organizations decline further, fewer ethnic roles are prescribed, thus increasing the degree to which...
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