Study Guide

Ethnic Studies Buzzwords

1. Ethnic group: A group that defines itself or is defined by others as unique because of its racial, cultural, or national characteristics. So, if you identify as "African American," then you're in the African American ethnic group. It goes the other way, too: if other people identify you as "African American," then as far as Ethnic Studies is concerned, you're in the African American ethnic group, even if you don't agree with that yourself.

2. Racism: Judging people on the basis of their skin color and treating them differently because of it is racism. Usually, the darker your skin, the worse you're treated, and the lighter your skin, the better you're treated. Ethnic Studies likes to poke all kinds of holes in these race-based judgments—and the preferential treatment that some groups get as a result.

3. Colonialism: It's not just that thing Europeans did way over there in Africa—the United States is a colonial power, too. As Ethnic Studies scholars like to point out, the Native Americans were colonized, weren't they? And that's just the beginning.

4. Culture: According to Ethnic Studies, culture is a set of beliefs, values, and practices that an ethnic group shares. Let's say we are the Pink-Haired ethnic group. Our culture might consist of going to the salon once a month to have our hair re-dyed pink. It might also consist of the belief that our pink hair has special powers: it protects us from harm. Get the idea?

5. Identity: Who are you? Where do you belong? Ethnic Studies likes to ask these questions in terms of—you guessed it—ethnicity. What is it that makes an ethnic group unique? What are the characteristics that differentiate one identity (say, Native American) from another (say, Chicano/a)?

6. Double-consciousness: Being forced as a person of color to see yourself through the perspective of white people is called double-consciousness. It's a concept developed by W.E.B. Du Bois. For instance: you're African American, and you walk into an all-white restaurant. (Yup, they sure had those.) Everyone turns and stares at you. It makes you feel like you're different, it makes you aware of the fact that you're black, and that you're somehow not expected to be there, and probably not welcome. Even if you weren't focused on the fact that you're black before, you sure are now.

7. Border: In Ethnic Studies, this refers specifically to the border between Mexico and the United States. It can also refer to the psychological state of being torn between two places. It's a particularly important concept in Chicano/a (Mexican-American) Studies.

8. Cultural Citizenship: This is what happens when you have a distinct cultural or racial identity but are still able (and allowed) to participate as a full citizen in the U.S. For example: let's say you have an unusual habit. Instead of walking on your feet, you like to walk on your hands, upside down, all the time. A lot of people may find this strange, or weird. But the fact that you walk differently from most other people doesn't mean that you shouldn't be allowed to vote, right? In other words, who you are, or what your habits are, should have no effect on your ability to be a full American citizen.

9. Community Cultural Wealth: This refers to the cultural and social resources that marginalized ethnic groups use to survive in mainstream American society. According to this concept, minority ethnic groups aren't just victims. Even if members of a minority ethnic group are poor in terms of money, they can be rich in other ways. They can have a fabulous social support network: loads of people (parents, uncles, aunts, siblings) who help them do well in school, for example. It's the kind of thing that can help them overcome the obstacles they face as ethnic minorities.

10. Sovereignty: This is a big concept in Native American Studies. Native Americans were doing their own thing for thousands of years in America before settlers showed up, took over their land, and started bossing them around. In response, Native Americans have insisted on sovereignty—that is, having full political independence from the U.S. government and being in charge of running their own things themselves.