Race, Ethnicity, and American Collective Identity – Part 3

As to the question I posed in my last post of how identity, particularly identity as an “American,” is constructed…

Sociologists Eleni Andreouli and Caroline Howarth claim that the construct of identity, including the notion of “otherness” is bound not only within a conventional understanding of us/them, but that it is also inextricably bound in the political sphere.

Maybe I’m naïve, but the idea that the political sphere not only highlights but actually forms our identity was a little shocking to me.

I can certainly buy that the sound bytes coming from Washington might add fuel to the fire of that segment of our population that has always considered the U.S. to be a WASP nest.

But the idea that the rhetoric is capable of forming an identity is something else entirely.

That is to say that when Rep. Mo Brooks announces a “war on whites” he is not only spouting off inflammatory comments that are intended to raise the ire of his liberal counterparts. If Andreouli and Howarth are correct, what he is doing is much more insidious – and more powerful.

Brooks’s kind of discourse can create boundaries in places where there were none.

Even the language is crucial – note Brooks suggested a “war ON whites” – not a “war with whites” or a “war between whites and non-whites” (ironic, considering I have a pretty good idea who would be better armed). No, it is framed as an attack – and broadly – an attack on our identity as white Americans.

The Mo Brooks approach calls for the formation of an identity that excludes all non-whites (lumping in all groups – immigrants, non-white citizens, etc. into one large “other”) and then goes on to suggest that “their group” is taking action to eradicate “our group.” The idea that “we” are under attack, of course, serves to solidify the initial identity.

Dr. Rebecca Murray


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