Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Social Identity of Ethnic Minority Families: An Ecological Approach for the New Millennium

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Social Identity of Ethnic Minority Families: An Ecological Approach for the New Millennium

Article excerpt

The thesis of this paper is that the social identity formed by many of our ethnic minority children, youth, and families is the consequence of being identified as a member of a negatively defined social group. Ethnicity is conceptualized as having a common origin, or culture, that is handed down from one generation to another. One's ethnic identity is based on a mixture of language, religion, race, and or ancestry (Yinger, 1985). The concept of minority is a sociological term referring to dominance or power relationships. Minority groups are said to have unequal or limited access to power in a society (Mindel, Habenstein, & Wright, 1988). Inequality and limited access become dimensions of social identity as members of ethnic minority groups are singled out, labeled, and treated unequally on the basis of their cultural or physical differences from the dominant group.

Van Dijk (1993), focusing on discourse analysis and understanding ethnic and racial inequality in society, has studied the ways majority group members write and talk about minorities in everyday conversations, textbooks, news reports, films, jokes, debates, and in academic and corporate discourse. In his analysis (see van Dijk, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1991), he asked: a) How do members or institutions of dominant white groups describe ethnic or racial minorities?; and b) What role do these descriptions play in the development, strengthening, legitimization, and perpetuation of white group dominance? Discourse analysis contributes to the understanding of what takes place at the micro level of social practices, involving the enactment and reproduction of intergroup relations and especially prejudice and ethnic stereotyping (van Dijk, 1993:93).

In the everyday discourse of activities, ethnic minority individuals are often reminded of their unequal status in society by textbooks read, news heard, conversations overheard, research findings reported, and a number of other sources of information. To be a member of an ethnic minority group is to engage in battle with the forces of negative social identity.

As it now stands, much of our knowledge about ethnic minority families is grounded in theories of structure and function, as described by Kingsbury and Scanzoni (1993). Families and society are interacting systems. Families contribute members to society for the workforce. They socialize children and make them productive members of society. However, when families vary substantially from the realm of the familiar and acceptable norms as they make their contributions to society and interact with other systems, they are seen as dysfunctional systems. Dysfunctional systems have negative social identities.

Social science is quick to investigate that which is "deviant" or "dysfunctional" and make recommendations that are heavily intertwined with, and gain acceptability from, prevalent cultural stereotypes. Comparative studies of race and ethnicity can be questioned on methodological grounds. According to Ragin and Hein (1993), data collected are often truncated and biased, giving the appearance of scholarship but having little methodological substance. The fundamental utility of this kind of research for ethnic minority groups is highly questionable.

According to Marger (1991), since the 1920s, research on American ethnic minority families has focused its attention on relations among majority and ethnic minority groups, using a comparative or cross societal framework. The poor and powerless were often compared with others more fortunate (Billingsley, 1970). It is not very different today. For example, there is profuse interest in "at risk" conditions of ethnic minority children. "Risk" factors are identified by a comparative mode of isolating conditions thought to impact the developing child. Social scientists have neglected to consider sufficiently the processes within specific contexts that shape social identity as members of ethnic minority groups. …

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