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Color dichotomy vs. the ethnoracial pentagon Essay

Throughout American politics, two particularly well known categorizations of race and ethnicity have arisen: “Color Dichotomy” and the later “Ethno-racial Pentagon.” Each seeks to define and categorize the vast racial diversity America prides itself on. While intending to create clear and fair ethno-racial constructions, there are obvious advantages and weak spots to each for the purposes of analyzing American politics.

An “old-fashioned” and less popular method of categorization is the “Color Dichotomy.” This concept distinguishes two complementing counterparts to every situation; in terms of race and ethnicity: white and nonwhite (people of color). In the US, about 75% of Americans identify as white, while about 25% of Americans identify themselves as “nonwhite.” Applying this construct to other dividing barriers among people, other categories appear such as: oppressor vs oppressed, Hegemon vs. other, and dominant vs. minority. The main advantage of this concept is in its simplicity. By having only two dividing categories, everyone could conceivably fit neatly into one of these two categories.

Collapsing an incredible amount of diversity of culture into one all encompassing “colored” category, however; this framework obviously contains numerous problems. Thousands of differences between many races and culture are consequently ignored. “[…] all distinctions between various ‘colored’ peoples are less significant than the fact that they are nonwhite” (Hollinger 25). It could also be argued that even the “white” category collapses many different origins into a bland and stereotypical title. The outright ignorance present within this model leads to its unpopularity within American politics especially.

The ethno-racial pentagon challenges this model by supplying strong cultural content. In contrast to the two divisions within the color dichotomy, the ethno-racial pentagon provides five more specific categorizations of race/ethnicity: Euro-American, Asian American, African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Indigenous Peoples/Native American. “To be sure, a value of the pentagon is its capacity to call attention to a certain range of social and cultural diversity” (Hollinger 25). The pentagon also keeps some simplicity, however, so that people are easily categorized for the purposes of affirmative action…etc. Although this framework is more attentive to the differences in the “nonwhite” group of the Color Dichotomy, it also still retains similar problems of ignoring certain races or collapsing many together into one. All of these ethno-racial blocs have distinguishable diversities which are ignored in order to be jammed into one category or another. Least apparent is the diversity within the Euro-American bloc, or whites. Indeed, Jews, who are now considered Euro-American/white, used to be considered a different race altogether.

The Irish and the English, between which existed the vehement tension of conflict and oppression, are now thrust together under the same category with the ethno-racial pentagon. The internal diversity within the Asian American group (Koreans, Cambodians, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese…and all of the consequent subgroups) must be quietly faded in order to make the category a unit; ignoring such tension between Koreans and Japanese for example. Another bloc in which the condensation of ethnic diversity is also less obvious is that African American bloc. The specific country of origin and culture within the African American bloc is forgotten or ignored as inconsequential.

Key to this objection is the “one-drop rule.” This rule maintains that “one drop” of African American blood in a person designates that person African American regardless of their other ethnicity(ies). This rule obviously exists to maintain the existence of the African American category without the complications of recognizing white mixing (or other races). This gives the gross impression that African American blood is “tainted,” “infectious,” and “overpowering.”

Besides ignoring differences within blocs, another major problem with the ethno-racial pentagon is the exclusion of Arab Americans and multiracial people. According the pentagon, Arabs do not even exist in the US. Multiracial people must either choose only one of their heritages and ignore the other, or choose not to be included under the pentagon. Both of these groups threaten to turn the pentagon into a hexagon. However, even this conformation would be unsuccessful as multiracial people are not necessarily part of their own racial group, but two or more. Ignoring their legitimate ethnicities to create a new bloc which only recognizes the fact that they are multiracial, and not their individual races, would create further problems. These visibly unfair factors continue to weaken the foundation supporting the ethno-racial pentagon.

The ethno-racial pentagon furthermore places a strong and unnecessary emphasis on race as a dividing factor. Identifying an individual as one race or another brings excessive attention on the differences that could potentially separate Americans if these barriers are continually exaggerated and stressed. Interracial relationships are ignored with both systems. However, from a biological perspective, race can almost be ruled out as inconsequential. “[…] The genetic variation from one race to another is scarcely greater than the genetic variation between races” (Hollinger 34). Morever, Hollinger claims “If the classical race theory of the nineteenth century is not directly behind the pentagon, this structure’s architecture has its unmistakable origins in the most gross and invidious of popular images of what makes human beings different from one another” (32). Overall, the two frameworks for categorization of ethnicity and race contain too many internal weaknesses to be used effectively and fairly in American politics.


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