Defining Key Terms

people defined as group based on inherited capacities or moral, intellectual, etc. characteristics unique to that group. (biology)


identity of some as "a people" designated in terms of cultural boundary, contrasted with some group of "Others".

(many social scientists who are convinced that race is not a valid biological concept will point to "ethnicity" as a better term for group differences of a cultural nature.)

belief system that observes "inherent differences" of groups with no particular value judgements about those differences.


belief system emphasizing inherent differences, and places them in a hierarchical relationship; claims special privileges for one race and disparaging another.

More From Werner Sollers

Daniel Hindes An interesting blog post discussing these terms with a moral argument as to why it is important to distinguish racism from racialism

Winant, Howard. Racism Today: Continuity and Change in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Ethnic and Racial Studies Vol. 21, no. 4 (1998).


A.) Sollors in his essay attempts to define “ethnicity.” He says “it refers to not a thing-in-itself but to a relationship: ethnicity is typically based on a contrast” (288). Then he claims “Race, in current American usage, sometimes perceived to be more intense, objective, or real than ethnicity” (289).

  • Since the definition of “ethnicity” is ambiguous to many, how would you interpret Sollors’ basic definition of ethnicity in relation to multiple literary theories and discourse? What would you add or modify?
  • Is “race” a better term than “ethnicity”, or less or equally the same? Explain your answer.


B.) Sollors says that “…comparative approaches could help to deepen our understanding of the boundary-defiance of the literary tradition…” (303).
  • If ethnicity helps in “examining great text on a comparative basis,” how do you explain the relationship between ethnicity and literary works? Is their relationship interchangeable? Can each be considered as an approach towards deepening readers' understanding of the other?



A.) “In a world whose politics were so dominated by racialism, it is hardly surprising that races became a central literary theme. What is, perhaps, more puzzling is the fact that many of those works that have been central to our understanding of what literature is are also thematically preoccupied with racial issues” (282).

  • Still, with the increasingly awareness over racism nowadays, what if a famous contemporary author wrote a work similar to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, will it be as successful or at least as acceptable as Shakespeare’s?


B.) Appiah links the emergence of the concept of nationalism to the imaginative recreation of a common “cultural past that was … crafted into a shared tradition by literary scholars” (284).

  • Considering the political, literary & scientific involvement in the process of nation-building, can you speculate on the future of “marginalized” nations in regard to their efforts towards restoring a better standing? Which, do you think, would bear more significance: recreating already recreated pasts or inventing nonexistent futures?


Additional Readings of Interest
Booker T. Washington. "race" as a practice (esp. "In one part of our country, where the law demands ..."

Langston Hughes, on passing

Barak Obama. negotiating conflicting internal and external concepts in a racialized society (esp. 78-82)