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Ethnic Groups and Labelling

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 10, 2002
Latest Update: September 10, 2002

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On Saturday, September 10, 2005, John Park wrote:

Subject: Rwanda: We wish to inform you that tomorrow, we will be killed with our families

Hello. I'm reading this book right now and I dont fully understand why Gourevitch wrote the story of the Pygmie and Philip.

If you could, could you explain it to me in better detail? Thank you.

On Saturday, September 10, 2005, jeanne responded:

You know, it's been a while since I taught with Gourevitch's book on Rwanda. I'll put this up on the site, since it pertains to our discussions in Love 1A, and I'll try to find my copy and give you a more specific answer later. Just from memory: The Pygmie and Philip are from very different ethnic groups. I remember the story, but not all of it. You might consider e-mailing some of it (might be faster than my finding the book). But Gourevitch's theme is that these were humans in Rwanda, killing each other over family/tribal origins, when in fact both groups were of the same tribal ancestry. Philip was a Westerner. My bet is that Gourevitch wanted us to see how much we are all alike, and he figured the story illustrated that.

The following exchange on Progressive Sociologists Network gives a very good example of why "political correctness" gets us into trouble. There are valid and compelling reasons for not engaging in the name calling of labelling. But often those compelling reasons are overloooked, and we see only a superficial preference for one group name or another. We're not clear on the concept when that happens. Stephen Block makes clear how our labels don't really fit, and how we force such categorical labelling where it doesn't belong. Then we fight about the names. The real issue is our mistaken application of labels as though they describe reality. Unfortunately the archives of the PSN are no longer available, so you can't read the actual exchange. jeanne