Friday, April 25, 2014

Blood, Looks, Language: Moderating Ethnicity

The Fulbright presentation on “Blood,” Looks, Language: The Moderating Effects of Race and Ethnicity on Identity was given by Dorry Guerra, a recent graduate of University of Pennsylvania where she majored in Visual Studies. As a Fulbright researcher in Seoul, South Korea, she is conducting research through the Social and Cultural Psychology Lab at Yonsei University. Her PhD interests are perceptions and conceptualizations of race and racial categories; their psychological implications; and multiculturalism, particularly in the context of a demographically changing Korea.

Image source: Sey, Adwoa Nana, Breaking Bad "FeLiNa" Poster, 2013 (adapted). Original artwork

Through a series of social psychology experiments, this project attempts to ascertain the ways in
which “native” Koreans (those who are both racially and ethnically Korean) perceive the identity of multiracial and multicultural Koreans. Under the umbrella of “identity,” “race” and “ethnicity” are the variables studied; more specifically, the interaction between “blood” (one’s heritage or ancestry), phenotype (how one looks)—considered in this context as “racial” features—and languageconsidered in this context as an “ethic” feature—is examined. The purpose of the studies is to understand which of these three variables is privileged when determining the identity of “ambiguous” others, and to understand which “others” are considered most “Korean.”

This project has a cross-cultural component in that a parallel study is to be run in the United States, in order to understand notions of “American-ness” as compared to those of “Korean-ness.” Following previous work (Steffans & Mummendey, 2010) that shows that Europeans rely more on accent information (than on appearance information) when determining what country a person is from, the hypothesis is that American participants will similarly rely more on “language” information (than on “looks” or “blood” information) when determining who is most “American.” On the other hand, the prediction is that Korean participants will rely more on “blood” information (than on “looks” or “language” information) when determining who is most “Korean.”

This research has implications for the psychological and social well-being and acceptance of not only those who are traditionally considered “other” in Korea, but of all Koreans.

Some points of particular interest in the presentation are:

  • In 2010, one in three babies born in South Korea were born into multiracial families, that is, one of the parents is Korean and the other is a non-Korean, most typically from China and SE Asia.
  • In 2050, 20% of the population in South Korea will be multicultural.
  • South Korea is the world's leader in international marriages!

Hypothesis: "blood," looks and language

This focus on blood is grounded on the notion of the 1920s that "blood" is most important. This notion was used to promote solidarity in a time of colonialism ... but this was also a time when Korea was very homogeneous so concepts of blood were very relevant. However, with such a large number of multicultural families being created, the resulting concept of homogeneity of "being Korean" is being challenged, especially as the use or non-use of Korean has become a factor along with non-stereotypical looks of mixed heritage Koreans. 

Earlier studies related to Dorry Guerra's research were conducted by Lee Jae Kab in the early 1990s. Lee Jae Kab did studies on Amerasians; his studies were on the children who were given their Asian blood connections via their mothers.  

Two key phrases that Dorry is exploring are sociability desirability bias (internal and external factors that determine a person's level of acceptance or non-acceptance in a group) and racial essentialism (a sociological factor that results in racial stereotyping and discrimination).

The concepts of "blood" were wooly in the presentation, but then they are wooly in society as everyone seems to have an opinion on what blood is but then in practical terms of interaction, those opinions might not be realized in actual practice ... and this seemed to the case in the presentation too.

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