The word ethnicity showed 23,600,000 results on February 23, 2012, on the Internet. A random exploration of selected sites did not provide information different from the classical information in the following discussion.

Cultural background is a fundamental component of one’s ethnic back- ground. Before we proceed with this discussion, though, we need to define some terms, so that we can proceed from the same point of reference. The classic ref- erence defines ethnic as an adjective “of or pertaining to a social group within a cultural and social system that claims or is accorded special status on the basis of complex, often variable traits including religious, linguistic, ancestral, or physical characteristics” (Davies, 1976, p. 247). The contemporary definition applied by the Office of Minority Health is that of “a group of people that share a com- mon and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage” (Office of Minority Health, 2001, p. 131). O’Neil (2008) described ethnicity as selected cultural and sometimes physical characteristics used to classify people into groups or categories considered to be significantly different from others.

The term ethnic has for some time aroused strongly negative feelings and is often rejected by the general population. One can speculate that the upsurge in the use of the term stems from the recent interest of people in discovering their personal backgrounds, a fact used by some politicians who overtly court “the ethnics.” Paradoxically, in a nation as large as the United States and comprising as many different peoples as it does—with the American Indians being the only true native population—we find ourselves still reluctant to speak of ethnicity and ethnic differences. This stance stems from the fact that most foreign groups that come to this land often shed the ways of the “old country” and quickly attempt to assimilate themselves into the mainstream, or the so-called melting pot (Novak, 1973). Other terms related to ethnic include:

■ Ethnicity: Identity with or membership in a particular racial, national, or cultural group and observance of that group’s customs, beliefs, and language (, n.d.)

■ Ethnocentrism: (1) belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group; (2) overriding concern with race

■ Xenophobia: a morbid fear of strangers ■ Xenophobe: a person unduly fearful or contemptuous of strangers or

foreigners, especially as reflected in his or her political or cultural views

The behavioral manifestations of these phenomena occur in response to people’s needs, especially when they are foreign born and must find a way to function (1) before they are assimilated into the mainstream and (2) in order to accept themselves. The people cluster together against the majority, who in turn may be discriminating against them.

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