Mervyn Alleyne on Race and Ethnicity

Mervyn C. Alleyne is a Trinidadian sociolinguist.

Race, then, is the socialized perception of phenotypical characteristics. These phenotypical characteristics constitute only one of the features recognized and used for human classification. Behaviour and customs (language, clothing, foods, religion) constitute another set of features and, together with race, provide the basis for ethnicity.

Racism intersects with ethnocentrism. Racism is the belief that phenotypical or alleged genotypical characteristics are inherently indicative of certain behaviours and abilities, and it leads to invidious distinctions based on a hierarchical order. Ethnocentrism is the belief in the superiority of one’s own culture.

When a people come to believe that their assumed superiority is based on a superior genetic pool, it is a pathological case of racism and ethnocentrism combined.

Western European languages are full of metaphorical expressions showing this semantic development of colour terms. In at least some cases, the affective associations and the metaphorical usage are clear and consistent. Yellow, for example, has a rather consistent association with cowardice and other kinds of pejoration in English (cf. yellow-bellied, yellow streak, the yellow press). According to Ferguson (1954, 268), in the Renaissance, yellow was used to suggest jealousy, treason, deceit. The traitor Judas was frequently painted in a garment of dingy yellow. In the Middle Ages, heretics were obliged to wear yellow. In periods of plague, yellow crosses were used to identify contagious areas.

Alleyne, M. 2005. The Construction and Representation of Race and Ethnicity in the Caribbean and the World. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press. Kindle Edition.


Parenthood (2010)

Catherine Squires writes about the TV series:

Indeed, in a scene with Adam, we get a glimpse of Zeek’s old school framework when he tries to engage his eldest son with a story about his sexual adventures in Viet Nam.  When he was a soldier, Zeek tells Adam, he had an exciting sexual encounter with a Vietnamese woman.  Thus, Zeek casually invokes stereotypes of Asian women’s exotic sexuality, and reaffirms the ways U.S. soldiers were encouraged to see Asian women as temporary partners.  Adam, to his credit, reacts to the story with distaste and tries to stop his dad from going into detail, but the scene positions Zeek as someone with stereotypical understandings of at least one group of women of color.

From the transcript:

ZEEK: How’s the sex life?
ADAM: My sex life is fine. Why?
ZEEK: That’s not what I’m hearing.
ADAM: You learned to have sex in Vietnam?
ZEEK: Yeah, basically. Well, I was a kid, you know? I mean, gosh, those girls could teach you so much, you know. Just, I was ready to learn. She’s not having orgasms? So you were okay? It was all Kristina’s fault? ’cause the Bravermans, you know, the Braverman men, You know what I’m saying.

Notice how the issue is coached. A virgin Hebrewpean male goes to Vietnam and loses his virginity most likely to a Vietnamese prostitute. He goes back for more with other girls because they do unnatural sexual acts [the Easterners have secret/mystical sexual knowledge trope].


Best, Craig. 2010. Rubber Ball Band Transcript.

Squires, Catherine. 2011. Post-racial Family?: Parenthood and the Politics of Interracial Relationships on TV. Draft document. Rhetorical Studies Reading Group.