Rex, over at anthro blog Savage Minds, was questioning (or just asking about) people’s use of “Euro-American” as a label for different groups of people. He was concerned about ethnic and/or “racial” connotations.
Looks like I did use “Euro-American” here. On purpose, no less.
So… What do I mean by “Euro-American,” you ask? Well, it depends on context. And as I like to talk about context and terminological precision, I wrote a lengthy comments on Rex’s blogpost. Here’s an edited version. (The original version is on Savage Minds.)
When I first glanced at Rex’s entry, I felt as if I had to defend myself.
My own usage tends to depend on context. Not that “Euro-American” is that flexible a term, but my disambiguation strategies rely on context a whole lot (might be stronger among French-speakers).
In a discussion where “Western” is expected, I often throw “Euro-American” in as a way to make things clearer (or to make people think about how obviously unclear “Western” really is). I guess this term use is a bit like what Strathern has apparently been doing (though I was unaware of her term use). Some critics would probably talk about political correctness but I hear it more as thought-provocation. The term tickles the ear. To me, “Anglo-American” is even more effective because of US/UK continuities which often go unnoticed. Kind of like “WASP” without the ‘W.’ And with a Weberian ‘P.’
In other contexts, I use it (like Savage Minds commenter Dylan) to refer to a worldview which has clear post-colonial implications. In this sense, there can be a fairly clear implication that we’re really talking about specific parts of Western Europe and North America. Something close to the “Western” (and western) portion of Wallerstein’s “Core.” There’s a country/nation-state version of geo-political thinking embedded in this usage (IMHO) and the implicit map resembles that of NATO members.
In yet other contexts, my personal use of “Euro-American” contrasts with my use of “post-industrial societies.” I often try to point out that there are differences between the historical/geographical realities of “European Imperialism” and the spread of Industrial Revolution. People often use “Western” for either of these and it might be useful to distingush the two. Not all “post-industrial societies” are located in Europe or North America and some concepts seem to apply most directly to those post-industrial societies which are located on those two continents.
In all of these usage patterns (term use plus context), there is some degree of vagueness as to which societies/regions/”countries” are included/excluded. In discussions of Post-Colonialism, for instance, some people would perceive “Euro-American” to tacitly include (or “not expressly exclude,” which is to me slightly different) some parts of Australasia. In Globalization discussions, “Euro-American” may be limited to the “The Most Powerful Nations in the World” (excluding Asia). In those contexts, G6-1 members (G6 without Japan) seem especially relevant: US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy. This degree of vagueness could be seen as more realistic since it captures real vagueness in most discussions on such topics. Sure, it’s often useful to be more specific as to how much ground a term like this is meant to cover. But given journalistic habits seeping into our conversational styles on geo/socio/political issues, we might as well use broad terms and hope for the best.
As for “racial” undertones, I think they were indirect (if present at all) in most conversations in which someone has used “Euro-American.” Sure, there’s an implicit link between “The West” and “The Whites,” to some people. But, IMHO, the conceptual association between “Euro-Americans” and religious affiliation seems stronger than the “racial” one and much more implicit (“Judeo-Christian Westerners”). Rarely are all “Euro-Americans” labeled “White” or all labeled “Whites” considered Euro-American.
In other words, I really don’t think that, as Rex ventured, “Euro-American is code for White.” At least, not in most academic conversations.
Sure, it might have been used on occasion as a differentiating ethnonym for “people who mainly recognize themselves as descendants of European settlers to the United States of America” (clearly excluding the rest of the Americas, especially “Latin Americans”). But “European-American” seems much more common in those contexts, these days. IMHO, “Afro-American” is quaint in most contexts. It might be political correctness which makes ”-o-American” sound weird as a component of ethnic/”racial” terms.
There you have it. It may sound like a defense of my term use but, really, it’s meant as an explanation.
Still, it’s fun to think about what implications might be with such usage. Especially given the vagaries of interpreting the written word.