Alexander Dolitsky: United we stand, divided we fall with race, ethnicity in America



In the past, many of my students at Alyeska Central School, the former state correspondence school based in Juneau, and my students at the University of Alaska Southeast, asked me three essential sociological questions: (1) How to define ethnicity and race? (2) How do the two concepts differ? and (3) How to define the term “minority?” 

(1) Ethnicity is a social, communal category we use to identify our heritage based on religion, geographic location or culture. It comes from shared values, shared upbringing, cultural norms, and learned behavior. Race is very much like ethnicity in that way; it is based also on shared beliefs and shared experiences. We tend to think of race as biological or genetic, but race is also a social and culturally created phenomenon. 

(2) Ethnicity is usually more difficult to trace because when we look at someone, we can’t immediately categorize them in a certain ethnic group. I had students who thought that because they are not African-American, Latino, or Asian, they have no ethnic identity. It’s wrong; we all do.

Ethnicity allows for more inclusion (it may consist of many biological races), and race for more exclusion (only one biological race). A classic example is Israel, where there are Ethiopian Jews, German Jews, Russian Jews, Polish Jews, and all kind of Jews. The issue there is ethnicity more than it is race. Ethnicity is the glue holding that society together.

The glue that holds us together in the United States is that we all perceive ourselves as Americans, though that may mean different things to different people. There is no longer a need to feel as though everyone has to go into this big stew and become one big mush. Now it’s OK to taste the individual flavors of the potatoes, the carrots, and the peas. But there is a new taste, too. 

(3) Historically, the term ”minority” refers to a people who constitute less than 50% of a broader population and are identified as a racial or ethnic group. Often, they have been the target of unfair treatment and have suffered disadvantages as a result. Thus, most Americans with ethnic ties to Europe would not be considered minorities, except for American Jews, and, for example, someone like myself, a foreign-born political refugee, who has suffered a history of persecution by a former totalitarian regime.

For decades, minority groups and foreign-born American citizens have faced poverty, discrimination, and the prejudices of people who have viewed them as different, less than equal and threatening. Despite the fact that the American nation is a nation of immigrants, and America has been nourished throughout its history by ideals and traditions of different ethnic groups, this treatment often continues to prevail in our everyday life by means of direct and indirect ignorance, prejudices, and stereotypes.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau statistics of 2019, a little under 40% of the total population was either non-white or Hispanic; and minorities and new immigrants comprised about 55% of the labor force and 45% of all elementary and secondary school students in the United States. Actually, these non-white minority groups will comprise a majority of our population in about 25 years.

Taking these demographic data into account, core cultural values, norms of traditional behavior, moral principles and beliefs, and the ethnic landscape of our society are changing rapidly. It is imperative, however, to maintain and protect a cohesiveness, integrity and Judeo-Christian core cultural values of our diverse nation — a required necessity for cultural survival of any complex society. 

Indeed, in the last several decades in our country, neo-Marxist and socialist ideology aims to quietly penetrate our political, educational, social and cultural systems. Eventually, unless it’s opposed and reversed, this radical development will cause a complete breakdown of our core cultural and morals values.

As a prominent American anthropologist Ruth Benedict once stated: “The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” Thus, to apply Benedict’s vision and words to today’s reality in America, prejudiced behavior, radical Marxist ideology and divisive rhetoric of “white privilege” and “critical race” doctrines, with its outgrowth of “Black Lives Matter,” “systemic racism,” “structural racism” and today’s “ANTIFA,” should not have a place in our political, educational and socio-economic systems. Certainly, these so-called progressive narratives should not be used to advance political agendas. 

I have always been fascinated by the phrase “United We Stand” and its subsequent juxtaposition “Divided We Fall.” Or, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

We are dangerously close to toppling our house.

All Americans must stand up and unite for Freedom, Liberty and Truth.

Alexander B. Dolitsky was born and raised in Kiev in the former Soviet Union. He received an M.A. in history from Kiev Pedagogical Institute, Ukraine, in 1976; an M.A. in anthropology and archaeology from Brown University in 1983; and was enroled in the Ph.D. program in Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College from 1983 to 1985, where he was also a lecturer in the Russian Center. In the U.S.S.R., he was a social studies teacher for three years, and an archaeologist for five years for the Ukranian Academy of Sciences. In 1978, he settled in the United States. Dolitsky visited Alaska for the first time in 1981, while conducting field research for graduate school at Brown. He lived first in Sitka in 1985 and then settled in Juneau in 1986. From 1985 to 1987, he was a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist and social scientist. He was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Alaska Southeast from 1985 to 1999; Social Studies Instructor at the Alyeska Central School, Alaska Department of Education from 1988 to 2006; and has been the Director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center (see from 1990 to present. He has conducted about 30 field studies in various areas of the former Soviet Union (including Siberia), Central Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and the United States (including Alaska). Dolitsky has been a lecturer on the World Discoverer, Spirit of Oceanus, andClipper Odyssey vessels in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. He was the Project Manager for the WWII Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Memorial, which was erected in Fairbanks in 2006. He has published extensively in the fields of anthropology, history, archaeology, and ethnography. His more recent publications include Fairy Tales and Myths of the Bering Strait Chukchi, Ancient Tales of Kamchatka; Tales and Legends of the Yupik Eskimos of Siberia; Old Russia in Modern America: Russian Old Believers in Alaska; Allies in Wartime: The Alaska-Siberia Airway During WWII; Spirit of the Siberian Tiger: Folktales of the Russian Far East; Living Wisdom of the Far North: Tales and Legends from Chukotka and Alaska; Pipeline to Russia; The Alaska-Siberia Air Route in WWII; and Old Russia in Modern America: Living Traditions of the Russian Old Believers; Ancient Tales of Chukotka, and Ancient Tales of Kamchatka.

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    • To The Masked Avenger: Don’t give up, yet. We may not succeed, but if we don’t try, we definitely will not succeed.

  1. There is no such thing as race-it cannot be defined. Ethnicity is true, but just a little bit on digging can easily confuse the issue-one of my ancestors was called ‘The Ethiopian.’ Can I identify as African? Another was El Cid. Can I identify as Hispanic? Today we are largely mutts, Americans. Thank you for your insightful essay.

  2. As well represented by the author, the problems are created by and arise from division. Americans are amazingly generous in allowing the expression of divergent views. We are generous that we fail to see the dangers or to challenge those that are only seeking to destroy. Left unchecked, the virulently proto-Marxists trashing the USA today hope to create circumstances that will resemble the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Some will be demonized and then the cleansing will commence. Our adversaries and those with authoritarian impulses will celebrate. The key is to recognize and resist the calls to tribalism.

    • Propaganda techniques like scapegoating and demonizing take on more power, as everyday people look for those to blame for their seemingly irrational suffering. Leaders who flourish during these times are experts at channeling this anger and constructing targets, by pointing fingers and creating villains. In doing so, these leaders make themselves out to be not only champions of the people, but saviors; a depiction that often brings with it a cult following. Robespierre used aristocracy, Stalin used Trotsky, Hitler used Jews, now democrats use white people. Skilled politicians whip up the peoples’ emotions to focus hated onto the targeted subgroup, constantly reinforcing it until the masses have blinders to any compassion, logic or reason. BLM, CRT, TRUMP! they scream from every window and every media (which they control). After the guillotine, after the gulag, after the gas chambers their hatred is still not satiated and they ultimately turn on each other. The hotter hatred burns within, the more it destroys the host. Woe unto us.

      • And…On this date, 28 July, in 1794, the curtain — and the blade — fell on the Terror.
        Maximilien Robespierre, who had breakfasted the previous day as master of France, was guillotined this evening with his chief lieutenants and partisans.
        From Executed Today.

  3. I agree that united we stand, divided we fall. I do not agree that separating groups of people into ideologically determined sects, such as those described as, “…white privilege” and “critical race” doctrines, with its outgrowth of “Black Lives Matter,” “systemic racism,” “structural racism” and today’s “ANTIFA,…” does anything to draw us together to unite.
    Apparently the author’s idea of uniting is adhering to his philosophy of “Freedom, Liberty, and Truth,” but not others. If this is so, I agree that, “We are dangerously close to toppling our house.” Keep in mind that when the house topples, all who are in it get crushed together.
    Perhaps that is his idea of uniting us, mingled in death and destruction, all of us together, finally equal. .

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