- Describe the conditions which minority groups face and live in the United States.
- Explain how government policies have affected the lives of minority groups in the United States.
- Minority groups have prospered in relation to how closely adapt to the mainstream dominant group.
- The civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s allowed significant changes for African Americans and other minorities.
- Certain minority groups have more difficulty gaining acceptance in American society.
- Hispanics in the United States still are far behind non-Hispanics in areas such as education and employment.
- Not all Asian American groups are equally successful.
- Native American problems stem for the most part from the result of a history of changing governmental policies.
- How long does it take to reach the “American Dream”?
- What kinds of conditions do minority groups in the United States experience?
- How have governmental policies affected the lives of minority groups?
- Describe the major challenges faced by Hispanics?
- What lasting consequences did the civil rights movement bring to the United States?
- Why have Asian Americans been referred to as a “model minority”?
- What kinds of problems do other minority groups face?
The American Dilemma
In 1944, Swedish sociologist and economist Gunnar Myrdal examined race relations within the United States. Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, served to crystallize the emerging awareness that racial discrimination and legal segregation could not endure in the U.S. Its moral wake-up call for Americans to live up to the democratic ideals of the “American Creed” became a powerful justification that united the major groups responsible for the civil rights movement.
Myrdal argued that there was a fundamental dilemma within individual Americans, who were torn between the ideals of what he called the American Creed—values of democracy and equal opportunity—and the realities of discrimination and segregation. “The American Negro problem is a problem in the heart of the American. It is there that the interracial tension has its focus. It is there that the decisive struggle goes on…” (An American Dilemma, Introduction). In Myrdal’s view, it was due to this struggle that change would inevitably take place.
The study was also a clarion call for Americans to live up to the ideals of the American Creed or face a deterioration of the values and vision that unites the country and makes it great. “The Negro problem is an integral part of, or a special phase of, the whole complex of problems in the larger American civilization” (An American Dilemma, Introduction). Framing it this way dovetailed well with the ideas later expressed by Martin Luther King, Jr.; it helped black Americans and the white liberals who would join together in the civil rights movement articulate the urgency of addressing what Myrdal called “a century-long lag of public morals” (Southern, Gunnar Myrdal and Black-White Relations, p. 58).
Another key facet of Myrdal’s argument was to set the study in an international context, predicting that, for Americans, having defined World War II as a struggle for liberty and equality and against Nazi racism would force a redefinition and reexamination of race in the United States. Myrdal also thought that the treatment of blacks in the U.S. would affect its international prestige and power.
The book’s argument was supported by extensive sociological research and data that demonstrated the dire state of blacks and the depth of discrimination. This gave the framing, which resonated on a moral level, a heft and persuasiveness that increased its impact. An American Dilemma drew upon thirty-one commissioned research memoranda on every aspect of black life and interracial relations. And Myrdal carried out extensive field research, touring the country and talking with black and white leaders, journalists, school teachers, clergy, academics, labor union members, businessmen, farmers, law enforcement officers and many more.
Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, has been called one of the most influential works of social science of the twentieth century. Never before had so comprehensive and wide-ranging a study of the state of black Americans and interracial relations been carried out.
Throughout America's history, a struggle has existed between the ideals that America holds and the actions that it performs. The early settlers created an image of the dominant group in American society- White Anglo- Saxon and Protestant (WASP). This image of what an American should be is a sharp contrast of the nation's multicultural reality. It has been this WASP image that all other groups have been measured against in the United States.
For those minority groups who have adapted the WASP image, they have been more easily accepted into mainstream America. However, for other groups such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans have found it more difficult to gain acceptance in American society.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, approximately 36.3 percent of the population currently belongs to a racial or ethnic minority group: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
Black or African American
Estimated population in 2005: 34.9 million
First language/s: English
Religion/s: Christianity, Islam
African Americans make up 12.9 percent of the US population, the second-largest minority group (after Latinos), numbering approximately 38.8 million. Once called Negroes and now called ‘black' Americans or (evoking solidarity with other non-white minorities around the world) ‘people of color', they are mainly descendants of slaves brought from Africa between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.
Their history of forced immigration to the United States is unique among US minorities and, compared to slaves elsewhere, African Americans were uniquely de-cultured and dehumanized, their misery treated as ‘natural' and benign. Today, they are an important minority in a nation with a singular degree of world influence. Much of the USA's vitality can be credited to African Americans, but the white-black conflict remains a definitive, often sotto voce reality.
Much of the African American population is urban. According to the US Census of 2000 they make up 81.6 percent of the Detroit population, 67.3 percent of the population in New Orleans, 64.3 percent of the population in Baltimore, and 60 percent of the population in Washington DC. Other cities with large African American populations are Atlanta, St Louis, Newark, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati.
The 2000 US Census found that African American men and women aged 16 and older had similar labor force participation rates (61 and 60%, respectively), and a higher proportion of African American women (30%) than African American men (20%) were in management, professional and related occupations. A higher proportion of African American men (28%) than African American women (10%) were in production, transportation, and material moving jobs. The highest concentrations of employed African American men were in these occupation groups.
Although slavery was instituted mostly for economic reasons, racist beliefs became entrenched as slavery and African Americans became linked in the white colonial mind. During the Revolutionary War, both slaves and free blacks fought for the Colonies, but the subsequent 1787 Constitution included three clauses reinforcing slavery. Blacks were designated as property and counted as ‘three-fifths of a person'. All told, slavery was an important part of the US economy for more than two centuries, despite slave revolts, an elaborate ‘underground railroad' network for escaped slaves, and consistent protest from white and black abolitionists.
Abolition of Slavery
Between 1777 and 1804, each of the northern states responded to changing moralities and urban labor shortages by abolishing slavery. But in the south, slaves were key to the enormous plantation system. The issue became part of the growing North-South antipathy that culminated in the mid-nineteenth-century civil war. Towards the end of the war, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery in most states.
During the ‘Reconstruction' period after the civil war, the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the US Constitution finally guaranteed African Americans the rights of freedom and full citizenship, including the vote. Soon, African Americans were elected to Congress, were admitted to schools, and began to integrate and even intermarry with whites. The first Civil Rights Act passed in 1875, guaranteed access to public facilities and accommodation without regard to race, color, or previous servitude.
The optimism of the time did not last long. White bigots in many states bent the rules to restrict voting rights and enforced segregation through fear and intimidation. From 1883 to 1952, ‘lynchings' (mob executions) of African Americans were reported every year, often with tacit official approval. This period also saw the advent of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, many of which persist to this day. At the same time, state and federal courts were forging the ‘Jim Crow' system (named after an archetypal figure in the African American minstrel tradition), an apartheid doctrine in which blacks and whites were described as ‘separate-but-equal'. In 1883, the Civil Rights Act was deemed unconstitutional, and in 1896 the Supreme Court upheld the separate-but-equal rule in Plessey v. Ferguson.
Riots and protests did little to stem the tide, and the African American condition did not improve visibly in the first half of the twentieth century. However, many African American musicians, artists, and poets came to prominence in the ‘Harlem Renaissance' of the 1930s, and black athletes began to break color bars in the Olympics and professional team sports. The African American community was developing autonomous institutions like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP, in 1901), the National Urban League (1911), and Caribbean-born Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association, which promoted black self-determination and the idea that blacks should go ‘back to Africa', culturally or even physically (1920s). African American colleges and universities became popular. The Supreme Court slowly eroded the bases of Jim Crow, deciding one by one against state laws that segregated interstate bus travel, housing, and neighborhoods, or withheld voting rights.
The watershed Supreme Court ruling for African American civil rights came in 1954. Brown v. Topeka Board of Education held that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional and that ‘separate' was inherently unequal. The main legal plank of Jim Crow was demolished.
Energized by Brown and led by coalitions of black organizations with the inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the Civil Rights Movement used non-violent resistance to shatter segregation in the early 1960s. Civil rights activists held sit-ins in segregated establishments, boycotted segregated buses, and held ‘Freedom Rides' into segregated areas. Voter registration drives all over the South helped ensure that black voters would be represented. In 1963, 250,000 Americans - blacks, whites, and others, including major religious leaders - participated in the March on Washington for civil rights. Dr. King, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was assassinated by a white man in 1968. In 1986 a public holiday was instituted to commemorate his life, the first time a black American has been thus honored. Support from Jewish organizations, church and labor groups, students, and others gave the civil rights movement an inter-racial character, which made it much more effective. Still, some whites fought back. Lynchings were the most dramatic form of retaliation. Riots broke out in many urban centres, and police brutality against protestors was widespread. Many African Americans, especially youth, thought the non-violent style championed by King an inadequate response.
However, in the early 1960s the shift towards equal rights gained support in the upper levels of government. The Voting Rights Act broke down entrenched and Byzantine regulations that prevented blacks from exercising their franchise. Blacks began to make gains in Congress and the Senate, and even bigger gains in regional and municipal politics. Affirmative-action measures helped establish a sizeable African American middle class for the first time.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, white and black children were ‘bussed' to schools outside their immediate neighborhoods to promote school desegregation. Resentment and resistance to change came to focus on this issue. There were heated protests, and many white children were removed from the public system. During the 1970s and 1980s, ‘white flight' from many more-integrated cities to all-white suburbs left blacks and other minorities isolated in inner-city ghettos, whose tax bases and government infrastructure funding gradually declined. This was just one of the factors that the Civil Rights Movement could not anticipate, which would set back many of the victories of the 1960's.
Education and Progress
In higher education, the 1960s saw African Americans gain greater access to colleges and universities, and to courses and programs on black American and African cultures. The ‘Afrocentric' history and cultural movement of the 1980s promoted new enthusiasm for scholarship within the black community, focusing on black people's contributions to US and world history and civilization. A group of ‘new black intellectuals' also emerged in publishing and the media as spokespeople for African American thought and scholarship.
The three decades after the advent of the Civil Rights Movement saw more progress by African Americans than the whole of the previous century. However, the living conditions of poorer African Americans - more than 40 percent of the black population - declined further. The writer Andrew Hacker described the situation as tantamount to once again having two nations in the United States, ‘black and white, separate, hostile, unequal' (a reference to Gunnar Myrdal's watershed 1940s race study).
Despite the surge in voter registration brought about by the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, black participation is still low. African Americans remain massively under-represented in office and in 2007 held only one seat in the US Senate and 42 in the House of Representatives (of which all are Democrats). Some critics say blacks are now effectively unrepresented because Democrats know they can count on black votes whether or not they advocate African American interests. However, individual African Americans have made gains on the national scene. In 1991, Republican President George Bush appointed the neo-conservative African American Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were close allies in his 2001 and 2004 cabinets with Rice eventually replacing Powell as Secretary of State.
On November 5, 2008, Barack Hussein Obama (47) a first-generation African American (partly of Kenyan heritage) who was virtually an unknown first-term Democratic senator in 2004, defeated his Republican Party rival John Mc Cain to be elected the first black president in the history of the United States.
The victory which came after an arduous round of 56 primaries and caucuses and relentless coast to coast campaigning was a test of political skill as well as endurance and exposed the deep racial and gender divisions that continue to exist within the party as well as the country.
Given the racial history of the United States, a significant number of African American voters were skeptical of his chances initially and did not immediately embrace the Obama candidacy, However, after a string of victories during the run-up primary elections in states with substantial majority-white voters, there was a reassessment of opinion. This eventually led to 96 percent of African American voters casting their ballot for Obama versus three percent for McCain. Moreover, the nationwide black vote rose by 2.88 million, to 16.3 million ( 13 percent) with many African Americans becoming interested enough to register and vote for the first time in the November 2008 presidential election.
Turning to socio-economic indicators and issues, the statistics on black education are not promising. The 2000 US Census found that 27.7 percent of African Americans had less than high school education, and only 14 percent had an undergraduate or higher degree, compared with 19.6 and 24 percent, respectively, of the total US population. One out of every three black children entering high school drops out, a rate twice as high as for white children. Although illiteracy among African Americans has consistently declined, at 1.6 percent it is still four times higher than the white rate.
Economically, there is still a large gap between African Americans and whites. In 1999, the median earnings for both African American men and women were lower than those of the total US population, and much lower than those of their white counterparts, though the gender gap in earnings was smaller between African Americans than between men and women of the general US population. The median earnings of African American men were $30,886, compared with $39,020 for all men and $42,224 for white men. African American women's median earnings were $25,736, compared with $28,820 for all women and $30,777 for white women. African American Oprah Winfrey bucks this trend, however; in 2007 she was declared the world's richest female entertainer and is the world's first black billionaire.
Approximately one-quarter (24.7 percent) of the black American population lives below the poverty level, compared to less than a tenth (8.6 percent) of whites. The number of African American females in poverty in 1999 was almost twice that of the total female population: 27 percent compared with 14 percent. The teenage motherhood rate among young African American women is extremely high, with up to 64 percent of black children being born to single mothers. The black poverty rate is highest among single women with children. In 2003, there were an estimated 3.1 million black single mothers, 38 percent of whom raised families below the poverty line.
The unemployment rate for African Americans has consistently been at least twice that of whites since the Second World War. In 1999, 39.8 percent of blacks were unemployed. Young black men, especially teenagers, encounter an even worse situation: in 2003, only one in five (20 percent) of young black men aged 16-19 worked, compared to 40 percent of their white counterparts.
The median income of black households in 2004 was $30,134 and the per capita income as low as $16,035, compared to a median income of $48,977 in white households and a per capita income of $27,414.
African Americans have higher rates of drug abuse than the general population, although as individuals they are more likely to abstain altogether than whites. They are also at high risk for mental illness, heart disease, cancer, AIDS, and other major diseases, due to a cluster of factors, including the level of education, poverty, stress, poor health care, pollution, and family instability.
In 2000, African Americans made up 12.3 percent of the total US population, and 43.7 percent of its prison population. Newborn black males have a 1 in 4 chance of being incarcerated in their lifetime. Newborn white males, in contrast, have a lifetime chance of 1 in 23 of being incarcerated. Twelve percent of African American males aged 20 to 29 years old, compared to 1.7 percent of their white counterparts, were in prison or jail in 2005. In the most serious crime, homicide, 52.1 percent of the perpetrators identified in 2004 were black, and ‘black-on-black’ violence is a serious concern, with 94 percent of black homicide victims having been killed by blacks. Black crime rates, higher still than the already unusually high crime rate in the United States, have been exacerbated by teenage gang activity and drug-dealing in inner cities.
The practice of racial profiling by the police is widespread. There is ample evidence that black motorists are disproportionately stopped by the police for minor motoring offenses because they are assumed to be engaging in more serious criminal activity. This practice, dubbed ‘Driving While Black’, is widespread.
In 2001, the life expectancy for African American males was 68.6 years and for females 75.5 years, compared to 75 and 80.2, respectively, for their white counterparts. Infant mortality is more than twice as high for African American infants than it is for white, 13.9 and 5.8 deaths, respectively, per 1,000 live-births. The general health care for African Americans is disproportionately poor, a fact recognized in the Disadvantaged Minority Health Improvement Act of 1990.
Hispanic American or Latino
Estimated population in 2005: 41.9 million
First language/s: Spanish
Latinos are the fastest-growing minority group in the USA, have increased more than 60 percent since 1990. Between 2004 and 2005 alone, the Latino population increased by 3.3 percent, making 14.5 percent of the total US population. These figures exclude people in institutions, including prisons and jails, and probably under-count undocumented immigrants. The Census Bureau projects that, by 2050, almost one out of every four Americans (24 percent) will be Latino.
In 2000, about 59.3 percent of Latinos were Mexican Americans, 9.7 percent were Puerto-Ricans, 3.5 percent were Cubans, 5.1 percent were from Central America (mainly El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), 4 percent from South America (mainly Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), and 18.3 percent from other places. Each of these groups favors nationally specific names over any general term, but ‘Latino' has emerged as the most popular alternative to ‘Hispanics', which is still favored by government agencies and is used interchangeably with ‘Latinos'. The Latino groups that have grown most since 2000 were Salvadorans (increased by 39%), followed by Guatemalans (22%) and Hondurans (13%).
Latinos have lived in what is now the south-western USA for centuries but there are now large groups in every urban centre. Since the 1990s, growing numbers of Latinos have also settled in south and south-east USA. Between 1990 and 2000, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama and Mississippi, have experienced the biggest increase in the Latino population, estimated at 393.9 percent, 299.6 percent, 207.9 percent, and 148.4 percent, respectively.
In 2000, 69 percent of Latino men worked, mainly in production and transportation (26%), construction and maintenance (22%) and services (19%). Fifty-three percent of Latinas (Latino women) were also in the workforce, mainly in sales and office occupations (34.8%) and services (25.6%).
A majority of Latinos are bilingual Spanish-speakers, and 75 percent mostly speak Spanish at home. Two-thirds are Roman Catholic by upbringing, though a growing number (around 29 percent) are Protestants.
Political and Socio-Economic Indicators and Issues
Numbers, visibility, and Chicano consciousness brought Latinos into the spotlight in the late 1970s. Yet during the 1980s many prominent Latinos (including city mayors and two state governors) slipped from prominence due to scandal and opposition. Latino electoral participation has remained low and Latino interests have been represented by a select few political figures nationally, but there is some indication that campaigns to increase Latino political participation have had some success. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) estimates that in the 2004 elections, over 7.5 million Latinos voted. This number represents a substantial increase of 27 percent from the 2000 elections (5.9 million) but is still low relative to their number. Similarly, although the number of Latino appointed and elected officials has also increased to include, in 2005, 25 members of Congress, 232 state legislators, and eight state officials, overall the number of Latino officials remain very low.
The Latino population is on average 9 years younger than the general US population, and the average household is larger. Latinos have very low rates of education (only 52.4% graduate from high school and as few as 10.4 percent have an undergraduate degree, according to 2000 figures). Health services to Latino communities are ranked the poorest in the USA. Workplaces and communities of low-waged Latinos tend to have more hazardous environmental and safety conditions than the average. Latinos are now 90 percent urban (compared with 75% of all Americans) and are often lumped in with African Americans as part of the urban ‘underclass'; on most measures, they register somewhere between whites and blacks in socio-economic status. However, the extended family and social networks of the barrios, while they may hinder social mobility, have kept Latino neighborhoods from eroding to the same level of anomie and illegality found in African American ghettos.
In 2000, the median earnings of Latino men ($25,400) and women ($21,634) were substantially lower than those of men and women in the general US population ($37,057 and $27,194, respectively). Although there was a smaller gender gap in earnings in the Latino community than in the workforce overall, there were wide gaps in earnings within it, with Cuban American men ($31,527) and women ($26,254) being the highest earners, and Central American men and women earning as little as $22,423 and $18,588, respectively. In contrast, the average family earnings of Central Americans were the highest among the different Latino groupings ($42,824) and substantially higher than the average earnings of Latino families as a whole ($34,397).
Anti-immigrant sentiments, the shift from manufacturing to service jobs, and urban decay have undermined Latino economic and social stability. In 2004, 21.9 percent of American Latinos lived below the poverty line, compared to 8.6 percent of whites. Within the various Latino groups, Dominicans were the poorest, with 27.5 percent of the community living below the poverty line, compared to 14.6 percent of Cubans and 15 percent of South Americans (1999 figures).
Latinos continue to suffer high levels of poverty, ill-health, discrimination, arrest, and incarceration. Furthermore, Latinos have the highest high school drop out rate of any minority group in the United States. One in five Latinos lives below the poverty line, and one in three has no health insurance coverage. More than twice as many young Latino men are in prison or jail compared to young white men. The Immigration Reform and Control Act and other immigration policies and laws continue to marginalize and criminalize immigrants and produce hiring discrimination against all Latinos by employers who fear immigration service raids. Arizona, for example, has passed Proposition 200, a ballot initiative denying basic public services to undocumented immigrants. The USA-Mexico border continues to claim lives, with an estimated 124 deaths occurring along the Arizona border in 2005 alone.
A study released in May 2008 by the USA Center for disease control revealed that Hispanics (Latinos) who make up about 14 percent of the US working-age population die at higher rates than other laborers, with 1 in 3 of the deaths occurring in the construction industry.
In 2006 the annual death for Hispanic workers was 5 per 100,000 compared to 4 for non-Hispanic white workers and 3.7 for African Americans.
This is partly because Hispanics tend to hold more high-risk jobs than those in other ethnic groups. Additionally, many who work in the construction industry are recently arrived undocumented immigrants who besides facing language and literacy barriers also have poor job training, all of which hinder the understanding of safety precautions and the risks associated with certain tasks.
The most recent analysis (2003-06) found that 2 of every 3 Hispanic workers who died on the job were foreign-born and about 70 percent of the foreign-born fatalities were migrants from Mexico.
The highest number of Hispanic deaths were in the states that tend towards high concentrations of undocumented migrant workers, such as California, Texas, and Florida.
For Latinos, addressing and dealing with educational, language, and occupational needs is crucial to them achieving the American dream. www.minorityrights.org/2612/united-states-of-america/latinos.html
Mexican Americans, especially those who are here illegally, are at the center of a national debate about immigration. Myers (2007) observes that no other minority group (except the Chinese) has immigrated to the United States in such an environment of illegality. He notes that in some years, three times as many Mexican immigrants may have entered the United States illegally as those who arrived legally. It should be noted that this is due to the enormous disparity of economic opportunity on two sides of an open border, not because of any inherent inclination to break laws. In his report, “Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in the United States,” Jacob Vigdor (2008) states that Mexican immigrants experience relatively low rates of economic and civil assimilation. He further suggests that “the slow rates of economic and civic assimilation set Mexicans apart from other immigrants, and may reflect the fact that the large numbers of Mexican immigrants residing in the United States illegally have few opportunities to advance themselves along these dimensions.”
By contrast, Cuban Americans are often seen as a model minority group within the larger Hispanic group. Many Cubans had higher socioeconomic status when they arrived in this country, and their anti-Communist agenda has made them welcome refugees to this country. In south Florida, especially, Cuban Americans are active in local politics and professional life. As with Asian Americans, however, being a model minority can mask the issue of powerlessness that these minority groups face in U.S. society.
Arizona's Senate Bill 1070
As both legal and illegal immigrants, and with high population numbers, Mexican Americans are often the target of stereotyping, racism, and discrimination. A harsh example of this is in Arizona, where a new stringent immigration law—known as SB 1070 (for Senate Bill 1070)—has caused a nationwide controversy. The law requires that during a lawful stop, detention, or arrest, Arizona police officers must establish the immigration status of anyone they suspect may be here illegally. The law makes it a crime for individuals to fail to have documents confirming their legal status, and it gives police officers the right to detain people they suspect may be in the country illegally.
To many, the most troublesome aspect of this law is the latitude it affords police officers in terms of whose citizenship they may question. Having “reasonable suspicion that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States” is reason enough to demand immigration papers (Senate Bill 1070 2010). Critics say this law will encourage racial profiling (the illegal practice of law enforcement using race as a basis for suspecting someone of a crime), making it hazardous to be caught “Driving While Brown,” a takeoff on the legal term Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or the slang reference of “Driving While Black.” Driving While Brown refers to the likelihood of getting pulled over just for being nonwhite.
SB 1070 has been the subject of many lawsuits, from parties as diverse as Arizona police officers, the American Civil Liberties Union, and even the federal government, which is suing on the basis of Arizona contradicting federal immigration laws (ACLU 2011). The future of SB 1070 is uncertain, but many other states have tried or are trying to pass similar measures. Do you think such measures are appropriate?
Estimated population in 2005: 14.37 million
Ethnicity: Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Cambodian, Bangladeshi, Thai, Pakistani, Hmong.
First language/s: Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, other Asian languages, English
Religion/s: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism
Asian Americans represent a great diversity of cultures and backgrounds. The experience of a Japanese American whose family has been in the United States for three generations will be drastically different from a Laotian American who has only been in the U.S. for a few years. Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese immigrants have differences between their experiences in America.
‘Asian Pacific American' or ‘Asian American' are pan-ethnic terms designating the many communities of Asian immigrants and their descendants in the USA. These terms have arisen in response to the common discrimination and immigrant experiences the different communities share, although specific group designations, such as ‘Korean American', are also used. Asian Pacific Americans are the second fastest-growing group in the USA, having increased in number from 877,934 in 1960 to 7 million in 1990 and over 12 million in the 2000 Census count.
Between 2004 and 2005 alone, the estimated number of Asian Americans has increased by 3 per cent, up from 13,956,004 to 14,376,658. This increase was due to immigration (182,126 people) and natural increase (226,286 people). Of the Asian American population in 2004, the largest ethnic group was the Chinese, numbering 2.8 million (23.4%), followed by Asian Indians, numbering 2.2 million (18.6%), 2.1 million Filipinos (17.8%), 1.3 million Vietnamese (10.5%), 1.2 million Koreans (10.3%) and 832,039 (6.9%) Japanese.
Factors for Immigration
The national and ethnic diversity of Asian American immigration history is reflected in the variety of their experiences in joining American society. Asian immigrants have come to the United States in waves, at different times, and for different reasons.
The first Asian immigrants to come to the United States in the mid-19th century were Chinese. These immigrants were primarily men whose intention was to work for several years in order to earn incomes to support their families in China. Their main destination was the American West, where the Gold Rush was drawing people with its lure of abundant money. The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad was underway at this time, and the Central Pacific section hired thousands of migrant Chinese men to complete the laying of rails across the rugged Sierra Nevada mountain range. Chinese men also engaged in other manual labor like mining and agricultural work. The work was grueling and underpaid, but like many immigrants, they persevered.
Japanese immigration began in the 1880s, on the heels of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Many Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii to participate in the sugar industry; others came to the mainland, especially to California. Unlike the Chinese, however, the Japanese had a strong government that negotiated with the United States government to ensure the well-being of their immigrants. Japanese men were able to bring their wives and families to the United States, and were thus able to produce second- and third-generation Japanese Americans more quickly than their Chinese counterparts.
The most recent large-scale Asian immigration came from Korea and Vietnam and largely took place during the second half of the 20th century. While Korean immigration has been fairly gradual, Vietnamese immigration occurred primarily post-1975, after the fall of Saigon and the establishment of restrictive communist policies in Vietnam. Whereas many Asian immigrants came to the United States to seek better economic opportunities, Vietnamese immigrants came as political refugees, seeking asylum from harsh conditions in their homeland. The Refugee Act of 1980 helped them to find a place to settle in the United States.
History of Intergroup Relations
Chinese immigration came to an abrupt end with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This act was a result of anti-Chinese sentiment burgeoned by a depressed economy and loss of jobs. White workers blamed Chinese migrants for taking jobs, and the passage of the Act meant the number of Chinese workers decreased. Chinese men did not have the funds to return to China or to bring their families to America, so they remained physically and culturally segregated in the Chinatowns of large cities. Later legislation, the Immigration Act of 1924, further curtailed Chinese immigration. The Act included the race-based National Origins Act, which was aimed at keeping American ethnic stock as undiluted as possible by reducing “undesirable” immigrants. It was not until after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that Chinese immigration again increased and many Chinese families were reunited.
Although Japanese Americans have deep, long-reaching roots in the U.S., their history here has not always been smooth. The California Alien Land Law of 1913 was aimed at them and other Asian immigrants, and it prohibited aliens from owning land. An even uglier action was the Japanese internment camps of World War II, discussed earlier as an illustration of expulsion.
Asian Americans certainly have been subject to their share of racial prejudice, despite the seemingly positive stereotype as the model minority. The model minority stereotype is applied to a minority group that is seen as reaching significant educational, professional, and socioeconomic levels without challenging the existing establishment.
This stereotype is typically applied to Asian groups in the United States, and it can result in unrealistic expectations, putting a stigma on members of this group that do not meet the expectations. Stereotyping all Asians as smart and capable can also lead to a lack of much-needed government assistance and to educational and professional discrimination.
Estimated population in 2000: 1.77 million
First language/s: English, Navajo, Pueblo, Apache, other native languages
Religion/s: Christianity, native religions
Native Americans, the indigenous people of what is now the mainland USA, are not a homogeneous group but members of hundreds of nations with different linguistic, social, cultural, and economic traits.
In the 2000 US Census, 1.77 million people reported being of Native American origin. An additional 1.1 million people reported Native American origin together with another race. Native Americans live throughout the USA, especially in the rural west, and most often speak English or their own traditional language. The majority were converted to Christianity in early colonial times, but some have always maintained traditional religious practices and traditional spirituality has experienced a revival in recent decades.
Native Americans are also commonly called American Indians (a misnomer of historic proportions but a prevalent one), or by specific national designations such as Mohawk, Creek, Chippewa, and Hopi. Recognized nations (‘tribes' in official parlance) live on reserved lands of varying sizes and populations. In 2000, the largest tribes were Cherokee (729,533), Navajo (298,197), Choctaw (158,774), Sioux (153,360), Chippewa (149,669), Apache (96,833), Blackfeet (85,750), Iroquois (80,822) and Pueblo (74,085). Around 33.5 percent of Native Americans live in reservations and trust lands. They are represented in all sectors, but around a quarter work in sales and office occupations, and over a fifth are service providers.
How and Why They Came
The earliest immigrants to America arrived millennia before European immigrants. Dates of the migration are debated with estimates ranging from between 45,000 and 12,000 BCE. It is thought that early Indians migrated to this new land in search of big game to hunt, which they found in huge herds of grazing herbivores in the Americas. Over the centuries and then the millennia, Native American culture blossomed into an intricate web of hundreds of interconnected tribes, each with its own customs, traditions, languages, and religions.
History of Intergroup Relations
Native American culture prior to European settlement is referred to as Pre-Columbian: that is, prior to the coming of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Mistakenly believing that he had landed in the East Indies, Columbus named the indigenous people “Indians:” a name that has persisted for centuries despite it being a geographical misnomer used to homogenously label over 500 distinct people groups who have their own languages and traditions.
The history of intergroup relations between European colonists and Native Americans is a brutal one that most Americans are familiar with. As discussed in the section on genocide, the effect of the European settlement of the Americans was to nearly destroy the indigenous population. And although Native Americans’ lack of immunity to European diseases caused the most deaths, the overt mistreatment of Native Americans by Europeans was equally devastating.
From the first Spanish colonists to the French, English, and Dutch who followed, European settlers took what land they wanted, expanding across the continent at will. If indigenous people tried to retain their stewardship of the land, Europeans fought them off with superior weapons. A key element of this issue is the indigenous view of land and land ownership. Most tribes considered the earth a living entity whose resources they were stewards of, the concepts of land ownership and conquest didn’t exist in Native American society. Europeans’ domination of the Americas was indeed a conquest; one scholar points out that Native Americans are the only minority group in the United States whose subordination occurred purely through conquest by the dominant group (Marger 1993).
After the establishment of the United States government, discrimination against Native Americans was codified and formalized in a series of laws intended to subjugate them and keep them from gaining any power. Some of the most impactful laws are as follows:
- The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced the relocation of any native tribes east of the Mississippi River to lands west of the river.
- The Indian Appropriation Acts funded further removals and declared that no Indian tribe could be recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with which the American government would have to make treaties. This made it even easier for the U.S. government to take land it wanted.
- The Dawes Act of 1887 reversed the policy of isolating Native Americans on reservations, instead of forcing them onto individual properties that were intermingled with white settlers, thereby reducing their capacity for power as a group.
Native American culture was further eroded by the establishment of Indian boarding schools in the late 19th century. These schools, run by both Christian missionaries and the United States government, had the express purpose of “civilizing” Native American children and assimilating them into white society. The boarding schools were located off-reservation to ensure that children were separated from their families and culture. Schools forced children to cut their hair, speak English, and practice Christianity. Physical and sexual abuses were rampant for decades; only in 1987 did the Bureau of Indian Affairs issue a policy on sexual abuse in boarding schools. Some scholars argue that many of the problems that Native Americans face today result from almost a century of mistreatment at these boarding schools.
The eradication of Native American culture continued until the 1960s, when Native Americans were able to participate in and benefit from the civil rights movement. The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 guaranteed Indian tribes most of the rights of the United States Bill of Rights. New laws like the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 and the Education Assistance Act of the same year recognized tribal governments and gave them more power. Indian boarding schools have dwindled to only a few, and Native American cultural groups are striving to preserve and maintain old traditions to keep them from being lost forever.
However, Native Americans (some of whom now wished to be called American Indians so as to avoid the “savage” connotations of the term “native”) still suffer the effects of centuries of degradation. Long-term poverty, inadequate education, cultural dislocation, and high rates of unemployment contribute to Native American populations falling to the bottom of the economic spectrum. Native Americans also suffer disproportionately with lower life expectancies than most groups in the United States.
Sports Teams with Native American Names
The sports world abounds with team names like the Indians, the Warriors, the Braves, and even the Savages and Redskins. These names arise from historically prejudiced views of Native Americans as fierce, brave, and strong savages: attributes that would be beneficial to a sports team, but are not necessarily beneficial to Americans who should be seen as more than just fierce savages.
Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has been campaigning against the use of such mascots, asserting that the “warrior savage myth . . . reinforces the racist view that Indians are uncivilized and uneducated and it has been used to justify policies of forced assimilation and destruction of Indian culture” (NCAI Resolution #TUL-05-087 2005). The campaign has met with only limited success. While some teams have changed their names, hundreds of professional, college and K–12 school teams still have names derived from this stereotype. Another group, American Indian Cultural Support (AICS), is especially concerned with such names at K-12 schools, grades where children should be gaining a fuller and more realistic understanding of Native Americans than such stereotypes supply.
What do you think about such names? Should they be allowed or banned? What argument would a symbolic interactionist make on this topic?
White Ethnic Americans
As we have seen, there is no minority group that fits easily in a category or that can be described simply. While sociologists believe that individual experiences can often be understood in light of their social characteristics (such as race, class, or gender), we must balance this perspective with awareness that no two individuals’ experiences are alike. Making generalizations can lead to stereotypes and prejudice. The same is true for white ethnic Americans, who come from diverse backgrounds and have had a great variety of experiences. In this section, we will focus on German, Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants.
Reasons for Immigration
White ethnic Europeans formed the second and third great waves of immigration, from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century. They joined a newly minted United States that was primarily made up of white Protestants from England. While most immigrants came searching for a better life, their experiences were not all the same.
The first major influx of European immigrants came from Germany and Ireland, starting in the 1820s. Germans came both for economic opportunity and to escape political unrest and military conscription, especially after the Revolutions of 1848. Many German immigrants of this period were political refugees: liberals who wanted to escape from an oppressive government. They were well-off enough to make their way inland, and they formed heavily German enclaves in the Midwest that exist to this day.
The Irish immigrants of the same time period were not always as well off financially, especially after the Irish Potato Famine of 1845. Irish immigrants settled mainly in the cities of the East Coast, where they were employed as laborers and where they faced significant discrimination.
German and Irish immigration continued into the late 19th century and earlier 20th century, at which point the numbers for Southern and Eastern European immigrants started growing as well. Italians, mainly from the Southern part of the country, began arriving in large numbers in the 1890s. Eastern European immigrants—people from Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, and Austria-Hungary—started arriving around the same time. Many of these Eastern Europeans were peasants forced into a hard scrabble existence in their native lands; political unrest, land shortages, and crop failures drove them to seek better opportunities in the United States. The Eastern European immigration wave also included Jewish people escaping pogroms (anti-Jewish uprisings) of Eastern Europe and the Pale of Settlement in what was then Poland and Russia.
History of Intergroup Relations
In a broad sense, German immigrants were not victimized to the same degree as many of the other subordinate groups this section discusses. While they may not have been welcomed with open arms, they were able to settle in enclaves and establish roots. A notable exception to this was during the lead up to World War I and through World War II, when anti-German sentiment was virulent.
Irish immigrants, many of whom were very poor, were more of an underclass than the Germans. In Ireland, the English had oppressed the Irish for centuries, eradicating their language and culture and discriminating against their religion (Catholicism). Although the Irish had a larger population than the English, they were a subordinate group. This dynamic reached into the new world, where Anglo Americans saw Irish immigrants as a race apart: dirty, lacking ambition, and suitable for only the most menial jobs. In fact, Irish immigrants were subject to criticism identical to that with which the dominant group characterized African Americans. By necessity, Irish immigrants formed tight communities segregated from their Anglo neighbors.
The later wave of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe was also subject to intense discrimination and prejudice. In particular, the dominant group—which now included second- and third-generation Germans and Irish—saw Italian immigrants as the dregs of Europe and worried about the purity of the American race (Myers 2007). Italian immigrants lived in segregated slums in Northeastern cities, and in some cases were even victims of violence and lynchings similar to what African Americans endured. They worked harder and were paid less than other workers, often doing the dangerous work that other laborers were reluctant to take on.
The U.S. Census from 2008 shows that 16.5 percent of respondents reported being of German descent: the largest group in the country. For many years, German Americans endeavored to maintain a strong cultural identity, but they are now culturally assimilated into the dominant culture.
There are now more Irish Americans in the United States than there are Irish in Ireland. One of the country’s largest cultural groups, Irish Americans have slowly achieved acceptance and assimilation into the dominant group.
Myers (2007) states that Italian Americans’ cultural assimilation is “almost complete, but with remnants of ethnicity.” The presence of “Little Italy” neighborhoods—originally segregated slums where Italians congregated in the 19th century—exist today. While tourists flock to the saints’ festivals in Little Italies, most Italian Americans have moved to the suburbs at the same rate as other white groups.
If ever a category was hard to define, the various groups lumped under the name “Arab American” is it. After all, Hispanic Americans or Asian Americans are so designated because of their counties of origin. But for Arab Americans, their country of origin—Arabia—has not existed for centuries. In addition, Arab Americans represent all religious practices, despite there being a stereotype of them as Islamic. As Myers (2007) asserts, not all Arabs are Muslim, and not all Muslims are Arab, complicating the stereotype of what it means to be an Arab American. Geographically, the Arab region comprises the Middle East and parts of northern Africa. People whose ancestry lies in that area or who speak primarily Arabic may consider themselves Arabs.
The U.S. Census has struggled with the issue of Arab identity. The 2010 Census, as in previous years, did not offer an “Arab” box to check under the question of race. Individuals who want to be counted as Arabs had to check the box for “Some other race” and then write in their race. However, when the Census data is tallied, they will be marked as white. This is problematic, however, denying Arab Americans opportunities for federal assistance.
Reasons for Immigration
The first Arab immigrants came to this country in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were predominantly Syrian, Lebanese, and Jordanian Christians and they came to escape persecution and to make a better life. These early immigrants and their descendants, who were more likely to think of themselves as Syrian or Lebanese than Arab, represent almost half of the Arab American population today (Myers 2007). Restrictive immigration policies from the 1920s until 1965 curtailed all immigration, but Arab immigration since 1965 has been steady. Immigrants from this time period have been more likely to be Muslim and more highly educated, escaping political unrest and looking for better opportunities.
History of Intergroup Relations
Relations between Arab Americans and the dominant majority have been marked by mistrust, misinformation, and deeply entrenched beliefs. Helen Samhan of the Arab American Institute suggests that Arab-Israeli conflicts in the 1970s contributed significantly to cultural and political anti-Arab sentiment in the United States (2001). The United States has historically supported the State of Israel, while some Middle Eastern countries deny the existence of the Israeli state. Disputes over these issues have involved Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine.
As is often the case with stereotyping and prejudice, the actions of extremists come to define the entire group, regardless of the fact that most U.S. citizens with ties to the Middle Eastern community condemn terrorist actions, as do most inhabitants of the Middle East. Would it be fair to judge all Catholics by the events of the Inquisition? Of course, the United States was deeply affected by the events of September 11, 2001. This event has left a deep scar on the American psyche, and it has fortified anti-Arab sentiment for a large percentage of Americans. In the first month after 9/11, hundreds of hate crimes were perpetrated against people who looked like they might be of Arab descent.
Although the rate of hate crimes against Arab Americans has slowed, Arab Americans are still victims of racism and prejudice. Racial profiling has proceeded against Arab Americans as a matter of course since 9/11. Particularly when engaged in air travel, being young and Arab-looking is enough to warrant a special search or detainment. This Islamophobia (irrational fear of or hatred against Muslims) does not show signs of abating. Scholars noted that white domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, who detonated a bomb at an Oklahoma courthouse in 1995, have not inspired similar racial profiling or hate crimes against whites.