May 14, 2020 in Sociology

Race and Ethnicity

The United States of America is a motherland for representatives of all races, ethnic groups, and peoples of the world, who has arrived there since the seventeenth century. Being one of the first modern republics, the United States became the so-called melting pot of all nations and ethnic groups, from which a new nation, the Americans, emerged. Nowadays, it is the most powerful country in the Globe with the civic society and democratic political system. The United States is a pattern for the whole world for how various ethnic groups, races, religions, and cultures can peacefully exist and develop within one country. As a matter of fact, the American experience of the creation of democracy in the society became a political strategy for Globalization of the world’s political and economic systems. The notion of the race changed its meaning to ethnicity, and the American nation forms the American race.

Such a notion as the race has changed its meaning during the constant development of the American society according to the political and social situation in Europe, Great Britain, and its colonies in the Western Hemisphere. By the seventeenth century, Europe has become the most politically and economically developed part of the world. Therefore, Europeans started to gain colonies all over the world in Asia, Africa, Australia, and America. The United Kingdom played a crucial role in spreading European culture, economy, Christian religion, and policy in its overseas colonies. Of course, peoples of the rest of continents could not resist to the European expansion and had to submit to them. Thus Europeans discovered four major races: Caucasian, Mongoloid, Ethiopian and Amerindian, which distinguished each other and possessed the certain biological peculiarities or phenotypes. Of course, the term of race united representatives of the most of the nations, living on the continent, for instance, by the skin color. This phenotype emerged in the result of the natural evolution of human beings under the influence of geographical situation of a continent and its climatic conditions. It became a ground for the emergence of the essentialist approach to the racial problem.


Each nation or ethnic group had its own traditions, religion, language, and culture. They were different and could not understand each other. Thus, in the article “Ethnicity” in Keywords for American Studies, Dr. Henry Yu claims that the term of ethnicity was invented in the last century for the determination of “a process by which individuals or groups came to be understood, or to understand themselves, as separate or different from others”. As he states, human beings belong to the same ethnicity if they have the same language, traditions, religion, customs and “other patterns of behavior – that define the content of a group’s culture”. Within a continent, all ethnicities formed a race according to their common phenotypes and morphologic attributes: Caucasian, Mongoloid, Ethiopian, and Amerindian. In the case of the United States, the American nation had started its existence since the American Revolution broke out when European colonists wanted to gain more freedom for their economic, political, and social activities. Therefore, the major driving force of the Revolution was European colonists, who created the Constitution guaranteed the protection of their rights and freedoms as the citizens of the United States, who were equal before laws and God. Of course, representatives of Ethiopian, Mongoloid, and Amerindian races were unable to gain the American citizenship and it became the crucial condition for the emergence of the racist policy in the young republic. The essentialist approach to the racial problem approved such a policy in the United States.

The Christian Church made its contribution to the further development of the racist theory as a political ideology in the United States. European colonists were unable to cultivate a virgin soil of America without slavery because of the absence of immunity to various hazardous diseases as yellow fever, various kinds of malaria, and dengue. Therefore, the first African slaves emerged in America in 1620. The Christian Church was an institution of the social morality, and its opinion was crucial in the formation of the attitude to slavery and Africans as inferior human beings in America. Thus, the Protestant Church supported slavery and racial discrimination of Africans irrespective of their religion, but the Catholic Church changed its attitude to Africans when they adopted Catholicism. Therefore, the social position of African slaves in the United States was much worse than in Latin America where the Catholic Church approved even interracial marriages. The Protestant Church supported racial discrimination and formed prejudices concerning Africans and other races in the United States. Thus Africans were gradually turning into an inferior race in the United States under the influence of the white society supported by the Church. As Omi and Winant state, the Christian Church fostered in European colonists a feeling of their belonging to “children of God,” who had the right on the “expropriation of property, the denial of political rights, the introduction of slavery and other forms of coercive labor, as well as outright extermination” on the ground of racial discrimination. It explains why European colonists had rights on individual freedom, private property, and to have some land but other individuals of non-European races did not have those rights in the United States.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the ideas of Social Darwinism had a sufficient influence on the further development of the American society. Such prominent American scholars in the field of sociology as Lester Ward, William Sumner, and Edward Ross were conducting research in race relations in the United States. Their works caused the emergence of modern social science and “contributed, sometimes inadvertently but often by intention, to the racist hysteria”. It coincided with the emergence of the Jim Crow Laws and the movement for Asian exclusion. As Omi and Winant state, “Race was thought of as a biological concept” (Essentialism). By that time, African Americans, as well as other ethnic and racial groups, started the social movement for gaining individual freedoms and equal rights with white citizens of the United States. Of course, with the end of slavery, the whole population of African Americans became a social problem in the United States because the most of them were neither American citizens nor real freed individuals. Thus, the American Government tried to get rid of the former slaves by sending them back to Africa. Of course, it was not a correct solution, and finally, after hundreds of years of enslavement, African Americans became American citizens with equal rights and individual freedoms as whites. Thus, the American nation became officially multiethnic, multiracial, and multicultural society. Therefore, the notion of the race changed its meaning as the major feature for the definition of belonging persons to such category as the nation, the people. As Omi and Winant state, they “understand race as an unstable and ‘decentered’ complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle”. (social constructivism)

At the same time, American scholars rejected biological explanation of the term of race in the favor of social and political factors influenced the emergence of racial conflicts. Therefore, the term of race has possessed a quite different meaning by the beginning of the twentieth century. (Discussion of social constructivism) Since then, the social constructivism began its development in solving the racial problem. As Omi and Winant state, “everyone has a different opinion as to how many racial groups thereare, what they are called, and who belongs in what specific racial categories”. In addition, American scholars claimed the absence of any ties between racial groups and culture, which rejected such definitions as higher or lower cultural level in the certain racial group, or the notion of cultural groups. It gave every opportunity to suggest that race was a variable category which was differing during decades and within various societies. For example, nowadays, it is very difficult to find out any representative of Ethiopian race in any subarctic country while they live in Europe and have a citizenship of any European country. Therefore, the notion of the race does not fit for this particular case because an ethnic group is more suitable. Moreover, racist and Nazi regimes used the term of the race to excuse their crimes against humanity. They invented notorious myths of the superiority of the so-called whitest and purest Arian race. They even measured human heads to determine whether the certain individual belonged to the higher race or did not. In the case of the United States, any individual of olive skin had to prove his belonging to whites by documents of his ancestors for gaining any prestigious job. After abolishment racial segregation, any prosecutions of American citizens on their belonging to non-European race is illegal and will cause a criminal punishment.

Each country in the Western Hemisphere developed its own conception how to define the belonging of individuals to the certain race, and therefore, these concepts are different. As Omi and Winant state, it depends on the approaches to the racial definition in them, and the most of the African Americans would be considered as whites in the Brazil. Therefore, both authors state, they “consider race as a problem of policy, of social engineering, of state management”. It led to a color-blind society of the second part of the twentieth century. In the result of this evolution, political and cultural life in the United States changed under the influence of racial centrism. In its turn, the society gained racial equality and race remained in the center of the political, cultural, and economic life of America. Therefore, a prominent American sociologist, Robert E. Park was right when defined the race-relations cycle as “contact, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation”. It became a law of evolution of interracial relations and a means of their analyzing. According to Omi and Winant, there are three paradigms in the notion of race: “ethnicity, class, and nation”. From the point of view of essentialism, any race cannot change in the course of time. Its adepts maintained a biologistic approach, which can lead to the emergence of new racists. Social constructivism claims that races will change their biological features turning into new ethnic groups or assimilating. According to this approach, all existed races in the United States form the American nation and will gradually assimilate each other. (the comparison). As Omi and Winant state, “we should think of race as an element of social structure rather than as an irregularity within it”, and I maintain this idea.

Nowadays, the American nation is turning into the American race, consisting of all races, ethnic groups, and ethnicities. As a matter of fact, race is turning into the nation. At present, one would better call African Americans as an ethnic group then Ethiopian race because they became an integral part of the American nation, which will be assimilated during a certain period of time. Of course, such assimilation took place earlier among whites, who became Americans in the eighteenth century. According to the CIA Factbook, 79.96 percent of the total population of the United States is whites, and only 12.85 percent is African Americans, 4.43 percent is Asian Americans, and 0.97 percent is Amerindian. Hispanic ethnic group amounts 15.1 percent of the total population of America. According to these data, all ethnic groups will transfer into the white majority, forming the American race, in which other ethnic groups will amount about 30 percent from the total population. Of course, it will be not the Caucasian race because 30 percent of other races will shape a quite different phenotype of the American nation. (MASS MEDIA about the further existence of the American nation).

As Omi and Winant state, racial problems still exist in the United States. As a rule, racial problems cause manifestations, strikes, and even riots. One of such riots took place in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2016 after killing Keith Lamont Scott on September 20. He was an African American of 43 years. Another African American, Brentley Vinson, a police officer, arrived at an apartment complex where lived Scott, for visiting an individual, who had an outstanding warrant. There, the officer noticed Keith Scott with a gun. Vinson several times required dropping the gun but Scott refused to obey. In the result, Vinson shot and killed Scott. It caused racial riots. Initially, protests were peaceful but later, police had to use a paper spray for dispersing the mob, which cast stones at policemen. The mob had injured sixteen policemen before the police managed to disperse it. As Reporter Erik Ortiz states, some contradictions were between statements of the policemen and Scott’s wife, who stated that Scott held a book and not a gun. It was a real low confidence in local policemen because protesters considered that the police killed unarmed Scott, who suffered from mental illness. Despite the fact that Vinson was an African American, the protesters of the African American community expressed their hatred to the American authority because racial prejudices remained in their minds. Thus, the protesters stood against whites, who were former masters of their old relatives. Therefore, racial prejudices still exist in the American society. It causes low confidence in the local authorities and leads to riots.

African protesters did not feel like a part of the American nation because they did not believe the police. Although the African American policeman killed Vinson, all protesters considered whites to be guilty in killing of the unarmed innocent individual. Seven children became orphans, but nobody risked to stop Scott. Of course, Vinson could not kill any innocent person because he several times warned Scott to drop his gun but he refused to obey. Therefore, the riot emerged in the result of racial prejudices as the protest against the police abuse though Vinson was an African American. Such riots split the society on the ground of the racial essentialist approach to the problem. Moreover, African Americans tried to excuse all actions of Scott, who rejected to obey police orders. In this case, a social constructivist approach is much suitable. Keeping in mind that the American society changed and abolished slavery with racial segregation, the community would have calmed down protesters for avoiding riots. It seemed somebody used the situation for creating such riots and undermining the local authorities. At the same time, the whole event seems to be invented as a provocative act against authorities, but a policeman, Vinson, turned out to be an African American. Therefore, it was not a manifestation for protecting rights and freedoms of African Americans, but a well-orchestrated provocation with quite different real goals. For instance, who gave the gun to Scott, suffered from a mental disease? Of course, if he had obeyed the police, Vinson would not have killed Scott. Thus somebody wanted to initiate the racial riot by manipulating public opinion for gaining the certain goals.

The notion of the race changed its meaning and turned into the ethnic group within a nation. It became possible with the development of social constructivism, which replaced essentialism for a racial approach to the term of the nation. Therefore, the American nation became multicultural, multiracial, and multiethnic because it formed from representatives of all nations of the world. At the same time, the American nation turns gradually into the certain race distinguished from others in the result of the assimilation of ethnic and racial minorities in the United States. Nevertheless, some interethnic contradictions still exist in the American society although it made a great way from a British colony with African slaves to a real democratic republic. The notion of black and other races will gradually turn into the notion of the American nation. In its turn, it will form a new attitude to the whole democratic American society as a country of equal and free people.

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