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Race and Ethnicity in the US

Race and Ethnicity in the US

Author: Paul Hannan

Recognize the roles of race and ethnicity in American society.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain World Map Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology, Studies of Societies. Today's lesson is on race and ethnicity in the United States. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.


So today, we're looking at race and ethnicity in the United States of America. And I want to start with the disclaimer. We're going to be looking at racial and ethnic categories here in the United States of America. But these general histories I'm giving you, they can be applied in many different ways. And what I tell you, you shouldn't really be applying to individuals you meet who happen to come from one of these categories.

Remember, race is really something that's socially constructed. And so, when I'm giving you here these general overviews, it might or might not apply to many different people who are, or are not, members of these categories. But I think it's important that we get a general sense of some of the important racial and ethnic backgrounds here in the United States of America.

So we're going to start by looking at Native Americans. Now, the term "Native American" really is talking about many, many different cultures here in North America. And Native Americans, they've been on this continent for some say, 35,000 years, 25,000 years. And there are many different tribes that make up these Native Americans.

But as a group, they were here for a long time. And then, as the Europeans came over, they slowly pushed and-- they've slowly pushed and subjugated the Native Americans, and basically took their land and pushed them onto reservations. And then slowly tried to forcibly assimilate them to become what the dominant culture there was saying was what Americans should be.

And generally now, in the United States, it's a group that is maybe culturally trying to reclaim their heritage. But they still are, as a group, have many struggles and issues facing them, including just general wealth issues, educational issues, and alcoholism.

Now, the second group we're looking at is African-Americans. Now African-Americans really, as a group, you can trace back to being part of the slave trade and being moved from Africa forcibly to the United States of America. This happened around the 1600. And slavery was the foundation of this movement of African-Americans. And even after the institution of slavery had ended, African-Americans still carry that burden with them here because of the systematic disadvantages that the system has put on to African-Americans.

So even, again, after slavery was officially ended and we have the amendments that changed and gave equal protection to African-Americans, their standing in American society didn't really change until after the world wars. African-Americans were allowed to fight in the world wars, and they came back and really demanded some the same rights and freedoms applied to them versus just on paper here in the United States of America.

And so, that's why we had the civil rights movement in the '60s, and some landmark decisions and political movements that really helped give them more power in America. They are still currently a group that you can say is often criticized unfairly in America, in the American system, and they're often victims of racism.

Now, Hispanic Americans or Latinos, they're Americans who can trace their interest back to Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America. As a group, recently they've come under a lot of fire because of the immigration of Latinos to the United States of America. And specifically, there's this perception that Hispanic Americans, a lot of them, came here illegally, even though that is not true. That's a relatively small percentage of the Latinos in the United States of America. But they kind of carry this burden of the undocumented Latinos coming to America.

And Latinos again, as a group, have a very wide variety of places they come from. Cuban-Americans are very different from Mexican-Americans or from South Americans. But they often get lumped together as one group, which is Hispanic Americans.

Now, Asian-Americans, another group here in the United States America, they've really had a couple different waves of immigration here to America. And it often has to do with a political struggle or economic issue in those areas, and then them coming over.

For example, in Minnesota, there's a large Hmong population. And this Hmong population came just as there was political issues going on for that ethnic group in Asia, and they left and came here to Minnesota.

Asians, as a group, have been able to assimilate relatively well to the American system. They sometimes get labeled as the model minority because of some of the cultural traits that Asian-Americans bring to America. And it's really unclear what exactly makes them assimilate so well and so easily, and integrate, really into the American system. But they have been able to do that.

Now, Arab-Americans are people who can trace their heritage and ancestry back to the Middle East. And it's really a group that has been growing in recent years. Currently, in the post 9/11 world, Arab Americans have been taking a lot of flack for the actions of a couple individual Arabs. So they're often a group that gets labeled and discriminated against, based on their heritage.

Now, white ethnic Americans, you can see there on the map, it's a weird group. I mean, all these groupings are a little bit weird because you're trying to group people together when there's not really that strong of connections. White ethnic Americans though, they're Europeans who basically came from disadvantaged situations in Europe, and then came to United States of America.

So you have the Irish. You have Polish people. You have Greeks, you have Italians. And one thing that really lumps them together is that when they came to the United States of America, they suffered under the yoke of racism, much like other minorities. So that's why they're called white ethnic Americans.

Now, a group that did not suffer when they moved here were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Now, this group generally came from England. And as they came here to the United States of America, they end up being the dominant culture here in America. So they weren't the ones suffering under racism or discrimination. They were the ones setting what the bar is. And a lot of what we have as our general culture here in America comes from this group of people.

So today's takeaway message-- race is something that is socially constructed. It doesn't have to do with biology, or genetics, or ancestry.

Native Americans are the indigenous peoples of North America. African-Americans are people who trace their ancestry back to Africa. Hispanic Americans are people who can trace their ancestry to Spanish speaking countries. Asian-Americans are people who can trace their interests to Asia. Arab Americans are people who trace their ancestry to the Middle East. White ethnic Americans are people who can trace their interests to disadvantaged groups of whites. And Americans with high status white industry are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

Terms to Know
African Americans

Americans who trace their ancestry to Africa.

Arab Americans

Americans who trace their ancestry to the Middle East.

Asian Americans

Americans who trace their ancestry to Asia.

Hispanic Americans (Latinos)

Americans who trace their ancestry to Spanish speaking Latin American countries.

Native Americans

Americans who trace their ancestry to the inhabitants of North and Central America prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Social Construction of Race

The notion that our ideas of race and our conceptual racial categories are created through social interaction, rather than being "natural" propensities.

White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs)

Americans who trace their ancestry to primarily English ancestors and have a Protestant cultural heritage.

White Ethnic Americans

Americans who trace their ancestry to disadvantaged, white European groups.