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The goal of this tutorial is to help you objectively analyze the phenomena of
race and ethnicity as well as some of the world wide patterns of
discrimination based on them. In doing this, it is important to suspend our
own biases as much as possible and to take a cultural relativity approach.
That is to say, we must not let our own cultural biases get in the way of
understanding the lives of other people. This is a very difficult task given the
emotionally charged feelings and deep beliefs that most people have
concerning race and ethnicity. However, suspending these attitudinal barriers
in order to gain a better understanding of the phenomena is worth the effort.

Have you ever asked yourself what are the defining characteristics of being
"white" or "black" in America today? Is it solely a matter of skin color? Are
other factors as important or even more important? What makes someone
"Hispanic " or "Latino ." Is it language? Country of origin? Cultural
traditions? Family values? Religion? Skin color? Can you be "white" or
"black" and Hispanic at the same time? Can you be a non-Spanish speaking
member of one of Mexico's Indian communities and be Hispanic? Are people
from Spain and Portuguese speaking Brazilians Hispanic? The answers to
these questions probably are not entirely clear to you nor are they to most
Americans. It addition, the answers very likely will differ depending on the
region of America in which you live.

Test yourself.
Which of these people do you think
is Hispanic? Look at them carefully...

Click the button to see

if you are correct.

The ways in which we personally acquire our own group identities are often
complex. Similarly, the way we assign group identity to others is not always
straight forward. Race and ethnic group labels in America are not clearly
based on criteria that everyone understand, agree with, and can easily use.
As a result, someone else may label you in a way that you consider
inaccurate and very offensive. This can instantly create a barrier to open
communication even if the slight was unintended.

To comprehend the human diversity of the United States or any other country,
it is important to first understand the criteria commonly used for making group
distinctions. These generally are based on cultural and/or biological factors.
Americans tend to see each other in terms of age, economic class,
religion, gender , ethnicity, and race. We are usually a member of a
particular group for each of these criteria. Which of our group identities is
most important varies with the social situation. In America today, gender,
ethnicity, and race often have the most far ranging impacts on us as

Ethnicity refers to selected cultural and sometimes physical characteristics

used to classify people into groups or categories considered to be significantly
different from others. Commonly recognized American ethnic groups include
American Indians, Latinos, Chinese, African Americans, European Americans,
etc. In some cases, ethnicity involves merely a loose group identity with little
or no cultural traditions in common. This is the case with many Irish and
German Americans. In contrast, some ethnic groups are coherent
subcultures with a shared language and body of tradition. Newly arrived
immigrant groups often fit this pattern.

It is important not to confuse the term minority with ethnic group. Ethnic
groups may be either a minority or a majority in a population. Whether a
group is a minority or a majority also is not an absolute fact but depends on
the perspective. For instance, in some towns along the southern border of the
U.S., people of Mexican ancestry are the overwhelming majority population
and control most of the important social and political institutions but are still
defined by state and national governments as a minority. In
small homogenous societies, such as those of hunters and
gatherers and pastoralists , there is essentially only one ethnic group and
no minorities.

For many people, ethnic categorization implies a connection African American
between biological inheritance and culture. They believe
that biological inheritance determines much of cultural
identity. If this were true, for instance, African American
cultural traits, such as "black English", would stem from
genetic inheritance. We now know that this is not true--
biological race and culture are not the same thing. The
pioneering English anthropologist Edward Tylormay have
been the first scientist to understand this fact and to state it Senagalese
in print. In 1871, he wrote that cultural traits are entirely
learned. Subsequently, a baby can be placed into another culture shortly after
birth and can be thoroughly enculturated to that culture, regardless of their
skin color, body shape, and other presumed racial features. For example,
both women in the photographs on the right are genetically African, but they
do not speak the same language nor do they share any other significant
cultural patterns due to the fact that they were brought up in very different
societies. The African American woman is far more similar culturally to her
European American neighbors than to the West African woman from Senegal.

A race is a biological subspecies , or variety of a species, consisting of a

more or less distinct population with anatomical traits that distinguish it clearly
from other races. This biologist's definition does not fit the reality of human
genetic variation today. We are an extremely homogenous
speciesgenetically. As a matter of fact, all humans today are 99.9%
genetically identical, and most of the variation that does occur is in the
difference between males and females and our unique personal traits. This
homogeneity is very unusual in the animal kingdom. Even our
closest biological relatives, the chimpanzees have 2-3 times more genetic
variation than people. Orangutans have 8-10 times more variation.

It is now clear that our human "races" are primarily cultural creations, not
biological realities. The commonly held belief in the existence of human
biological races is based on the false assumption that anatomical traits, such
as skin color and specific facial characteristics, cluster together in single
distinct groups of people. They do not. There are no clearly distinct "black",
"white", or other races.

The popularly held view of human races ignores the fact that anatomical traits
supposedly identifying a particular race are often found extensively in other
populations as well. This is due to the fact that similar natural selection
factors in different parts of the world often result in the evolution of similar

adaptations. For instance, intense sunlight in tropical latitudes has selected
for darker skin color as a protection from intense ultraviolet radiation. As a
result, the dark brown skin color characteristic of sub-Saharan Africans is also
found among unrelated populations in the Indian subcontinent, Australia, New
Guinea, and elsewhere in the Southwest Pacific.

Distribution of the B blood type allele among humans

Fijian South Indian
Sub-Saharan African
(Southwest Pacific)
The actual patterns of biological variation among humans are extremely
complex and constantly changing. They can also be deceptive. All of us
could be classified into a number of different "races", depending
on thetraits that are emphasized. For example, if people are sorted on the
basis of stature or blood types, the geographic groupings will be clearly
different from those defined on the basis of skin color. Using the B blood type
for defining races, Australian Aborigines would be lumped together with
most Native Americans. Some Africans would be in the same race as
Europeans while others would be categorized with Asians.

Historically in the Western World, human "races" have been defined on the
basis of a small number of superficial anatomical characteristics that can be
readily identified at a distance, thereby making discrimination easier.
Focusing on such deceptive distinguishing traits as skin color, body shape,
and hair texture causes us to magnify differences and ignore similarities

between people. It is also important to remember that these traits are no
more accurate in making distinctions between human groups than any other
genetically inherited characteristics. All such attempts to scientifically divide
humanity into biological races have proven fruitless.

In the final analysis, it is clear that people, not nature, create our
identities. Ethnicity and supposed "racial" groups are largely cultural
and historical constructs. They are primarily social rather than biological
phenomena. This does not mean that they do not exist. To the contrary,
"races" are very real in the world today. In order to understand them,
however, we must look into culture and social interaction rather than biology.

Nature of Ethnicity
All around the world, members of ethnic and so-called
"racial" groups commonly use ethnic symbols as
badges of identity to emphasize their distinctness from
other groups. Language, religion, and style of dress are
common ethnic symbols. In addition to such cultural
traits, biological characteristics may be important at times
as well. The Canadian women shown on the right are
using their clothing to strongly communicate their Greek
identity on a special occasion.

African American Canadian women using

ethnicity is usually clothing to symbolize
their Greek ethnicity
defined by dark brown
skin color. However, shared experience and
dialect are often as important since the range
of skin coloration is quite broad among
African Americans African Americans today due to centuries of
interbreeding with Europeans, Native
Americans, and, more recently, Asians.

Ethnic group unity needs to be reinforced by a constant emphasis on what

traits set the members apart from others, rather than what they share in
common with the outsiders. This is a universal means of boundary

maintenance, or defense, between ethnic groups. Ethnic symbols are
convenient markers for making "we-they" distinctions and are the focal points
for racism and other unpleasant manifestations of ethnocentrism . They
also mask in-group differences. In the United States. for instance, they help
propagate the myth that there is a single, coherent AmericanIndian ethnic
group. The same goes for Hispanics, European Americans, African
Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders.

Whether or not individuals in minority ethnic or "racial" groups prominently

emphasize their ethnic symbols may vary with the situation. They may not
emphasize them if they are trying to identify with or join the dominant culture
in their society. That is to say, they may de-emphasize the things that make
them different if they wish toassimilate into the dominant ethnic group. For
instance, the children of many immigrants to the United States prefer to speak
in the local colloquial dialect of English rather than in their parents' native
language. Likewise, they choose to dress and act like other Americans in
their schools. This has the effect of making them less different from their
neighbors while estranging them from their parents.

Assimilation can be speeded up by marriage across ethnic or "racial"

boundaries. As intermarriage becomes common, ethnic/racial differences
often are progressively blurred. Not surprisingly, many ethnic/racial group
organizations are opposed to intermarriage--they see it as a tool
of ethnocide .

The effect of intermarriage on reducing ethnic group identity can be seen in

the reduction of discrimination against each of the European immigrant group
in North America after several generations. In the case of Jews,
discrimination lasted longer but has also reduced dramatically with the
progressive increase in marriage to non-Jews. In the early 1960's, only 6%
of American Jews married outsiders. By 1985, the rate had grown to nearly
25%. By the mid 1990's it was 52%. Over these four decades, discriminatory
barriers to Jews largely disappeared. Of course, there were social changes in
America that also contributed to the reduction in

African Americans have had a relatively low frequency of
intermarriage, though this is beginning to change also. In
1970, only 2.6% of their marriages were with European
Americans. By 1993, the rate had increased to 12.1%.
The number of intermarriages by African American men
has been 3½ times higher than those by African
American women. However, the intermarriage rate for
African American women is now growing at a relatively "Interracial" marriage
faster rate.

Asian and Latin Americans have a comparatively high intermarriage rate with
other ethnic/racial groups. Among Asian Americans, 12% of the men and
25% of the women have intermarried with others, especially European
Americans. The relatively high rate of intermarriage for Asian and Latin
Americans likely is an indication of a lower resistance to assimilation in their
communities and a greater acceptance of them by the dominant European
American society. However, assimilation is not easy or even possible for
members of some minority groups since they are subject to more persistent
stereotyping and discrimination. This is generally the case with African
Americans today. Partly in response to this rejection, assimilation has ceased
being a desirable goal of many African Americans.

When ethnic differences are strongly emphasized, as

in the case of "black" and "white" Americans today, it
inevitably leads to increased polarization. It also
leads to false notions of biological and cultural
homogeneity within these groups. In addition, it
results in a selective blindness in looking at the past.
Polarized people easily fall into the trap of justifying
an interpretation of history that favors their own group
and demonizes others. This occurred in a particularly
sinister way in Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990's, after the breakup of
Yugoslavia. Previously peaceful and overtly friendly Muslims, Croats, and
Serbs living there brutally slaughtered each other to repay perceived past
wrongs and to "ethnically cleanse" the land.

The American mass media and
government historic preoccupation with black/white
relations has tended to make othersmaller ethnic groups
relatively invisible and discounted their concerns. This is
ethnic discrimination by not acknowledging the existence
of people and not taking them into consideration. An
Filipino Americans example of a largely overlooked ethnic group is the
unobtrusive Filipino population concentrated in Southern California. Few
Americans realize that they are the 2nd largest recent immigrant group in the

Forms of Discrimination
Prejudice and discrimination based on presumed ethnic/racial differences are
universal--they are found in various forms in all societies. Acts of prejudice
range all the way from benign classification of people to cruel persecution.
However, the term racism has come to be imprecisely applied to all of these
behaviors. Kwame Appiah, a British and Ghanaian scholar of African
American issues, has made a useful distinction between kinds of prejudicial
behavior. He uses the term racialism for the more benign forms of
discrimination such as categorizing people for reference purposes on the
basis of age, gender, and ethnicity/race. He reserves the term racism for
harmful discrimination such as not hiring someone because of their "race."
This distinction will be followed here.

We are all racialists. It is normal to categorize people in our daily lives based
on a number of traits. It can be a useful aid in predicting behavior. For
instance, when you are lost in a strange city, you very likely approach an adult
rather than a young child for help because you surmise that the adult will
know more. Similarly, when you want to take an out-of-town guest to a good
traditional Mexican restaurant, you may ask a Mexican American friend for
recommendations. However, when categorizing leads to behavior that harms
another person, it becomes racism.

No one ethnic/racial group has the
monopoly on racism. Even members
of groups that are aggressively
discriminated against by others may
think and act in a vicious racist
manner. Racism has been a common
element in American history.
However, the most pervasive racist
acts are not being carried out in Recent hotspots of severe racism
America today. Far from it. Over the
last two decades, they have been in such places as the former Yugoslavia,
Israel, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Rwanda, South Africa and Sudan. In all of
these countries, ethnic identities have been strongly emphasized as a
government policy. The result has been the rise of tribalism and
even genocide in some regions. Throughout history, there have been
numerous atrocities carried out in the name of ethnic/racial purification. If
racism and ethnic persecution are indeed as much a part of human nature as
ethnocentrism, we can expect that such atrocities will occur in the future as

While racism is universal, its focus usually changes in the transition

from Small-scale societies to large-scale ones. The smallest societies are
almost always biologically and culturally homogenous without ethnic group
distinctions. In such societies, the target of racism is other societies.
Strangers are often thought of as being not quite human. In contrast, large
societies are often heterogeneous and have many ethnic groups. The targets
of racism are mostly other ethnic groups within the same society. In Italy, for
instance, Northern Italians often look down upon Southern Italians
and stereotype them as being ignorant, dishonest, and lazy. Southern
Italians often view Northern Italians as being impersonal, dull, and not
trustworthy. A similar north-south stereotyping occurs in China.

We have seen that prejudice in human interaction is a universal

phenomenon. The results of prejudgment can range all the way from
relatively harmless racialist categorizing to vicious racist acts. By strongly
emphasizing ethnic symbols for boundary maintenance purposes, ethnic
groups indirectly foster racism which, in turn, can become an effective tool in
preserving and enhancing the distinctness of the groups. However, racism
and other unpleasant products of heightened ethnic identity can also diminish
as a result of increased communication and intermarriage between groups.

Ethnic Identification Process
One's ethnic/racial identity may result from self-identification or from an
imposition by others. Identifying other people's ethnicity for them has always
been a powerful political tool for controlling, marginalizing, and even getting
rid of them. From the early 1930's through the mid 1940's, the Nazi's in
Germany methodically labeled people as being Jews even though they did not
always personally identify themselves as such. In most cases, this label was
tantamount to a death sentence.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the European

American dominated political system in the U.S.
restricted legal rights of people they defined as being
African, Asian, or Native American in ancestry. Their
property and voting rights were limited and they were
treated as 3rd class citizens. Similarly, in Japan
today, tens of thousands of 2nd and 3rd generation
resident Koreans who have adopted the Japanese
language and culture are given only limited rights if
Japanese or Koreans?
they retain their Korean citizenship. They are not
allowed to be fully Japanese because dual citizenship is not permitted. This
leaves them in a marginal status and limits their
job prospects.

People in political and economic power usually

define their own ethnic/racial group as being
superior and others as being inferior. This can be
done by laws that restrict rights and privileges. It
also can be done in subtle pervasive ways even
when ethnic favoritism is officially illegal. For
example, throughout much of the 20th century in Early 20th century photo of
America, "white" became identified in popular African American servants
literature, films, and the mass media with
intelligent, good, pretty, and successful, while "black" was identified with the
opposite. The early 20th century photo (on the right) of African Americans
depicted as an underclass of servants satisfied the common European
American perception.

The unfavorable portrayal of African Americans still continues today, to some

extent, with TV news programs focusing on black gang violence, welfare

mothers, and relatively poor performance in school. After generations of
images reflecting this view, many African Americans came to define
themselves negatively. It was not a mere coincidence that the "black power"
political movement of the 1960's created the catch phrase "black is beautiful."
This was a conscious effort to counter negative images with a positive one.

African Americans are not unique in having a relentless negative image of

themselves portrayed in the popular media. Mexican Americans, Arab
Americans, and some Southeast Asian groups are also experiencing it to
some degree. In fact, most minority groups in heterogeneous societies like
the United States have had a similar experience. Even European immigrants,
such as the Irish in the 19th century, were commonly portrayed in the press as
being dirty, stupid, alcoholic, and violent. Before the Civil War in the southern
states, Irish immigrants were hired for construction jobs that were considered
too risky for black slaves because they were monetarily valuable, unlike the
Irish. Even as late as the mid 20th century, unemployed Irishmen in the
Northeastern U.S. were at times faced by signs saying "No Irishmen need

Hollywood's strongly negative portrayal of specific ethnic groups continues.

However, the targets have changed. Today, Moslem Arabs, Iranians, and
Afghans are consistently cast as irrational terrorists and villains in action
films. They have been impersonalized and stereotyped on-screen with
derogatory slurs such as "rag heads." They have mostly replaced Germans,
Japanese, American Indians, African Americans, Eastern European, Chinese,
and Communists from any nation as the most dangerous "bad guys."

Whether you have a negative or a positive self-image stemming from your

ethnicity/race, gender, or physical condition generally has a powerful effect on
the way you relate to others and lead your own life. For instance, a belief that
you are not likely to succeed in education, because "members of your group
are inherently less intelligent," can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why try to
succeed in school if you think that you will fail? Likewise, a strong belief that
most members of another group actively discriminate against your group is
likely to lead you to be distrusting of the others and to even seek revenge
against them.

In North American middle class "white" families today, it is not uncommon for
teenagers to feel a lack of ethnic identity. There is a perception that they are
not anything. This should not be a surprise since their education has
generally emphasized the value of ethnicity for others but not them. The use
of terms such as "people of color" for African, Asian, and Native Americans in
a sense stigmatizes European Americans as "people without color"--a
negative classification. This along with revised American history that
emphasizes the unfairness of "whites" in their interactions with others leads
many European American youths to have a somewhat negative image of their
ethnicity and of themselves. Subsequently, they become eager vessels to
accept the ethnic traits of others. This may be one of the reasons that they
have readily adopted the music, style of dress, and slang of Black America.
Likewise, tacos, burritos, and other Mexican foods have become as popular
as hamburgers for teenagers and young adults, especially in the Southwest.

Creation of New Ethnic Groups

During the 19th century, new ethnic groups were created by European
colonial governments in order to facilitate ruling their new indigenous
subjects. This was the case in Australia and over much of Western North
America where there had been small, independent bands of foraging
societies. The bands were combined into larger political units by government
officials in order to simplify the control of them. Indigenous leadership
positions, such as chiefs, were created for peoples who previously did not
have the concept of a
leader who could act and
speak for their societies.

Similarly, the colonial

powers forced diverse
ethnic groups to see
themselves as being part
of larger nations with
common ethnicity. This European colonial empires in 1938
was the case in India,
Malaysia, New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and much of Africa. In
part, these new nations were created to facilitate control.

Some ethnic groups have been created by themselves for the rational goal of
gaining political and economic power. It has been suggested that this was the
case with Latinos in the United States. Until the1960's, their identity was
mostly as distinct Mexican American, Cuban American, and Puerto Rican
groups. Since then, a feeling of shared cultural identity as "Hispanics" has
been fostered by Latino leaders. At the same time, the significant cultural
differences between these groups have been underplayed in order to
reinforce Latino unity. As new Central and South American immigrants
arrived, the Latino ethnic group redefined itself to incorporate them as well.
Even Portuguese speaking Brazilians have been included. The creation and
recognition of a homogenous Hispanic identity was fostered by the national
government. The term "Hispanic" was actually created by federal bureaucrats
working under President Nixon in the early 1970's.

We have seen that ethnic identity is often complex. It can change dynamically
through time as situations alter. It can be created by self definition or others
can define it for us whether we wish them to or not. The power to label
others is the power to control them. Our stereotypes of groups has a strong
effect on how we view and relate to members of those groups. It also can
have a profound effect on how we see ourselves. Definitions of ethnicity and
"race" have immense political importance in America today. Those ethnic
groups that have a high public visibility generally have political clout. Those
that are largely invisible do not.

What are You?

Shortly after birth, most Americans have the ethnic/racial group identity of
their biological parents placed on their birth certificates. This provides an
identity for children that will usually stay with them throughout their lives and
will have a major impact on how they see themselves and how others treat
them. It often restricts their choices of friends and marriage partners. It may
give them advantages or it may create road blocks in their educations,
careers, and the neighborhoods in which they wish to live.

Many, if not most, European Americans now believe that this official
ethnic/racial classification and life-long tracking is unnecessary. The writer
Tony Morrison has observed that "whites see themselves as unraced." For
those who do not label themselves in terms of "race", official racial
designations naturally seem irrelevant and even counter productive to social
harmony and individual rights. In contrast, members of ethnic/racial minorities
generally see value in this group classification system because they do not
consider themselves to be "unraced." For them, labeling may prevent their
official invisibility and subsequent social and economic discrimination. This
view is not surprising considering the history of past discrimination and even
slavery of some groups.

The official state and national government practice over the last century in the
U.S. was to try to force everyone into one of a number of specific racial/ethnic
categories for the national census, hiring goals, college admission records,
etc. Ultimately, these categories are based on the false assumption that
somewhere there are "pure races" and "pure cultures." Such groups do not
exist today and may never have existed due to intergroup mating and to the
more or less constant diffusion of culture traits around the world. Despite the
fuzzy assumptions about the nature of ethnicity and race, groups based on
these phenomena continue to be officially recognized largely because it is
politically popular.

In many cases, being assigned to a particular ethnic/racial group on birth

certificates and national census reports in America is somewhat arbitrary and
mostly based on how people wish to define themselves and their children. In
part, this is due to the fact that the high frequency of intermarriages has
resulted in millions of Americans who no longer have a simple, straight
forward group identity--they could be legitimately placed into a number of
ethnic/racial group categories.

Which ethnic/racial category is selected for birth certificates and national

census reporting has tended to vary with the social situation and historical
changes. The Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara area of California
provide an example of this phenomenon. Up until the 1960's, it was thought
that there were no surviving Chumash. The last one had presumably died in
the 1940's. In fact, for a generation, they had been defining themselves as
Mexican for census purposes. Only with the political reawakening of Native
Americans in the 1960's did they once again claim to be Chumash. Now even
people with very remote Chumash genetic ancestry and virtually no Chumash
cultural heritage are claiming to be Chumash.

In the 1990 U.S. census, everyone who was not defined as being Native
American, Asian, or Pacific Islander apparently was assumed to be "black" or
"white." This simplistic system was used despite the fact that for four
centuries, there has been considerable intergroup mating and extensive
cultural exchanges between European, African, and Native Americans.
Asians and Pacific Islanders have also been added to the mix over the last 1½
centuries, especially in Hawaii and urban areas of thewestern states.
Many Americans of mixed ancestry do not fully
identify with the single racial/ethnic category
that they have been assigned to and do not feel
comfortable with it. For instance, when one
parent is of European and Chinese descent and
the other is African and Native American, what
single category would their children fit into? For
many Americans with complex ancestries such "Multi-racial" Americans
as this, the answer is that they are multi-racial,
mixed-racial, or multi-ethnic. The number of these multi-racial children in
America has doubled during each of the last 3 decades.

When asked to provide personal family information for the year 2000 Census,
nearly 7 million Americans reported that their ancestry included two or more
"races." The real number of multi-racial Americans is certainly far higher.
Government agencies have been officially blind in the past to such realities
except for providing the option of the ambiguous category of "other race" on
information request forms. There are several active national lobbying groups
trying to get a "multi-racial" category added to future censuses and other
federal records. Strongly opposing this addition are racial/ethnic rights
organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People and the National Council of La Raza. Apparently, their
opposition is due to anticipated decreased numbers in their groups and a
subsequent loss of political power. While the year 2000 census for the first
time allowed people to identify themselves as being members of more than
one "race", a "multi-racial" category was not allowed. Compounding the
problem of getting an accurate picture of American society, the U.S. Census
Bureau decided that people who identified themselves as black and some
other "racial" group on the year 2000 census would be counted as being
black for some purposes--they would not be given a choice. This created the
curious situation in which someone who is 90% Asian and only 10% black
would not be considered Asian.

There has been an inconsistency in the official definition of ethnic/racial group

categories in America. Depending on the company, institution, or
government entity, the number of categories used over the last two decades
has ranged from 5 to 20 or more. The trend has been progressively to break
down all categories, except "black" and "white", into smaller, more specific
groupings. For example, the Pacific Islander group category is now
commonly divided into Filipino, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Samoan, and "Other
Pacific Islander."

"Other Pacific Islander" East Indian
(woman from Tonga)

In addition, some people have been officially shifted from one category to
another in the census. For instance, people from India were commonly
defined as "white" in the past. Now, they are usually considered to be Asian
or given their own group category--Indian or East Indian. Despite objections
based on feelings of national identity, people from Pakistan, Bangladesh,
Nepal, and Sri Lanka also are usually labeled as being Indian.

Ethnic Identity in Other Societies

Outside of the United States, the racial/ethnic pie has been divided up
differently. During the apartheid era of South Africa (largely from the
1960's through the early 1990's), there were four officially enforced categories
of "races"-- European (100% European), Asian (100% East Indian), African
(100% African), and Colored (mixture of European and African). At times,
siblings of mixed ancestry were placed into different "racial" groups based
solely on skin color. As a result, some brothers and sisters were legally
prohibited from socializing together. As a further indication of the arbitrariness
of the South African system, business travelers from Japan were considered
to be European. This allowed Japanese visitors to interact socially with the
European minority that controlled the government and economy in South

Rigidly segregated stands at a South African

sports stadium during the Apartheid era

In 17th century Spanish colonial America, there were 15 "racial" categories
based on the percent of one's ancestry from different groups:

Bermejos 100% European

Indios 100% Native American
Negros 100% African
Mulatos European and African mixture (7 categories)
Mestizos European and Native American mixture (5 categories)

The term "mestizo" is still commonly used in Mexico. Depending on the

person speaking, it can be a term of pride or of derision. "Ladino" is now
more often used instead of "mestizo" in Central America. Cultural traits are
often as important as biological ones in ethnic identity there. In Guatemala,
for instance, it is often language (Spanish or Maya Indian), education, and
style of clothing that are used to identify people as being ladino instead of
indio (Indian).

In 18th century French colonial Haiti, there were 9 categories of African and
European mixture that were defined based on the assumption that people
have 128 parts of inheritance:

Blanc 100% European (128 parts European ancestry)

Négre 100% African (128 parts African ancestry)
Mulâtre 64 parts European and 64 parts African
Sacatra 8 to 32 parts European
Griffe 24 to 39 parts European
Marabou 40 to 48 parts European
Quateron 71 to 100 parts European
Métif 101 to 112 parts European
Mamelouc 113 to 120 parts European
Quateronné 121 to 124 parts European
Sang-mêlé 125 to 127 parts European

These "racial" terms are still important to many people in Haiti, especially
members of the largely mixed ancestry upper class. Similar kinds of
distinctions are found in the neighboring Dominican Republic today.


Most people around the world are identified in terms of ethnic and/or "racial"
identity at birth. However, ethnicity is not a static phenomenon. Ethnic
groups can change through time in complex ways. Similarly, individual
identity in heterogeneous societies today, such as the United States, Canada,
and Brazil, can also be flexible--individuals may identify themselves as being
members of different ethnic groups or "races" at different times.
Unfortunately, governments usually are the last to recognize and respond to
the changes. Ethnic/racial group organizations often play a major role in the
definition of group identities and in the maintenance of boundaries between
groups--they usually act as conservative forces by resisting assimilation into
the majority population.

World Diversity Patterns

There are more than 6.5 billion people in the world today. Nearly 2/3 of them
are Asians living on less than 1/3 of the land. Only about 5% of the world's
people live in North America.

Asia 3,518,000,000 56.4%
Africa 839,000,000 13.5%
Europe (including nations that
803,000,000 12.9%
were part of the Soviet Union)
Latin America and Caribbean 539,000,000 8.7%
North America (U.S. and Canada) 320,000,000 5.1%
Near East 179,000,000 2.9%
Oceania (Pacific Islands) 32,000,000 .5%
Source: Global Population Profile: 2002, U.S. Census Bureau 2004
Just how many different societies, cultures, and
ethnic groups make up the world's population is not
certain. This is due, in part, to the fact that these
social entities are not always distinct enough to
clearly warrant their being considered as separate
groups. For instance, Canada and the U.S. are
separate nations but culturally and linguistically
similar almost to the point of not being
distinguishable by outsiders (except for French
speaking Quebec Province).

Contributing to the problem of counting the number of societies, cultures, and
ethnic groups is not only the overlapping nature of many of these groups but
the fact that they are now changing rapidly as mass media and relatively
inexpensive long distance travel increasingly blur cultural differences. We are
experiencing culture change on a scale and at a pace that is unprecedented in
human history.

A good indication of cultural survival is the continued use of traditional

languages and dialects. People who are unable to readily communicate
because of language differences are more likely to maintain cultural
differences as well. Linguists estimate that the world's peoples speak 5000-
6000 languages. The most common "native" language is Mandarin Chinese.
English is a distant third.

1. Mandarin Chinese 874,000,000
2. Hindi (India) 366,000,000
3. English 341,000,000
4. Spanish 322-358,000,000
5. Bengali (India and Bangladesh) 207,000,000
6. Portuguese 176,000,000
7. Russian 167,000,000
8. Japanese 125,000,000
9. German (standard) 100,000,000
10. Korean 78,000,000
Note: If the 15 major variants of Arabic are considered
one language, Arabic is the 6th most common language
in the world having 198-201,000,000 native speakers.
Source: Ethnologue Volume I: Languages of the
World, 14th ed. (2000). These statistics are only
rough approximations in most cases.

While English is not spoken as a native language by the largest number of

people, it is the most world wide in its distribution. It has become the second
language of choice in most countries. About 1/4 to 1/3 of humanity now
understand and speak it to some degree. As English and a few other major
languages grow in popularity and as cultural diffusion accelerates, many of
the languages of smaller ethnic groups are dying. As many as 1/2 of the
languages in the world are no longer spoken by children. This is a major step
in the direction of language and cultural extinction. The languages that are
becoming extinct are not doing so because they are "primitive" or unable to
allow adequate communication. They are dying because their speakers find it

more useful to speak other languages. This is largely a result of the growth in
influence and power of nation states over their indigenous minority
populations and of the increasing globalization of our economies. The culture
homogenizing effect of mass media should not be underestimated either.
Much of the television programming viewed around the world originated in
Western Nations. It is startling to realize that the most popular television
shows world wide in recent years have been stereotypical American sitcoms
such as "Will and Grace" and "Friends."

The rapid global growth in the importance of the English language and of
Western culture (especially American) has not been as straight forward and
simple as it initially may seem. Cultural traits have not only diffused from the
Western Industrial societies to the rest of the world. They have gone the other
way as well. American society, culture, and language have become far more
diverse. For instance, English now contains words from more than 240 other
languages. In less than a generation, the cultural influences of Asia and Latin
America especially have dramatically changed life in the U.S. and Canada.
This has been particularly true of the food preferences inurban areas.

Countering these rapid globalization trends in the late 20th and early
21st centuries has been the dramatic resurgence of tribalism. While many
small indigenous societies are disappearing into national societies, many
larger ethnic groups are violently reasserting their presence and even
independence from the nations that they have been integral parts of until
now. The breakup of Yugoslavia into ethnically "purified" areas in the 1990's
is a prime example. Similar "tribal" reemergences have occurred throughout
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Tribalism also recently has
spawned genocidal conflicts in Africa, especially in Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda,
and Congo.

American Diversity Patterns

Most numerical data on ethnicity and "race" in the U.S. derive from national
census data gathered every 10 years. Unfortunately, even the latest census
is flawed due to inconsistent and incomplete data collection. It is likely that

some urban minorities and migrant farm workers are undercounted. In
addition, people have been counted in terms of ethnicity and "race" mostly as
a result of their own self-disclosure as to which categories they fit, and they
had to choose from the limited list specified by the national government. The
failure to allow people to identify with categories that they themselves
subjectively volunteer makes the data less reliable.

The U.S. Census Bureau considers some group differences to be racial and
others to be purely ethnic. Specifically, they make an ethnic distinction
between Hispanic and non-Hispanic. In contrast, categories such as Chinese
and Vietnamese are considered racial.

What do you suppose these two

people consider themselves to be?

Click the button to see

if you are correct.

People of European ancestry are lumped together in the U.S. Census as

"white", while everyone with African ancestry is considered to be "black." It is
likely that the vast majority of people who are a mixture of the two, define
themselves as being "black." This is a result of the now deeply ingrained
historical pattern of considering someone who has even a minute percentage
of African ancestry to be "black." This "drop of blood", or hypodescent ,
criterion for identity was once insisted upon by European Americans and is
now strongly advocated by most African Americans. For example, the golfing
pro Tiger Woods is usually claimed by African American organizations as
being "black" despite the fact that he is only 1/8 African in ancestry. He is
also 1/2 Thai, 1/4 European, and 1/8 Native American.

The census categories for Native Americans, Latin

Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders have been
subdivided into smaller categories. Members of these
groups are counted separately in terms of their specific
national or ethnic origins. For instance, Pacific
Islanders are counted as Filipinos, Hawaiians, Cuban American women
Samoans, Guamanians, etc. Latin Americans are
counted as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, etc.

Recent "black" immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean are
not similarly distinguished in terms of national origin on the census--they are
lumped into the black, or African American, category without regard for their
linguistic, religious, and other cultural differences. Many recent African and
black Caribbean immigrants have been troubled by the fact that they are
usually lumped into this category despite the fact that they think of themselves
as Africans, Nigerians, Somalis, Jamaicans, etc. Likewise, many blacks
whose ancestry included slavery in the U.S. do not feel kinship with these new
immigrants because of their radically different historical and cultural
backgrounds. Adding to this social division between native born and
immigrant blacks has been the fact that the foreign born blacks more often
have university degrees and subsequently are able to obtain higher paying
jobs. Similar to the lumping of diverse peoples into the black category for the
census, all European, Middle Eastern, and North African immigrants are
defined as "white" without concern for their significant cultural differences. To
learn how races were officially defined for the year 2000 Census click here.

Members of different European national groups (Danes

and Spaniards) wearing traditional clothes that identify
their ethnicity

Despite these limitations and peculiarities of the U.S. Census, it is instructive

to examine its data and the trends that they indicate concerning race and
ethnicity. The data from the year 2000 Census are summarized below:

Total U.S. population 281,421,906 100.0%
Race: (see note 1)
--- One race 274,595,678 97.6%
--- White 211,460,626 75.1%
--- Black or African American 34,658,190 12.3%
--- American Indian and Alaska Native 2,475,956 0.9%
--- Asian 10,242,998 3.6%
--- Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander 398,835 0.1%
--- Some other race (see note 2) 15,359,073 5.5%
--- Two or more races (see note 3) 6,826,228 2.4%

Ethnicity: (see note 4)
--- Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 35,305,818 12.5%
--- Not Hispanic or Latino 246,116,088 87.5%

1. There was no "decline to state" option allowed for "race" designation for
the year 2000 Census.
2. 97% of the people who reported that they were "some other race" said
that they were also "Hispanic or Latino" in terms of ethnicity.
3. There are 57 possible combinations of 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 races that were
allowed. 93% of the people who reported more than one race, reported
only two. The most common combination was "white" with some other
4. 48% of Hispanics reported that they were "white" and 42% said they
were "some other race."

The vast majority of Americans (97.6%) reported that they are only one
"race." It is very likely that a significant percentage of this group actually could
claim ancestry from more than one "race" but chose not to. Nearly a quarter
of all Americans (24.9%) claimed to be either members of "non-white" racial
groups or two or more "races." A comparison of the 1980-2000 censuses
shows that the "non-white" groups have been increasing in numbers more
rapidly than "whites."


(see note 1) 1980 AND 1990 1990 AND 2000
Total U.S. population 9.8% 13.2%
--- White 6.0% 5.9%
--- Black 13.2% 15.6%
--- American Indian and Alaska Native 37.9% 26.4%
--- Asian and Pacific Islander 107.8% 46.3%

1. Because of major changes in the way "race" information was collected for the year
2000 Census, these data are not entirely comparable with data from earlier censuses.
People who claim more than one race are not reflected in these data.

A similar trend of rapidly increasing numbers has occurred for Hispanics in

comparison to non-Hispanics.


1980 AND 1990 1990 AND 2000
Total U.S. population 9.8% 13.2%
--- Hispanic or Latino 53.0% 57.9%
--- Not Hispanic or Latino 6.8% 8.7%

NOTE: these data indicating dramatic increases in the size of minority groups
relative to the majority European American or "white" population are
deceptive. In small groups, a large percentage increase results from the
addition of relatively few people. For instance, the increase in the Vietnamese
population of 82.7% between 1990 and 2000 actually resulted from the
addition of only 507,981 people. During the same period, the 5.9% increase
among the "white" population resulted from 11,774,556 new people.

Over the long run, however, the trend of more rapidly increasing minority
populations will have a cumulative effect in changing the broad demographic
patterns in the United States. Projecting to the year 2015, the U.S. Census
Bureau suggests that America will still remain predominantly "white" but that
other groups will continue to increase disproportionately. Perhaps the most
dramatic result of these changing population trends during the last few years
has been that African Americans were replaced by Hispanics as the largest
minority group. This change is a result of large numbers of immigrants
entering the country from Latin America and high birth rates among Hispanics.

Between 1990 and 2000, nearly 33 million people were added to our national
population. This was the largest 10 year increase in U.S. history. The fastest
growing regions were the "sunbelt areas" of the West and the Southeast.

The patterns of diversity are not the same throughout America. Most ethnic
and "racial" minorities are concentrated in major urban centers and in
particular states. For instance, Hispanics of Mexican ancestry have their
highest frequency in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. While they
make up only 12.5% of the U.S. population, Hispanics now are 32.4% of
California's population and 77.1% of them have a Mexican heritage. Greater
Los Angeles is, in effect, the 2nd largest Mexican city--only Mexico City has a
larger Mexican population. Half of all U.S. Hispanics live in California and
Texas. However, the presence of people with Hispanic ancestry is now
growing rapidly outside of the Southwest as well. This is particularly true in
New York City, Chicago, and major farming regions such as the Yakima
Valley in Washington.

(see note 1) THAT IS HISPANIC
New York 2,160,554 27.0%
Los Angeles (see note 2) 1,719,073 46.5%

Chicago 753,644 26.0%
Houston 730,865 37.4%
San Antonio 671,394 58.7%
Phoenix 449,972 34.1%
El Paso 431,875 76.6%
Dallas 422,587 35.8%
San Diego 310,752 25.4%

1 It is likely that these numbers are undercounts because many

undocumented aliens from Latin America apparently did not
participate in the year 2000 Census.
2 In East and South Los Angeles, Hispanics comprise 96.8%
of the population. At least 4.2 million Hispanics live in Los
Angeles County. This is 3.2 times more Hispanics than in
any other county in the U.S.

Among the people who identified themselves as Hispanic in the year 2000
Census, the largest group by far consisted of those of Mexican ancestry.
Well over half of all American Hispanics claimed to be Mexican.


All Hispanic or Latino 35,305,818 100.0%
--- Mexican 20,640,711 58.5%
--- Puerto Rican 3,406,178 9.6%
--- Cuban 1,241,685 3.5%
--- Dominican 764,945 2.2%
--- Central American (excludes Mexican) 1,686,937 4.8%
--- South American 1,353,562 3.8%
--- Spaniard 100,135 0.3%
--- All other Hispanic or Latino 6,111,665 17.3%

Among Americans of Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry, the largest groups in

the year 2000 Census were Chinese, Filipinos, and Asian Indians. However,
Koreans and Vietnamese are catching up.


All Asian 10,242,998 96.3%
--- Asian Indian 1,678,765 15.8%
--- Chinese 2,432,585 22.9%
--- Filipino 1,850,314 17.4%
--- Japanese 796,700 7.5%

--- Korean 1,076,872 10.1%
--- Vietnamese 1,122,528 10.6%
--- Other Asian 1,285,234 12.1%
All Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander 398,835 3.8%
--- Native Hawaiian 140,652 1.3%
--- Guamanian or Chamorro 58,240 0.6%
--- Samoan 91,029 0.9%
--- Other Pacific Islander 108,914 1.0%

Implications of the Changing Population Patterns

Beyond the numerical data for ethnicity and "race" in America, it is important
to grasp the human personal dimension of this diversity. It has had profound
effects on the attitudes and actions of both minority and majority groups.
Perceptions of racial identity are especially important among African
Americans today. Their history of slavery and severe institutionalized
discrimination are not easily put behind them. To the contrary, they have
become important ethnic symbols in the "racial" boundary
maintenance separating African Americans from other groups.

The rate of loss of a minority group's distinct identity and the assimilation of its
members into the majority population has depended on a number of historical
and social factors. It has been relatively easy for most European immigrants
to assimilate within 1-2 generations due to their similarity in physical
appearance to the majority population. However, people with darker skin
color have not been able to assimilate as readily or at all in some cases. This
has been particularly true of African Americans and some Hispanics. As a
result, assimilation now is often rejected as a goal by "minorities of color" in
favor of gaining respect and acceptance as economically and politically equal
but separate ethnic groups.

Another major factor affecting the likelihood of assimilation has been the size
and concentration of ethnic groups. Those that make up the predominate
population in a large community greatly insulate their members from the
dominant cultural patterns of the national society. Their members can live
surrounded by people sharing the same ethnicity and speaking the same
familiar language or dialect. In this situation, pressures to assimilate can be
greatly ignored. This has been the case with many Mexicans and Central
Americans in East and South Los Angeles. In part, this has also been due to

the continued high rates of immigration of Spanish speakers into these

When immigrants are isolated from others of their ethnic group, it is much
more difficult for them to resist the pressure to assimilate. This was the case
with some of the Vietnamese boat people who arrived in the 1970's. The
children of those who were relocated in smaller towns in the Midwest, rather
than major cities in California, usually acquired non-Vietnamese friends and
learned relatively quickly to speak English without a Vietnamese accent.
These are important first steps in assimilation. However, whether or not it
occurs also depends on the acceptance of the newcomers by the majority

What Will the Future Be Like

Those Americans who favor a society which acknowledges the permanent
existence of unassimilated or only partially assimilated ethnic/racial minorities
generally advocate multiculturalism (or pluralism). This is essentially
an encouragement of continued diversity. The concept of multiculturalism
came to the United States from Canada in the 1970's. Pierre Elliot Trudeau,
the Canadian Prime Minister, first used the term publicly in 1972 to describe
the acceptance of a permanently unassimilated French speaking society in
Quebec Province. Today, multiculturalism in Canada is a deep-rooted policy
at every level of government and has been expanded to cover all ethnic

Multiculturalism has not been as widely accepted in the United States despite
its support by national and state governments. Those Americans who wish to
facilitate and speed up assimilation in order to reinforce national cultural unity
generally advocate a cultural melting pot instead. This latter approach is one
in which ethnic/racial distinctness is perceived of as getting in the way of
developing a culturally homogenous American society. In the past, most of
those who held this view apparently visualized the new American society as
one in which everyone spoke English and had European American values,
perceptions, and goals. "Americanization" of new immigrants essentially
meant educating everyone in the public schools to be like the existing majority
European American population.

Americans have been forced by circumstances to focus on this debate over

what the country should be like in the future. Generally, those advocating the

continuance of the older melting pot model are European Americans.
Ethnic/racial minorities and younger, more politically liberal European
Americans more often advocate the multiculturalism model. However, it is a
mistake to assume how any American would vote on this issue based on their
age, ethnicity, "race", and political leaning. It is a complex issue that also has
become intertwined with questions of affirmative action, gender equity, sexual
preference, rights of the disabled, and public costs of the massive immigration
that has occurred over the last two decades.

Richard Rodriguez, a leading American essayist and

social commentator, believes that the debate between
the multiculturalism and melting pot models is largely
irrelevant because constant close contact between
people of different ethnic/racial groups in the U.S. is
progressively resulting in a blurring of the differences
between them. Rodriguez suggests that "we are
melting into each other" genetically and culturally.
More and more children are being born with two or
more different ethnic/racial backgrounds. He refers to Is America a physically and
this as the "browning of America." However, he is not culturally "browning" society?
only referring to skin color. He points out that we
have developed a distinct national culture by borrowing from each other and
creating a new cultural synthesis. Rodriguez believes that government
policies supporting multiculturalism only put off the inevitable. However, he
also thinks that the old melting pot model was incorrect in assuming that
future generations will essentially be like European Americans today. What is
emerging is a new fusion of peoples and cultures. Actually this process of
genetic and ethnic intermixing has been going on since the beginning of the
European colonies in North America more than four centuries ago. In recent
generations, thehomogenizing of people and their cultures has been most
intense in Hawaii and the southwestern states but is rapidly moving east and
north. If asked the question of what the future will be like for Americans,
Rodriguez would very likely say that we only need to open our eyes and really
see what it is like today.