I live in New Jersey, which is well-known as a multi-racial state. I am an Irish-Italian and I own my own business, which is currently doing well. There are many Irish-Italians in my community and our race is well represented in most areas of society. Overall, my community encompasses its many races peacefully. However, differences still exist in the treatment and representation of the various ethnic minorities and majorities.
Out of the states, New Jersey rates as one of the highest in terms of ethnic diversity. According to the City-Data website, “As of 2000, 1,476,327 New Jerseyites (17.5% of the state's population) were of foreign birth. The leading countries of origin were Italy, 7.3%; Cuba, 6.5%; India, 5.4%; and Germany, 4.4%. As of 2001, New Jersey had the 3rd-highest percentage of foreign-born residents among the 50 states, surpassed only by California and New York” (City-Data, 2011).
Black people initially entered the state in the 1600s when they were imported for the slave trade. New Jersey was one of the last northern states to stop slavery, as it only did so in 1804. In the present day, blacks make up the major (13.6%) ethnic minority of the state (City-Data, 2011). Since the 1960s, race relations between Blacks and Whites have improved, parallel with developments in racial equality. When Barak Obama was elected, there was much celebration in my community as, to many people, the election of the US’ first mixed race president signified the coming together of races throughout the country.
The likely population of Hispanic and Latinos in New Jersey was at 13.3% in the year 2000. New Jersey has the fifth highest number of Asian inhabitants among the states in the US, and most of the Asians living in New Jersey are reportedly from India (City-Data, 2011). Additionally, there are also a high number of Native Americans living in New Jersey.
These figures support what is evident, just from living or being in New Jersey. It is an ethnically diverse state. As an Irish-Italian, I am around a great many people who look like me, as there are many Irish-Italians in my area. My skin is an olive colour, and is lighter than White causations, but lighter than Black peoples’ skin. Many of the races in my community have dark hair like mine. Asians, Hispanics and Blacks tend to have very dark hair, as do some of the Whites. There are a large number of Irish Italians living in New Jersey, and we are not classed as an ethnic minority. When I look around in my state, I see many people who look similar to me, but I also see people from a variety of different races. There are many Blacks, Whites, Asians and Native Americans.
Today in New Jersey, Irish-Italians are treated well. We are not an ethnic minority like many of the other races. Nevertheless, even in a state with so much multiculturalism, racism still exists, mainly against the black and Asian races. I am surprised by how often I still hear people refer to another’s race, in a negative or derogatory way.
Since the 1950s and 60s, relations between the races have been improving. Nevertheless, leaders within the community still seem to favour people of their own races. Mrs S, for example, is head of her department at the secondary school in which she works. She is a white woman, and she admitted to me that she sometimes subconsciously expects some children to be more intelligent, or to grasp concepts more quickly than others, based on the race of the child (Mrs, S, 2011). She didn’t specify which races she was speaking about, but I found the fact that she discriminates, even on a subconscious level, quite shocking. However, I believe that all of us discriminates to some degree, and maybe Mrs S is just more honest than many people.
According to Racial and Ethnic Groups by Richard T. Schaefer, Robert Merton's Typology places all people into four categories. These are: a) the unprejudiced nondiscriminator (all-weather liberal), b) the unprejudiced discriminator (reluctant liberal), c) the prejudiced non-discriminator (timid bigot), and d) the prejudiced discriminator (all-weather bigot) (Schaefer, 2005a). If this model is to be followed, Mrs S seems to fit most aptly into the third category; she could be termed a prejudiced non-discriminator.
In terms of employment, Irish-Italians work in all sorts of industries. Some examples of jobs that people of my race have are construction workers, police officers, landscapers, office workers, counsellors and clergy. We are represented as a race in most areas of work, and we contribute positively to the community.
If Irish-Italians face discrimination in the workplace, it is actually through positive discrimination. In New Jersey, there is what is known as affirmative action, which gives jobs to those of ethnic minorities. In this way, Irish-Italians are discriminated against as they are not considered an ethnic minority, and therefore do not get the jobs.
As Richard T. Schaefer points out in his book, Racial and Ethnic Groups, “A social minority need not be a mathematical one. A minority group is a subordinate group whose members have significantly less control or power over their own lives than do the members of a dominant or majority group” (Schaefer, 2005b). Irish-Italians are not outnumbered, and nor do they have notably less power than the other races in New Jersey.
I have my own construction business, and so I am exempt from this type of concern, but I do know several people of my race for whom this has posed real difficulties in gaining employment. In general, I do not face discrimination in my work. My customers are people of all different races, and I can’t remember ever having lost out on a job because of my race.
One thing I notice a great deal is the lack of Irish-Italians featured in popular novels. Even today, the majority of books represent Whites. If books represent Blacks or other races, it tends to be for a reason such as to explore a theme of racism, for example. I am aware that American schools are beginning to introduce more multicultural literature, and I think this would be an important step.
I spoke to a school teacher, Mrs S, and asked her opinion on multicultural literature. She told me that in her job she has to promote it, but in honesty she worries that it will cause America students to lose their sense of American Identity (Mrs S, 2011). However, I personally disagree with Mrs S. In fact, America is so full of different ethnicities now that studying a range of multicultural texts is actually more likely to reinforce a student’s sense of being American.
Classrooms around New Jersey are made up of students from a range of cultural backgrounds, and educational sources ought to reflect this variety. All school students, regardless of their ethnicity, should face text that is challenging and also familiar, and multicultural literature will allow this to happen. Moreover, they will meet stories that view diversity as a positive thing, rather than as a reason for hatred or fear. According to the Schoolwide Online Newsletter, the general consensus among experts is that multicultural literature is beneficial to all students, “regardless of ethnicity, race, language, social class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and other differences” (Literature, 2011).
Studying such literature could help shape a more tolerant and sensitive population in New Jersey, as changing any perspective on a large scale works best if started at the bottom, i.e. with the children. It may also serve as a way of helping people to connect with one another, across different cultural backgrounds. If I could change something about my community, I would like to ask my local library to stock more multicultural books.
Overall, my community within New Jersey is a mixed and pleasant one. I enjoy living in a multi-racial community as I thrive on diversity. Furthermore, to live in an area with only one race would be, for me, to be only acknowledging one small part of the world. Interacting with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, on a daily basis, provides a reminder of all the people there are in the world, and of how we are all both different and the same.
My race is not an ethnic minority within my community, as there are many Irish-Italians living there, and also because our race does not have significantly less power than others. It is possible that my views on my community are biased, as I can really only comment on it from my perspective, and mine is a comfortable one. If I were of a race which is considered in the minority, for example Black, it is feasible that I would notice more aspects of the community which I would like to change, to make them more equal.
As a business owner, I do not notice inequality issues in the employment world. However, as an avid reader, I notice that something as simple as the books I have access to do not reflect the cultural diversity of my community. Education is the key to creating equality across races in America, and popular medium such as literature is a good way of sending a message out to a wide audience.
My home in New Jersey is generally accepting and sensitive to its diversity. However, there is definitely room for improvement. Just as life, regarding race, has changed a great deal over the past century, it is likely that life will continue to change a vast amount over the next one. I am excited about the future of multiracial New Jersey.
City-Data. (2011). New-Jersey Ethnic Groups. Retrieved from http://www.city-
S, Mrs. (2011). Interview with author on 12 June 2011. New Jersey.
Schaefer, R. (2005a). Discrimination. Racial and Ethnic Groups. Prentice-Hall.
Schaefer, R. (2005b). Understanding Race and Ethnicity. Racial and Ethnic Groups.
Schoolwide. (2011). Literature for Every Student: Multicultural Literature in the Classroom.