Race and ethnicity has defined the society in the USA for years end. The term race refers to the distinctions arising from the physical appearance of an individual while; on the other hand, ethnicity refers to the distinctions based on the nation of origin, religion and other markers that define a culture. The analysis shows the historical formation of the early ethnic and racial groups in the USA and at the same time explore the forces and circumstances that contributed immensely to their relationships. The analysis also shows that the immigration had a significant effect on the living conditions and variety of ethnic groups in America.
Unlike other continents i.e. Eurasia and Africa, Americas remained particularly unoccupied until around 15, 000 years ago when the new, vast land, is thought to have been discovered. This saw the influx of populations from all over the world, particularly Asia, Africa and Europe. The first indigenous inhabitants are believed to be the Indian Americans, from the Asian race who crossed over to the US from Asia through the present day Beringia land bridge. Years later, the Europeans arrived and settled particularly on the Eastern part of the USA. Finally, Africans were brought over as slaves to work on the whites’ plantation farms.
According to the summary report from the population resource centre that was submitted by Andrew Batchelor in 2004, it is indicated that, by the year 1790, the colonial America had a population whose 50% were people from the white race. The African Americans were about 20%, whereas the Native Americans were not counted in this census. However, America is believed to have been first inhabited by the present day Native Americans who are people of the Asian race. They were later on displaced to the northern side of the country with the arrival of the whites. They survived the warfare instigated by the white settlers and thereby managing to retain their tribal cultures. However, their settlement was confined to the northern part of the country after the clash with the British (Dell 56).
Three races namely the whites, blacks, and the Indians inhabited the United States. However, the racial and ethnic relations as indicated by the history reveals that the immigrants from the white race such as this originating from protestant dominated nations like Sweden, Germany, and Netherlands quite easily enjoyed dominance status. This was unlike their compatriots such as the African Americans and Native Indians. There are a number of factors, which are believed to have shaped the relations of the races as they interacted. Some are as discussed in the three paragraphs that follow (Sowell 33).
Political control/Law: The whites being much civilized, they easily exercised political control over the rest of the races. Laws were formulated that purposefully served to give an upper hand to the white population. For instance, the members of the Indian community were entirely cut out from any political business in the year 1829, when the Alabama state went as far as dividing the creek territory into counties, and forcefully subjecting the Indian population to European magistrates. Similarly, in 1830, the state of Mississippi assimilated the Choctaws and Chickasaws (Indian tribes) into the white population, and forbid that none of them should take a title of a chief, otherwise, he or she would face a charge of $1000 and a year’s imprisonment (Chapter XVIII, p. 63). However, from 1870s, political machines become a common phenomenon as most immigrants viewed them as a vehicle of political enfranchisement. Irish community benefited most as their religion was then favored (Political Machines notes).
Slavery was equally a force that was imposed by the whites on the black. In the year, 1830, statistics showed that of the 2,329,766 Negroes in the US, 2, 010,327 were slaves. This implies that only 319,439 were free blacks. The Negro community was voiceless and was always made to be at the mercy of the whites. Their call for emancipation from freedom was ignored, and they had to content with their position as subjects or rather slaves of the whites. The arrival of subsequent migrations in the United States had quite a significant impact on the social, Economic and political aspects of the demographic set up. In his book, Race, Ethnicity, and Politics in American History, page 345-346, Michael Barone expresses how the politics of the time were forced to change from one race affair. Each ethnic group somehow leaned much to support the candidacy to the electorate of an individual to whom they shared either religion or point of origin. A case in point is the Whig governor of New York, William Steward who in 1938 sought the Irish votes simply by promising his support to the Catholic schools.
Moreover, from the notes that were delivered as a talk to the OACAC summer conference by Steve Yale Loehr, the Americans were disturbed with the ever-bulging immigrants and the capacity of America to accommodate them without straining resources. Cities struggled to provide transportation services and safe drinking water that led to prevalence of cholera and typhoid fever. Theft cases increased due to unemployment. Furthermore, bush fires became a common phenomenon as people lived in wooden houses and the usage of candles. Examples are the Chicago 1871 and the San Francisco 1906 fires. These conditions necessitated quick legislative actions to be taken i.e. restrictions on immigration. These restrictions were based on race and ethnicity, in addition to, the contribution of the individual’s immigrants from nations to the US economy. In 1870, the first immigration law was enacted, and in the year, 1924 Congress imposes permanent quotas to limit immigration. For example, the law put a limit of 150,000 Europeans and complete ban on immigration from Japan and China. This law was meant to preserve the racial and ethnic status quo that existed then. This clearly shows that the formation of America as a state traces back its roots to the racial and ethnic segregation that existed at the time. Similarly, the relationship between various ethnicities and races was significantly influenced by immigration. It also determined the living conditions and the limits of lifestyles adopted by various groups.
Race, Ethnicity, and Politics in American History by Michael Barone
Notes delivered as speech by Steve Yale Loehr to the OACAC summer conference, 2002
Political machines notes.
Thomas, Sowell. (1983). Ethnic America. The New York Press
Dell, Upton. (1987). America’s architectural roots: ethnic groups that built America. Routledge