Racial and Ethnic Politics

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1. Key Concepts
a) Civil rights. Civil rights are guaranteed in the Constitution (which contains a Bill of Rights, the 1st 10 amendments),
subsequent amendments and Acts of Congress. But these civil rights were not granted equally to all groups, e.g. voting,
standing for office, protection from discrimination. Discrimination exists where individuals are treated unfairly solely
because of their race, gender, ethnic group etc. Such discrimination is illegal, but it may be difficult to prove. The 14th
Amendment, guarantees equal protection (ratified in 1868, shortly before Civil War).
b) Multiracialism/multiculturalism. At the time of its founding US was a relatively homogeneous society dominated by the
descendants of English settlers. It is now multiracial and multicultural. Some commentators welcome this diversity as a
source of vitality and energy ­ it is what keeps the US open to new ideas and continually striving to be the best. They argue
it is in keeping with an open, tolerant, pluralist society which has high regard for civil rights. However, others fear the
divisions will lead to Balkanisation and the eventual break up of the US. Arthur Schlesinger Jr (historian) has warned of
`the fragmentation of the national community into a quarrelsome spatter of enclaves, ghettos, tribes.'
c) Black nationalism. During the 60s and 70s groups like the Black Panthers defied government authority (and legitimacy)
and resorted to violence. Malcolm X. In more recent years Louis Farrakhan has led the Nation of Islam, a radical black
separatist organisation. He has attracted controversy because of the antiSemitic and antiwhite character of some of his
public statements.
d) Equal Protection. The 14th Amendment forbids any state to `deny to any person ... the equal protection of the law'. The SC
has also ruled that the 5th Amendment's due process clause also provides equal protection. This means that
unreasonable distinctions cannot be drawn between different groups of people. In practice all governments must classify
or draw distinctions between people. The SC has developed 3 tests for considering whether or not a law or action might
violate the equal protection clause.
The Rational Basis Test, i.e. is there a good reason to classify or draw distinctions.
If classification is based on race it is suspect. This means there must be `compelling public interest' to justify it.
There are some fundamental rights which cannot be violated e.g. right to vote or travel freely between the states.
2. What are civil rights and how far have they been achieved in the USA?
a) Historically, civil rights in the US are associated with the Civil Rights Movement, which culminated in a series of measures,
principally the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. These ended segregation and discrimination
in areas such as housing, and guaranteed a universal franchise (i.e., votes for all).
b) Civil rights can be narrowly defined as the right to be free from discrimination on grounds of race, gender, sexual
orientation etc., and the ability to play a full part in civil and political life.
c) More broadly, civil rights can also be seen as all the basic freedoms of the citizens of a state, i.e., the rights often referred
to as civil liberties. Both are derived from a variety of sources: the constitution (particularly the Bill of Rights and the 13th,
14th and 15th amendments), federal and state legislation, and Supreme Court decisions.
d) Supreme Court decisions have extended rights to include, for example, abortion and homosexuality.
e) Evidence that civil rights have not yet been achieved, or are at least not secure, could include:
measures passed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 2001
lack of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing female equality
only some states permit homosexual marriage
persistent evidence of discrimination against minorities by employers and law enforcement agencies
lack of minority representation in the Senate
lack of status for 12m illegal immigrants
3. Racial and Ethnic Diversity.
a) Current figures. Total population 315m. Whites 64%, Blacks 13%, Hispanics 16%, Asian 5%. Native Americans are very
few in number (many living on reservations).
b) In 1995 about 30% of black population lived below the poverty line (11% for whites). Black infant mortality double that of
white. In 1996 ¼ of all black teenagers failed to graduate from high school. Blacks are disproportionately likely to be
victims of crime and offenders.
c) Racism still exists. Opinion polls regularly suggest that racial stereotypes are widely accepted, e.g. a clear majority of
whites claim that blacks `prefer welfare'.
d) Whites are not a homogeneous bloc. US is a nation of immigrants. About 16% of whites are WASPS, but large groups of
Irish, Poles, Italians etc. immigrants to US in 19th or 20th centuries.
e) Hispanics consist of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and those from other Central American countries. Huge recent
growth in numbers (over 4m are illegal immigrants). Share many of the problems of the black communities (e.g. 11%
unemployed compared to 6% for whites, 1/3 below poverty line). California passed Proposition 187 in 1994 withholding
nonemergency state benefits such as health care and education from `undocumented aliens'. By 2050 it is projected that
¼ of the population will be Hispanic.
f) Mass immigration has had a number of other effects on US culture:
it has fractured the geography of many cities (Chinatown, Little Italy)
religious diversity
political implications. In many states a certain ethnic background is essential for success, e.g. Irish vote crucial in New
York and Boston, Hispanic in California, S.C. judges are often chosen on basis of ethnicity.
4. Key Issues and Events
W/Politics (PH)/Revision Sheets/3.4 Racial & Ethnic Politics

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Discrimination. This is difficult to prove e.g. in Washington v Davis (1976) the SC ruled that to prove a state guilty of
discrimination, one must prove that an intent to discriminate motivated the states' action. Two blacks challenged the police
department's requirement that all recruits pass a verbal ability test (saying this was unconstitutional because more blacks
than whites failed the test). Court disagreed, saying crucial issue was the intent.…read more

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JapaneseAmericans in World War II were only finally resolved by formal government apologies and financial
compensation, and argue that similar steps need to be taken in relation to AfricanAmericans before the past can be
laid to rest and racial harmony achieved. Supporters of this view argue that Affirmative Action has always been an
inadequate remedy for the effects of slavery and segregation and that reparations for the suffering of African
Americans is required. Reparations, i.e.…read more

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Why Does the Issue of Civil Rights Continue to Provoke Political Controversy?
a) Civil rights are guaranteed in the Constitution, subsequent amendments and Acts of Congress.
b) Civil rights should be granted equally to all groups. Examples ­ voting, standing for office, protection from discrimination.
Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991.
c) Refer to S.C. decisions e.g. Brown v Board, Bakke case (affirmative action).
d) Much progress has been made since 1960s, but still some unresolved issues i.e.…read more

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Critics of racial profiling argue that the policy is the most visible form of continued racial discrimination which subtly
pervades American society, and provides concrete evidence that affirmative action continues to be required to provide
access to opportunities that would otherwise by denied.
12.…read more

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Affirmative Action has been little more than a mild painkiller to treat a serious illness just enough to take the
patient's mind off the pain and make everyone feel that something is being done.…read more

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If AA disappears then the US might lose its Affirmative action may encourage its beneficiaries to be lazy. Why
momentum towards social justice and the work hard if affirmative action programmes virtually guarantee
gains in civil rights of the last 40 years could progress?
be lost (e.g., racial profiling is becoming Because affirmative action programmes have been in place for
more accepted).…read more

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African Americans have been demanding compensation for slavery since the end of the American Civil War. Immediately after
the abolition of slavery, the demand was for 40 acres and a mule to ensure they would not be dependent on their former
slaveowners. Then, between 1890 and 1917, there was a movement to lobby the government for pensions to compensate for
their unpaid labour under slavery. Since 1989, Congressman John Conyers Jnr (Michigan) has introduced a bill every year to
study the case for reparations.…read more

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Immigration has now become a States Rights issue, i.e., can states pass their own antiimmigration laws (e.g., Arizona
SB1070). States passed 206 laws relating to immigration in 2008. Obama is opposed to this piecemeal state by state
m) 2012 Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme which gave a two year reprieve from
deportation for those who arrived in US as children.
n) In 2013 Obama pledged to tackle immigration reform in his second term.…read more


Old Sir

A very useful and comprehensive set of notes. Students are likely to find the examples and case studies to which these notes refer especially useful for constructing discussions to address assessment objective 2, (evaluation and analysis) when researched in detail.

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