Racial Differences and Ethnic Groups in the US

Over the past decades, immigration has increased the ethnic and racial multiplicity in the US. It was a biracial society mainly composed of a majority of whites and a minority of blacks but now it is a multiracial community. This is because of bigger immigration as well as an increase in tribal intermarriage which has resulted in a rising multiracial population. Immigration has created various ethnic groups in the US and therefore has a dramatic impact on its ethnic and race relations. Ethnic groups and immigrant origin in the U.S. can best be understood in the context of ethnicity and race relationship.

Race can be defined as the biological differences between groups of people of two types namely phenotype, visible external differences in physical appearance and genotype, internal differences in terms of genetics/hereditary but in everyday life. Race is usually perceived based on phenotype (visible external physical differences). The U.S. racial categories include only the following groups of people: Whites, Blacks, Asians (Asians and Pacific Islander) and Indians (American Indian and Alaskan Native).

Researchers have not found significant genetic differences between different populations including races because the total human variation is very small (0.5%). Races differ mainly in phenotype (superficial differences in appearance) and not genotype (innate, intelligence, ability). Race is important as a social reality, not a biological reality. Race is a social construction based on social perceptions people have about human physical differences and the cultural meanings/beliefs they attach to such differences. The social construction of race is culturally relative and varies from one society to another and has changed over history. Each racial category is associated with cultural meanings/beliefs about members of that racial group. Certain races have often been socially perceived as superior than others. This has been used to justify social inequalities and exploitation of races perceived as inferior. Racism is a false belief in the innate inferiority of certain races because of their genetic/biological differences. It has therefore been used to justify conquering, colonizing, enslaving, and exterminating others.

Ethnic groups are people who share a common culture and racial descent/ancestry that makes them different from other groups. Ethnic minorities are the group which faces prejudice/discrimination the most. The majority group is usually numerically superior and is the dominant power holder. Ethnic minorities can be culturally and/or racially different from majority ethnic group. Ethnic stereotypes are dominant images/beliefs about an ethnic group that are applied indiscriminately to its member.

They have a number of effects on the ethnic group they are associated with. They can be positive or negative, influence how we perceive and interact with ethnic minorities. And they can also be problematic (even if they are positive) because of the refusal to acknowledge individual differences (viewing all members of the ethnic group as same). There are two types of ethnic minority’s i.e. Ethnic minorities of immigrant who are said to be of origin/descent and Indigenous minorities/original inhabitants of a country who become ethnic minorities when subsequent immigrants come and dominate the country.

Ethnic groups are not equal, but are hierarchically stratified by socioeconomic status and power. U.S. ethnic hierarchies are formed according to racial, whites at the top and blacks at the bottom and other ethnic groups positioned in between. This ethnic hierarchy was created during the historical legacy of immigration. When immigrant groups came to the U.S., they were inserted into a certain socioeconomic position in the hierarchy. Immigrants and immigrant ethnic minorities that face more discrimination find it harder to move up the hierarchy.