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Definition: race relations from Collins English Dictionary


1 (functioning as plural) the relations between members of two or more human races, esp within a single community

2 (functioning as singular) the branch of sociology concerned with such relations

Summary Article: Race Relations from Dictionary of American Government and Politics

Racial awareness and tensions have a long history in the United States. Race relations have been potentially tense ever since whites dispossessed, humiliated and segregated Native Americans, many of whom still live in poverty. Whites imported, enslaved and then gradually 'freed' slaves from their enslavement and conceded political and legal equality. But many African Americans remain economically disadvantaged. So, too, large sections of the Hispanic community are relatively poor by American standards. The causes of such tensions have sometimes been cultural and/or economic but skin colour has been an abiding cause of antagonism.

Most evidently, tension has occurred between whites and non-whites although there has sometimes been hostility between different nonwhite groups. In the Los Angeles riots (1992), African Americans rioters targeted Asian-owned businesses. In the mid-nineteenth century in New England, signs were displayed in houses and places of employment saying: 'No Irish Wanted'.

Most white Americans have always felt superior to, and yet threatened by, other groups. As the non-white minorities became more assertive, so too whites became increasingly uneasy. Some ethnic groups have for long periods accepted discrimination without significant public protest, in the way that the Chinese Americans have tended to retreat into their own community. Others, primarily African Americans, have protested with greater frequency and more potency. Throughout much of American history, there has been an uneasy coexistence between whites and African Americans, interspersed by outbreaks of disorder.

The methods by which whites have asserted their control over minority groups have varied over time. Southern blacks were long enslaved. After they were emancipated, they were the victims of de jure discrimination in the South where segregation was a way of life. In the North, they often endured de facto discrimination, forms of social segregation that were not enshrined in law. Other than discrimination and segregation, Black Americans have at particular times and in particular states experienced intimidation and violence, the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War South being especially vicious. So, too, Native Americans were segregated, in their case on their reservations.

Despite the weight of historical evidence of mistreatment, some racial groups have coped and even prospered. None of them endures legal racial discrimination for this has been outlawed by legislation, most notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the legacy of past injustice lingers and tensions erupt from time to time. With slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow and other racial injustices in its rearview mirror, the United States has come a long way but still has a long way to go.

See also Melting Pot

A picture of US race relations in recent years

In your view, are racial minorities in the United States today routinely discriminated against?
Black White Other people of color Other Female Male White male 19 years and younger 20 to 39 years old 40 years and older East South Mid-west West Other
Yes 93.0% 79.0% 82.9% 73.4% 85.0% 78.2% 72.4 79.4% 80.5% 89.2% 87.6% 77.2% 85.6% 81.2% 78.6%
No 4.7% 16.4% 13.2% 19.3% 10.8% 17.6% 23.2 13.6% 15.8% 9.9% 9.4% 17.7% 11.5% 14.5% 15.5%
No opinion 2.2% 4.6% 3.9% 7.2% 4.2% 4.3% 9.4 7.0% 3.8% 1.0% 2.9% 5.1% 2.8% 4.3% 6.0%
Over the last 10 years, how has the quality of life changed for minorities?
Black White Other people of color Other Female Male White male 19 years and younger 20 to 39 years old 40 years and older East South Mid-west West Other
Has gotten better 34.5% 54.0% 57.3% 57.8% 50.0% 47.3% 50.5% 59.8% 47.5% 36.6% 42.5% 51.9% 51.8% 45.3% 55.3%
Has gotten worst 28.6% 10.3% 12.0% 9.3% 14.2% 18.0% 13.1% 7.0% 15.5% 27.8% 18.3% 12.1% 15.0% 17.7% 18.8%
Has stayed about the same 35.4% 30.9% 28.0% 27.0% 32.0% 30.7% 30.6% 27.1% 34.0% 33.7% 36.2% 31.8% 30.3% 32.7% 17.6%
No opinion 1.6% 4.8% 2.7% 5.9% 3.8% 3.9% 5.7% 6.2% 2.9% 1.9% 3.0% 4.1% 2.8% 4.3% 8.2%
Do you think that relations between racial minorities and whites will always be a problem for the United States or that a solution will eventually be worked out?
Black White Other people of color Other Female Male White male 19 years and younger 20 to 39 years old 40 years and older East South Mid-west West Other
Adapted from findings of Race Relations survey, Race, Racism and the Law, conducted by Vernellia R. Randall and her team at the University of Dayton, 2002 (based upon 1,695 respondents).
Will eventually be worked out 23.4% 40.2% 30.1% 33.9% 32.8% 36.4% 39.4% 33.8% 31.5% 36.8% 35.6% 31.7% 29.8% 32.9% 31.3%
Will always be a problem 76.6% 59.8% 69.9% 66.1% 67.2% 63.6% 60.6% 66.2% 68.5% 63.2% 64.4% 68.3% 70.2% 67.1% 68.8%
© Duncan Watts, 2010

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