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01.11 Race, Ethnicity, and Migration in Society

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  1. Outline
    1. Social construction of race
    2. Racial and ethnic inequalities
    3. Immigration
    4. Conclusions
  2. Social construction of race
    1. Race: a classification of people based on hereditary characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, and facial features
      1. For a biologist, race is a term that is similar to species. Typically, for 2 different creatures to be considered different species they must be significantly genetically dissimilar. Modern humans do not have enough genetic variability to be considered different races by this definition. All of us alive today share 99.5% of our DNA.
      2. Furthermore, how we define race is arbitrary. Why do it on skin color rather than eye color, or blood type?
      3. This means that race is socially constructed. Race is important because we make it important socially; not because it matches up to a biological reality.
      4. Ethnicity: shared cultural heritage, nationality, or lineage.
  3. Racial & Ethnic Inequalities
    1. After slavery ended with the 13th amendment, the U.S. has Jim Crow laws until 1965 in the south. These laws legalized segregation. But things were far from equal in the north as well. Discriminatory real estate and housing practices largely prevented African American families from purchasing houses during the 20th century. Critically, home ownership was the most powerful way to establish long term wealth at the time.
    2. Today if we look at the data, the median white family earns $70,000 of income whereas the median black family earns $40,000. These numbers are more unequal for wealth as it is &160,000 for whites, and $16,000 for blacks. These differences have been largely determined by a history of housing discrimination mentioned above.
  4. Migration
    1. For the first 100 years, our country had open borders, allowing anyone in.
    2. Chinese Exclusion Act: first immigration legislation enacted in 1882. This act prevented Chinese individuals from entering the country for 10 years.
    3. In the 1920’s racial quotas and literacy tests were implemented as a means of curbing immigration.
    4. Racial quotas were not eliminated until 1965 with the Hart-Celler Act, which was greatly helped by the civil rights movement.
    5. Individuals of Latino/Hispanic heritage are expected to comprise 28% of the U.S. population by 2060. This means that as a country we have many important decisions to make about how we handle immigration.
  5. Conclusions
    1. Race is a social construct as how we define it does not match up to a biological reality.
    2. Racial and ethnic inequalities have a long history in the U.S. Inequalities today are heavily influenced by historical housing discrimination.
    3. Immigration has long been a contentious issue in the U.S. and will continue to be as immigrants comprise a larger and larger proportion of the U.S. population.

Reference Links

Video Transcript

Today we’re going to be talking about race, ethnicity, and migration.. 


In today’s lesson we will learn about the fact that race is a social construction. The way that we socially divide people into different racial categories doesn’t match up with biological reality. Next, we will discuss a brief history of racial/ethnic inequalities in the U.S. with a focus on housing discrimination. Then we will run through a brief history of immigration policy in the U.S. and talk about why these policies are so important today and in the near future. We will conclude with main points and takeaways from today’s lesson.


For most of us, race refers to a classification of people based on hereditary characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, and facial features. Yet, biologists define race a bit differently. For biologists, race is a term that it used to help classify and understand different species. Typically, different species are significantly different genetically which is caused by geographic isolation. So, the big question for us is do these physical differences in appearance that we refer to as race actually match up to genetic variation? No, they don’t. All modern humans alive today share 99.5% of their DNA!! This means that if you randomly select 2 people from the roughly 7 billion alive today from around the entire world, chances are that they share 99.5% of their genetic code. Thus, the way that we classify people into different races doesn’t actually match up to a biological reality. Furthermore, there are other issues with how we define race as they are largely arbitrary. Why do it based on skin color? Why not on eye color, or height, or the length of someone’s second toe? Or blood type?


What this means for us is that race is a social construct. It is a classification system that is socially created and thus different from society to society and across time. In the 1920’s, italians, greeks, and irish individuals were not considered of the “white” race in the United States. Today they are because today’s society defines race differently than 100 years ago. Does this mean that race isn’t an important term? No, it just forces us to recognize that the reason it is important is because society makes it important, not because it is biologically accurate.


Many would argue that a better term to use when talking about different groups of people is ethnicity. Ethnicity refers to a shared cultural heritage, nationality, or lineage. Essentially, it refers to all of the characteristics that allow us socially to distinguish one group of people form another.  


As we have discussed, there is no biological basis to modern distinct human races. Yet socially, race is an important term. Thus, it is important to understand inequalities that exist on the basis of race and ethnicity. But instead of bombarding you with numbers and statistics, a history lesson to understand the roots of racial  inequalities in the U.S. will serve us better. So, in 1863 the 13th amendment to the constitution is ratified and abolishes slavery. In the south, Jim Crow laws exist from 1876 – 1965. Jim crow laws entailed legalized segregation such as keeping whites and blacks from going to the same schools. But things weren’t perfect in the north either. in the 1920’s the national real estate brokers revised its code of ethics to state that “a realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood…members of any race or nationality…whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.” In other words, don’t introduce black people into white neighborhoods because it will bring property values down. Furthermore, government-backed mortgages were only available outside of districts that were largely african american. This was a practice known as “redlining” which wasn’t made fully illegal until the 1970’s. Importantly, throughout the 20th century the most reliable way to establish long term wealth was home ownership. The practices just mentioned largely prevented african americans from owning homes and thus allowed inequalities between whites and blacks to be sustained.


If we look at the data today, the median white family in the U.S. has around 70,000 of income as of 2017 while the median black family has around 40,000. These numbers are pretty unequal but the inequalities are much more vast in terms of wealth. The median net worth of white families in the U.S. is around $160,000 while for blacks it is only $16,000! To bring this back around, this is partly a reflection the discriminatory housing practices that existed throughout the 20th century. Undoubtedly, many of these practices take place today yet in more subtle ways. This is due to something sociologists call cultural lag. Cultural lag refers to the fact that laws change faster than culture. It takes considerable time for day-to-day practices to catch up to legal changes.


Migration is the primary reason for the extensive ethnic and racial diversity found in the United States. It is worth going over a quick snapshot of immigration policy in the United States. For the first 100 years of the country, we had open borders. It wasn’t until 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act that our government actually put in immigration legislation. This act prevented chinese individuals from entering the U.S. for 10 years owing to fears that they were taking jobs from natural born citizens. Around the 1920’s legislation passed to establish a quota system and literacy tests that immigrants had to pass to gain entry. These practices were heavily influenced by WWI as world wars tend to promote xenophobia, or fear of things dissimilar to oneself. The quota system wasn’t eliminated until 1965 with the Hart-Celler Act which was helped by the civil rights movement at the time. And today, immigration is still a hot button issue with divisive attitudes on multiple sides. Take a look at these data. As of 2014, the United States was comprised of 17.4% individuals with hispanic/latino heritage. This number is projected to jump to around 28% by the year 2060. At the same time, whites are projected to drop from 62% to 43% by 2060 according to Colby and Ortman. What this means is that as a country we have some very important decision to make about how to handle immigration as our country is getting more and more reliant on immigrants as they and their families take up a larger and larger share of our population.


Let’s finish with some key points. Race and racial categories are important because society makes them important. Modern humans are not comprised of different races/species are we don’t have enough genetic variability. Racial inequalities in the U.S. have a long and checkered history in the U.S. African americans in particular are still feeling the effect of housing discrimination practices that have been in place for over 100 years. Lastly, we are a country of immigrants yet immigration has also long been a contentious issue. As our country is projected to house a greater proportion of immigrants over the coming decades we as citizens face important choices.


We love you guys! Go out and be your best self today! And as always, Happy Nursing!