How Race Has Changed In The Past Fifty Years In America


Race is a universal issue. However, the United States of America should receive special emphasis because it is made of diverse cultures. Contrary to other nations in the world, the US is not racially homogenous. This has been as result of immigration patterns witnessed in the twentieth century to date. Consequently, ideas about race have changed and will continue to do so as the demographic patterns in the country keep changing. Some highlights of these ideas will be examined in detail in the essay. (Zimmerman, 1992)

Source: Booth, W. (1998): The myth of the melting post; The Washington post, page A1, February 22nd

The concept of race fifty years ago

More precise definitions of American nationality

During that era, the largest percentage of the population was represented by white Protestants. Their cultural influences were seen in almost all aspects of Americans’ lives. Movies, Music, religion, politics, educational institutions were largely dominate by these groups. Some of the people who regarded themselves as the real natives felt that they were the ideal definition of what it meant to be an American. Most of these social institutions had trouble absorbing minority groups. For example Movies at that time rarely had any black stars and when they were given a role, it was usually as a servant or any other minor role. There were very few politicians who came from minority groups as racial ideas were still quite conservative at that time. Institutions were not accommodating towards foreigners as policies mainly catered for the dominant white population.

Hatred for the Jews

In the early twentieth Century, that is, between the 1900 to the 1920s, America had one of the highest influxes of immigrant populations. Most of them came from Europe thus introducing Germans, Italians and the Irish into American soil. Some of them were Jews while others were Catholics. All of a sudden there was a mixture of different races and religious groups that presented itself to the indigenous population. This was where stereotypes emerged since they perceived the new entrants as intruders. (Dunbar, 1997)

The epitome of these negative perceptions was seen in the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. Jews were the main victims as members of the former group considered them as an inferior race that should be eliminated. These ideas were also present among other members of society although they were not depicted as openly and inhumanly as the former group did.

Passage of the immigration law

There were many complaints that had been registered by Asian immigrants and Latin Americans. They claimed that there was preferential treatment by authorities. They asserted that European immigrants were allowed to bring over their families from their native land such that they could reunite but this did not apply to the former group. Therefore, in the year 1965, the government passed an immigration law. It allowed the latter immigrant groups to bring their families into the United States such that they could be reunited. This was the reason why there was such a large influx of Latin American and Hispanic immigrants around that time.

Open racial hostilities and misunderstandings

Cases of racial hostilities were higher fifty years ago than they are now. The main reason for such trends could probably be because most of the immigrant populations were unknown to local residents. Most of them regarded them as intruders. Some natives felt insecure about them because they assumed that such influxes will bring serious competition for jobs. They were also worried that interactions with immigrants will break the social cohesiveness that had previously existed. Cases of the Chinese, Hispanics and Latinos being victims of racial hatred were high. (Booth, 1998)

The African American population had been around for sometime and opportunities were now emerging. This period characterized the point at which many African Americans started entering institutions of higher learning. Others were able to penetrate certain social circles that they had previously not been allowed. Despite all these positive changes, there were still instances when groups who were not familiar with them would instigate violence. Racially related crimes like destroying property owned by minorities or beating up blacks were still prevalent.

Economic status of immigrants

Before the 1965 immigration law had been passed, most of the immigrants were considered as successful members of society. They had achieved high levels of education and jobs were widely accessible. Consequently, their household incomes were quite lucrative and most of them had the ability to own homes or other forms of property. However after the law, there was very little discretion in terms of who entered the country. In the 1970s, such immigrants were young in age and had not reached college level. With their poor educational levels, most immigrant populations remained unemployed. They also had very low chances of fending for themselves thus mainly depending on welfare. Most of these immigrant families actually lived below the poverty line.

The concept of race currently

Changes in demographic trends

Previously, immigrant populations mainly constituted of African Americans and Europeans. But there has been a radical shift to other types of immigrants. Racial differences are no longer seen as issues between whites and blacks only. The country’s census Bureau released the following results around six years ago

  • whites-74%
  • blacks-12%
  • Hispanics-10%
  • Asians-3%

It can already be seen that in some States, whites are no longer the dominant groups. For example in Hawaii, California and New Mexico, trends have already been reversed one cannot claim that there is an ethic group there boasting of domination.

Failures to understand other races

There is considerable evidence that most Americans do not understand each other. This is mostly brought out when two groups belong to different ethnicities. There is tendency to lump members of a certain racial group together even when they have very little in common. For example, Koreans and the Japanese are usually treated as one and same group yet each group has their own identity.

Formation of cliques

Whenever one visits any high school, college, church or other social gatherings, it is a common phenomenon to find that people of certain ethnicities associate with members of their same group. The trend exists even among teenagers in high school or adults within more advanced social groups. Even institutions of higher learning have not escaped this trend because when one visits a certain University, there may be numerous student associations but most of them are formed along ethnic or racial lines. The fact of the matter is that more and more minorities want to hold on to their cultures. This is regardless of whether or not an individual was born in America or not. Some teenagers, maybe third generational immigrants but still consider themselves as largely Hispanic, Asian or black. (Dunbar, 1997)

By forming such groups, there have been limited interactions between members of different ethnicities. Consequently members of one ethnic group cannot develop to their full potential because there is no free flow of information. Another repercussion of such behavior is the emergence of specialized cultural expressions. For example, there are types of music that are exclusive to the African American population and there are also certain types of movies that are limited to Latinos or Asians. This has limited cohesion within society and so many people still lack opportunities as a result of their racial associations.

Economic and social limitations

Most races have been associated with certain jobs or levels employment. The white majority are the ones who mainly hold senior positions within Companies. Fewer minorities fall in the upper status, most of them have been seen working in low paying jobs. Others rely solely on welfare to feed their families. Even certain residential areas are associated with particular ethnic communities. The concept has been stretched to include States. Statistics show that in the year 1999, there were about six percent more immigrants than natives relying on welfare. This was especially synonymous with certain groups such as Salvadorans and Cambodians. These economic limitations have brought about more seclusion of minority groups and more and more ethnicities stick to themselves. In the year 2000, the following data was collected

New York- two fifth of the population do not speak English at home

-fifty percent do not know English well

Miami- seventy five percent of the population do not speak English at home

-sixty seven percent do not know English well

Sometimes, local culture is to blame for these imbalances in the social and economic setting. When immigrants enter the American population, there is lack of comprehensive structure to orient them into the American culture. Lack of economic empowerment among minority groups has also led to criminal tendencies among some of them. For example there are many criminal activities usually recorded in areas that are predominantly African American. Such cases have led to increased dissociation by members of the dominant white race. Some stereotypes among members of the white race assume that all black Americans may be potential criminals. However, this trend is slowly changing as some black families have become economically empowered. This point has been further emphasized by powerful positions that some blacks such as Condoleezza Rice hold. (Zimmerman, 1992)

The concept of race in the future

Lack of cohesiveness

Some demographers believe that America will become represented by almost if not all races in the world. These people will all be identified as American and the country will serve as an example of what racial tolerance and integration is all about.

However, some experts have been a bit negative in their predictions. They have claimed that the US is going to develop into a country that has too many fragments. This implies that there will be lack of common ideals between any two communities. These demographers have argued that the trend can be predicted from the present observations. They also claim that there will be minimal national identity and unity because the country will be composed of too many diverse cultures. However, such a view point may not necessarily be true because there are many countries in Africa especially in the continents of Asia and Africa that have so many ethnic groups but have managed to identify themselves with a particular country. Others have also claimed that increased immigrations and diverse racial groups will favor the rise of capitalism and other principle values. In addition, they claim that this will only be limited to the overall country; such people claim that there will be fewer interactions between members of different ethnicities. (Fein & Spencer, 1997)

Changes in the ratio of minorities

Experts have used current trends to predict what the ratio will be in the future. This what these groups are predicting by the year 2050

  • whites-53%
  • Asians- 8%
  • blacks-14%
  • Hispansics-25%

These same researchers have also suggested that there will be reversal of trends in certain States. They believe that whites will no longer be the majority in States like Maryland, New Jersey, Texas and Nevada. Suggestions have also been made that some states will be converted and will only represent one ethnic group, examples of such States include;

  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
  • New York
  • Chicago
  • Washington DC
  • Miami
  • Houston. (Dunbar, 1997)

These States are already showing promising signs currently of becoming largely minority based; most them are coastal regions. Researchers have shown that today over fifty percent of the populations in those areas are made up of residents who were not born in the United States. Yet these same people represent seventy five percent of the American population. It is therefore fair to predict that those Stages will be made up of more minorities in the future.

The result of such kinds of trends is the immigration of whites. It has actually been observed that today, whites are leaving cities to go to suburban areas or are even immigrating to other States. Some of the States that will see more and more whites include Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Las Vegas, Orlando and Portland. The immigrations will be necessitated by the need to escape competition from the high immigrant populations for jobs and other economic opportunities. These white populations will also be looking to maintain their social lifestyles. They could also be looking for residential neighborhoods that suite them. Alternatively, white migrations will also be an attempt to gain some sort of political clout by residents.

The consequences of these changes in demographics will be that there might be emergence of two categories of Americans. There will be the conservative type who will be concerned with the use of English as a language of communication and will also be concerned about social cohesiveness. On the other hand, there will also be the more diverse Americans. These ones will be able to express himself well in many languages and will have incorporated many cultures into his or her associations. Such an American will most likely care about the introduction of bilingual education and equal treatment for all. Maybe in other years to come, this type of American will become representative of the majority group. (Conference on Civil Rights, 1997)

So many researchers agree that the United States is currently experiencing the same level of immigration that it did in the early twentieth Century. But the difference between that immigration and the current one is that most of the populations are not made up Europeans as it was before. They mainly come from Asian and Latin American countries. These patterns are the basis upon which demographers have predicted the constitution of the country in the future. As it can be seen in the pie charts shown on page one, there will be a very high population of Hispanic residents in the United States. Their influxes are so high now that they will reduce the percentage of blacks as the largest minority group in the country.

Some of the consequences of such a pattern will be that power sharing is going to differ. Power will not just be limited to the majority race; that is the whites. Consequently, there will also be differential changes in attitudes of all the stakeholders in the political scene. They will have to learn how to accommodate all these former minority groups.

Some members of the indigenous population will also have to adjust to job sharing because the latter will not be the only ones who are need of them. Certain professions that had been associated with minority races will cease being so and perhaps these minority groups will rise up the corporate ladder. One such example is the African American Group. Fifty years ago, this group was largely associated with low levels of employment. Those who were employed did not engage in high status jobs. But as the years progressed and we entered into the twenty first century, more and more blacks are beginning to contribute positively to the economy. Most of them have middleclass or high class jobs. This will be very influential in the way African Americans or other minority groups are regarded.


Fifty years ago, America was not as racially diverse as it is today. Most people talked of racial differences in terms of white and blacks alone. At that time, there were clear definitions of what it meant to be a black but there were also open cases of hostility towards minority groups. However after the passage of the 1965 immigration law that allowed immigrant families to invite their counterparts from their native countries to come and live in the US, things changed. This brought about a high influx of Latin American and Asian immigrants. (Booth, 1998)

Consequently, there is a rise in the number of minority groups today. Blacks have become more economically empowered to day but there are still some neighborhoods that are associated with criminal activity. There are also large differences between these diverse races with the formation of groups based on ethnic lines in all social spheres including religious organizations. In light of these facts, the future might be characterized by more increases in the numbers of Hispanics than Blacks. It might also see different types of Americans emerging: Those who value conservative English speaking culture and multilingual ones who will represent the new multicultural America.


Booth, W. (1998): The myth of the melting post; The Washington post, page A1, February 22nd

Zimmerman, E. (1992): Racial ideas and social reform; a journal by the Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 72, No.1, p.


Conference on Civil Rights (1997): Cause for concern: Hate crimes in America, a report for civil rights

Fein, S., & Spencer, S. (1997): Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others; Routledge Publications

Dunbar, E. (1997): Hate crime patterns in Los Angeles County: Demographic and behavioral factors of victim impact and reporting of crime, a report presented by the American Psychological Association