The development of dominant- minority group relations in preindustrial America
The Development of Dominant and Minority Group Relations in Preindustrial America Most people living in the New Worlds between 1600 and the 19th century depended directly on agriculture to get their food, shelter and other essential needs in life (“Origins of Slavery” 53). In a society dominated by agriculture, land and labor are obviously a core concern. The scuffle to control these resources led to the development of three minority groups: The African Americans, Native Americans and finally The Mexican Americans (“Origins of Slavery” 54). Two theories can help one get a better understanding of the dominant-minority group relations; the Daniel Noel Hypothesis and the Robert Blauner Hypothesis (“Origins of Slavery” 54). This paper seeks to understand and explain the emergence of the dominant and minority groups as well as the issues controlling and justifying the process.
According to the hypotheses mentioned above; the nature of the relations between the dominant and minority groups at any given time reflect the society’s characteristics as a whole. The state of a minority group will mirror the everyday life realities and specifically the “subsistence technology” (“Origins of Slavery” 54).The “subsistence technology” of a community affects all other phases of the social arrangement, including dominant-minority group relations. The conditions under which different groups first come into contact are an important factor in the development of the status of a minority group. The kind of “contact situation” has long-term consequences on the minority group regarding ethnic and racial stratification as well as many other aspects of their relations with the dominant group (“Origins of Slavery” 53).
The Noel Hypothesis points out three characteristics of the contact condition that work together towards the creation of inequalities between sets of people (“Diversity and Society” 45). These aspects are ethnocentrism, competition and power difference (“Diversity and Society” 45). If any contact has these three properties, then a dominant-minority group arrangement will be developed. Ethnocentrism, in this context, refers to the inclination towards judging others by one’s own cultural standards. Ethnocentrism exists universally in human societies and is necessary to some degree in maintaining cohesion and social harmony (“Diversity and Society” 51). Nonetheless, excessive ethnocentrism can be detrimental to social relations. Wherever ethnocentrism exists, people will cluster themselves in line with similarities and differences. Competition, on the other hand, is a scramble for scarce commodities (“Diversity and Society” 53). Competition between individuals and groups often results in negative feelings and hostile activities. In contact situations involving competition between groups; the victorious groups becomes the dominant group while the losing side becomes the minority. The competition may center on, amongst other things; land, jobs and labor. Competition gives the ultimately dominant group the motivation to institute superiority over the minority (“Diversity and Society” 55). The power difference is the third and final feature of the Noel contact situation (“Diversity and Society” 57). Power, as it is known, is the ability to perpetuate one’s ideas or achieve one’s goals despite opposition from other factions. Power depends on sheer numbers, the level of organization and leadership, and availability of resources (“Diversity and Society” 59). To be more concise, a larger, better-organized group with more resources at their disposal will dominate a smaller, poorer organized group with limited resources at their disposal.
The second theory; The Blauner hypothesis, identifies two distinct initial relations between groups as determinants of the degree of prejudice and discrimination experienced by a set of people (“Origins of Slavery” 61). The theory suggests that minority groups born out of colonization do experience greater levels of racism, prejudice and discrimination than the ones developed by immigration (“Origins of Slavery” 61). Blauner’s hypothesis also suggests that the disadvantaged position created by colonization lasts longer and is harder to overcome as compared to one created by immigration. During contact with dominant groups, the minority groups face harsh attacks on their culture and are subjected to enormous inequalities. They are forced into positions like slaves where assimilation is tough and at times even prohibited (“Origins of Slavery” 63). Immigrants, on the other hand, can be said to be partly willing participants in the society they end up in (“Origins of Slavery” 64). What this statement means is that immigrants have some bit of control over their destination in spite of the immense pressures that force them out of their countries. Consequently, they do not end up in such inferior positions as their colonized counterparts do. Immigrants do retain sufficient “internal organization” and ways to pursue their personal interests. Unlike the colonized factions, immigrants find it easy to gain acceptance of the colonists and rise to equality.
Apart from the African Americans, two other groups degenerated to minority status over the preindustrial time in America (“Origins of Slavery” 65). These groups included the Native Americans and the Mexican Americans. The Native Americans were the first to be conquered by the British during this era (“Origins of Slavery” 65). Native American communities were very vulnerable by the nature of their size and culture. Contact between the Native Americans and the colonists started in the East and developed into a series of defeats against the Native Americans until the final blow in the 1800s (“Origins of Slavery” 66). Following Noel’s hypothesis, it is easy to determine the reasons why the natives were colonized decades after the Africans. It is because their competition with the whites was land based and not labor based that was what the whites were interested in most before the preindustrial period (“Origins of Slavery” 66). The more land the white needed, the more conflicts broke out between the whites and the Native African communities. Many Natives died in the wars of conquest, more died from the diseases brought by the whites and lack of food due to destroyed plantations (“Origins of Slavery” 67). Once they were defeated, the Native community had no choice but to accept their minority status and find means to survive within their new social standing. The nature of the division of labor within the native community that favored the men was carried on even after the conquest. On top of being slaves, women also had to live with their regular minority status in the society (“Origins of Slavery” 68).
The final group that saw their status degenerate during the preindustrial period was the Mexican Americans. The casual way applied to the origin of slavery, and the domination of the Native Americans can be used to explain the change of the Mexican American’s status to an inferior one (“Origins of Slavery” 69). In the present day Texas, for instance, the number of white immigrants grew to a point where they outnumbered the Mexicans six times (“Origins of Slavery” 69). These whites carried with them the racial and ethnic prejudices developed against the African Americans and Native Americans to Texas. With their number and organization, they were able to grab the Mexican lands and drive the Mexicans away. Most Mexicans could not regain their lands through legal means as they were unable to argue their case in the English-operated courts properly. The first contact between the Europeans and Mexicans resulted in competition for land. These competitions did not always culminate into violent interactions because the population was not high in the Southwest (“Origins of Slavery” 70). Even so, the Mexican Americans lost most of their land and power during this era. In the Mexican American case, the domination was different for the various groups. This difference was as a result of the difference in power between the distinct Mexican-American group in question and the Anglo-Americans (“Origins of Slavery” 70). In some regions, the conquest was very fast while it was a bit slow in others. This difference was because the communities managed to put up reasonable resistance. For Mexican Americans, both labor and land were factors the whites desired; this differentiated them from the Africans and Native Americans. Before the conquest, Mexican societies maintained a distinct, gender-based division of labor (“Origins of Slavery” 70). These distinctions went on even after the Mexican conquest. Mexican women, just like Native American women suffered a double blow. Apart from their lower status as women in the society, they also had to contend with the overall situation of the community as a minority (“Origins of Slavery” 71).
In conclusion, the dominant-minority relations are molded by social characteristics in general. To be specific, they are molded by “subsistence technology” (“Origins of Slavery” 71) According to Noel’s hypothesis, when a contact situation involves ethnocentrism, competition and a power difference, ethnic and racial segregations are bound to emerge (“Origins of Slavery” 71). In colonial America, the colonists preferred to enslave the Africans because they fit the three conditions. Contrary to what most people might think; racism and prejudice were results of the dominant-minority group relations, they were not the causes. They were just used to justify the actions of the colonists (“Origins of Slavery” 71). Amongst all the three minority groups, the conquest had different effects on women and men. It changed the role of women; in some cases it constrained them more while it reduced the constraint in others. In all the cases, the women have been plagued twice; first as members of the minority community and second by the minority role of the feminine gender (“Origins of Slavery” 72). However, all the minority communities suffered increased powerlessness and poverty following the victory of the dominant group over them.
Healey, Joseph F. “The Origins of Slavery.” Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge, 2006. Print.
Healey, Joseph F. Diversity, and Society: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender, 2011/2012. Update ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge/Sage, 2012. Print.
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