Interminority racism in the United States of America

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Interminority racism is prejudice or discrimination between social subordinate groups. It is controversial to call it racism because of theories of power in society. However, prejudiced thinking does occur between minority groups. There are examples on public and personal levels. This article strictly addresses interminority racism as it exists in the United States of America, even though it happens in many other countries.

Racial hierarchy in the United States[edit]

By the last quarter of the 18th century, US' colonies were dominated by an English majority. The language, customs, and ideas of government were shaped by Anglo Americans. In this way, the standards of American life were set: to be politically recognized as American, one had to conform to the Anglo American model.[1]

There were ethnicities in the USA other than English. European minorities included the Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Scottish-Irish, Irish and German. Also living in the United States were Native Americans and Blacks.[1] The Anglo American majority needed a kind of rubric in order to decide who could be granted citizenship and for whom it would be denied. The law of 1790 stated that only free white immigrants could become naturalized citizens.[2]

"...all children born of any negro or other slave, shall be slaves as their fathers were for the term of their lives."[3]

Anglo Americans made it most difficult for Blacks to become free. They, like the Native Americans, were not white and so could never become Americans. But they were higher than Native Americans in the hierarchy because they could speak English and so were suitable as slaves. This is a foreshadowing of interminority competition because the two minority groups are being ranked differently, compared to each other.[1]

Every new ethnicity that came to the States had to be classified according to a hierarchy which held Whites on top and Native Americans at bottom. It was the courts that decided in the end if a person was fit for naturalization. Therefore every court decision was different. During the first half of the 19th century, one's race could change simply by stepping over state lines. In Virginia a person was completely black if they had one eighth African descent or more. But in Alabama, any African ancestry made someone a non-white ineligible for citizenship, even if you were free. To appeal for a case for naturalization, a person had to conform as best he/she could to the White Protestant norm. Once of the best tactics in proving your American qualities was to compare yourself to "inferior" races.[4]

The European ethnicities became accepted as American after a few generations, but Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanic and Asian immigrants were minorities who suffered the most oppression. These are the groups that then and today face the most interminority racism.[1][4][5][6]

Anglo conformity ideology[edit]

Anglo conformity ideology of assimilation is a process of inclusion which contains that the word American was created by white Protestant men. The progress of minorities was judged by Whites and citizenship was granted on the basis of how closely one compared to Whites.[1]

The melting pot[edit]

"They must cast off the European skin never to resume it. They must look forward to their prosperity rather than backwards to their ancestors."[7]

The Anglo majority was challenged in the 18th century by European immigrants. The Revolutionary War and the Constitutional Convention kept Anglos in power so that they would be able to shape the new American people.[1]

The exact term "melting pot" came into general usage in 1908, after the premiere of the play The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill. However, the concept of a melting pot or crucible from which the new American people would emerge developed in the 18th century. The idea was to mold an American people out of the immigrants that already diversified the States. It was assumed that this meant European immigrants. Africans, Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics were kept out of the mix.[4]

Although the notion of the melting post is to eliminate all previous cultural and ethnic identity and embrace the new American identity in the way the John Quincy Adams quote depicts, English Americans remained the dominant host culture. The other European immigrants were merely grafted onto dominant society.[1]

The 19th century[edit]

The 19th century was an important century for interminority conflict for two reasons. One was the two great streams of immigration that came from Europe as well as Asia. The other was the development of pseudo-scientific racism.

The great waves of immigration grew concern for both dominant and subordinate social groups in the States. White Americans were concerned with racial invasion, further confusion, and further classification to avoid the dominant group from becoming 'diluted'. Minorities such as the African Americans were fearful that these new immigrants would invade their job market.[1]

Social Darwinism enabled Whites to dominate the new races. The new most exotic race was those immigrants from Asia. Although many of them appeared white, pseudo-scientific racism was able to classify them below European immigrants. They were seen as fundamentally different like those of African descent, people who could never completely assimilate.[4]

Between 1790 and 1962 the United States' politics used a racial hierarchy to determine citizenship. Despite that most of these regulations have been dismissed, racial hierarchy in association with political and social power continues today.[4]

Model minority[edit]

There are racial minorities that have experienced more success than others. These groups then set an example which can mask structural racism in society, suggesting that the American dream is attainable if you are of a "subordinate" group of people. The best example[according to whom?] of a model minority in the United States of America is the Asian American community.

Asian Americans as model minorities[edit]

Many Asian Americans have found success in the USA. They have well entered the worlds of business and technology with their traditional values of hard work and family support. In 2001, the U.S. Census Bureau declared 53% of Asian Americans owned their own home which is a convincing piece of evidence to show their success. This demonstrates the idea that subordinate social groups can achieve upward mobility without overcoming structural obstacles.[8]

American media and society uses Asian Americans as "model minorities" or "the Model Minority" due to the fact that Americans tend to disregard the fact that Asian Americans are all different groups of people. The media is a significant outlet for this dominant ideology. In the media, Asians are often portrayed as successful, financially and socially. This tendency becomes recycled through media. The Media tends not to reflect the changing political economy of Asian immigration. The model minority seems to try and sell a kind of inaccurate image. Asian and Asian American success demonstrates to American society a well-educated "minority". The model minority is used as evidence that the American dream of equal opportunity is valid for those who work hard and submit to White America.

Though undoubtedly well-intended, there are negative aspects to the model minority image. It can tend to be a sort of condescension towards other groups (even to those that are also subordinate) that are not so generally successful by hinting that if you (other people of color) work hard enough and conform to "White America" and American ideals then the American Dream is accessible. Model minorities thus have potential to increase interminority ethnic tensions and create resentment towards Asian Americans for their perceived superior status as well as their assumed "fair and equal" treatment by White America.[8]

The Asian-American model minority as described here can have both positive and negative effects. In America, Asians come from a wide variety of areas across Asia. While different Asian ethnicities may be highly successful in America and have reached a comfortable level of success and lifestyle, there are others that are underneath that "comfortable" level.[citation needed] The Asian American model minority stereotype may convey the sense that all Asian Americans are at a level with great success and good income and almost no crime disregarding whole groups of Asian Americans that are the opposite to that. Two thirds of the Hmong American population lives below the poverty line. There are also other Asian ethnicities of South Asian American and Southeast Asian American descent along with Hmong Americans that are rarely seen being the representation of Asian Americans (media or otherwise) and this is due to the fact that their socioeconomic situations don't conform to the of the model minority myth[8] and these groups are Vietnamese, Bangladeshi, Laotians and Cambodians. These groups also tend to have higher crime rates within their communities and neighborhoods sometimes being on par with that of Blacks and Latinos and these groups tend to live in areas that are known for both their High crime rate(s), poverty and large Asian American presence such as the cities of Stockton, Oakland, Richmond, El Monte, Lowell, Merced, Modesto, Paterson, etc.[citation needed]

Post-1964: new racism[edit]

Racism did not end with the civil rights movement. It merely took on a more covert character. The current multiculturalist attitude is to keep every culture within its square. This is called pluralism.[9]

Current US policy advocates a multiculturalist discourse to acknowledge multiracial difference. Multiculturalist theorists like Claire Jean Kim criticizes that this contemporary policy because it still refuses to acknowledge the interminority inequalities and antagonisms generated by this new diversity.[10] Another expert on the subject is Angela Davis:

"Multiculturalism can become a polite and euphemistic way of affirming and persisting unequal power relationships by representing them as equal differences."[11]

This kind of color-blind racism ignores how racial differences have occurred through dominance.[12] It causes minorities to enter into conflict with each other since the U.S. policy is to let things be. African Americans believe they are at the bottom of the American racial hierarchy and therefore deserving of special consideration. Asian and Latino Americans think blacks dominate civil rights circles and local electoral politics.[13] Steven Holmes reposts the finding of a national poll commissioned by the National Conference for Community and Justice. The results suggest strongly that blacks, Asians, and Hispanics generally hold even more negative views of one another than do whites. Forty-six percent of Hispanics and 42 percent of blacks saw Asians as "unscrupulous, crafty and devious in business." Sixty-eight percent of Asians and 49 percent of blacks agreed that Hispanics "tend to have bigger families than they are able to support." Thirty-one percent of Asians and 28 percent of Hispanics believed that blacks "want to live on welfare."[6]

Examples of interminority racism in the U.S.[edit]

1. 1992 Los Angeles Riots

2. Crown Heights Riot

3. There has been a long-running racial tension between African Americans and Mexican Americans.[14][15] There have been several significant riots in California prisons where Mexican American and African American inmates have targeted each other particularly, based on racial reasons.[16][17][17] There have been reports of racially motivated attacks against African Americans who have moved into neighborhoods occupied mostly by Mexican Americans, and vice versa.[18][19]

Note: There are not many publicly known manifestations of interminority racism. That does not mean that there is not prejudice between groups. Interminority racism is best understood at a personal level, but there are few stories in literature that depict this phenomenon.

The Color of Fear[edit]

this section is not so much about interminority rascism as it is about the movie, The Color of Fear. Shouldn't it be separated? The Color of Fear, a film by Lee Mun Wah is material that provides a well thought out discourse for interminority racism on a personal level. Lee invited eight men to a cottage to spend the weekend while they engaged in an intellectual, dramatic and emotional discussion about race. The first half of the film is centered mostly around white racism: mostly of the institutionalized fashion. The second half deals with the issue of interminority racism.[20]

David Lee, a Chinese American expresses his anxiety towards African Americans. He has been taught through school and media that African Americans are killers, lazy, unintelligent, and are to blame for their own victimization. The eight men discussed the negative role of media. It was also proposed that Asian Americans take their cues from White Americans. Yutaka Matsumato, a Japanese American brought up an example from his own life in which he felt fear in the presence of a couple of African Americans at a bus stop. He explained how his mind reacted; that he conjured multiple outcomes of this situation upon approaching the bus stop. But he soon realized that they were just leaving work, on their way home, just like him.[21]

Victor Lewis, an African American expressed a resentment for the Asian American model minority. He views himself as an intelligent person and he blames white supremacy for using Asian Americans to put blacks down, as in the Los Angeles Riots.[21]

Roberto Alamanzán, a Mexican American brings up the notion that lighter skin equals a more American person. Loren, an African American, adds that slaves who were of lighter skin were used as house slaves. They ponder whether that notion still lingers in today's racism. Roberto says light skin babies are much more cooed over than darker babies among Latinos. Victor supposes that there were times his lighter complexion sometimes would dictate him as a "nice" African American. [21]

The point was earlier raised that interminority racism may not be called racism as it is not between a dominant group and a subordinate group. This too is addressed in "The Color of Fear." There was no clear answer in the end. Gordon, a White American, does not consider interminority prejudice and discrimination as racist and that in the US only Whites can be racist. However, more important than correct definition is realizing that interminority racism and white racism are different. Victor, an African American led a part of discussion addressing this difference. White racism pushes the subordinate down and the dominant up. It was adhered to in the end, that interminority racism may be called racism because it exists in a white racist context. Victor says interminority racism pushes both of us down, and you (White Americans) up.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h McLemore, S. Dale. Racial and Ethnic Relations in America. Allyn and Bacon. 1991
  2. ^ California Newsreel. Race: The Power of Illusion
  3. ^ Maryland Law of 1664
  4. ^ a b c d e California Newsreel. Race: The Power of Illusion.
  5. ^ Volokh, Eugene. "Racial and Ethnic Classifications in American Law" in Beyond the Color Line. Abigail Thernstrom and Stephan Thernstrom (eds). Hoover Institution Press. 2002.
  6. ^ a b Perry, Barbara. In the Name of Hate: Understanding Hate Crimes. Routledge. New York. 2001.
  7. ^ John Quincy Adams
  8. ^ a b c Hye Jin Paek and Heman Shah. "Racial Ideology, Model Minorities, and the 'Not So Silent Partner': Stereotyping of Asian Americans in U.S. magazine Advertising. University of Wisconsin, Madison Press.
  9. ^ Gordon, Milton M. "Models of Pluralism" in Race and Ethnic Conflict. Fred L. Pincus and Howard J. Ehrlich. Westview Press. 1999.
  10. ^ Kim, Claire Jean. "Imagining race and nation in multiculturalist America" in Ethnic and Racial Studies. Nov 2004. 27:6.
  11. ^ Gender, class, and multiculturalism: rethinking "race" politics in Avery Gordon and Christopher Newfield (eds), Mapping Multiculturalism. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, Minnesota. 1996.
  12. ^ California Newsreel. Race: the Power of Illusion.
  13. ^ King-Kok Cheung. "(Mis)interpretations and (In)Justice: The 1992 Los Angeles 'Riots' and 'Black-Korean Conflict." University of California, Los Angeles.
  14. ^ Race relations | Where black and brown collide |
  15. ^ Riot Breaks Out At Calif. High School, Melee Involving 500 People Erupts At Southern California School - CBS News
  16. ^ JURIST - Paper Chase: Race riot put down at California state prison
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^ Gang mayhem grips LA | World news | The Observer
  19. ^ BAW: The Hutchinson Report: Thanks to Latino Gangs, There’s a Zone in L.A. Where Blacks Risk Death if They Enter
  20. ^ StirFry Seminars : The Color of Fear
  21. ^ a b c d Lee Mun Wah. "The Color of Fear". Stir Fry Seminars.