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Race and Ethnicity

Race and Ethnicity

John Snetsinger

To many observers one of the surprises of the 2000 census was that fully 10 percent of Americans reported that they had been born in a foreign country. Thirty years earlier the figure had been just 4.7 percent, the smallest in the Republic's history. The significance for the future formulation of U.S. foreign policy is not to be lost in the current number of foreign-born within the population. The political reality of the American system is that the greater the number of foreign-born, as well as of others within the population who retain ties with ancestral associations, the more likely it is that ethnic group politics can influence foreign policy. Demographic trends in twenty-first century America hold the promise that ethnicity may well play an even greater role in the making of foreign policy than has generally been the case.

A defining element of the American experience has been the degree to which ethnic affiliations, and to a lesser degree racial identity, have influenced foreign policy. Since the first census in 1790, the federal government has gathered information on ethnicity and race, although the type of data collected has changed over time as interests have shifted. With public awareness heightened by the impact of surging immigration by 1850, census respondents were asked not just their place of birth but also that of their parents. The influence of ethnic groups on the making of foreign policy has fluctuated with the ebb and flow of immigration.

Because there has never been a time in which a higher percentage of Americans had themselves been born in a foreign country, or had at least one parent born overseas, historians commonly focus on the influence of ethnic constituencies on President Woodrow Wilson's diplomacy of war and peace. There is merit in identifying the winners and losers among those engaging in ethnic politics in this era, as will be discussed later. The 1920 census reported that approximately one-third of the national population either had been born overseas or had at least one parent who had been. This remarkably high figure is worthy of attention, but it is also significant that ever since the founding of the Republic, foreign policy issues have been viewed by millions of Americans through the prism of their ancestral ties of culture, nation, language, religion, or race.


Reasons for the link between American diplomacy and ethnicity are found in the manner in which the country was settled. In Europe it was common to have a single national or religious identification shared by the public. In the emerging American republic, however, the composition of the population reflected a high degree of national, religious, and racial diversity. One wave of immigrants after another swelled the American population with persons of vastly dissimilar backgrounds.

White English settlers made up the clear majority in the American colonies, but only through the second half of the eighteenth century. During that period three-quarters of the new settlers were Scotch-Irish, Scottish, German, French, and Swiss. Thirty percent of New Englanders came from places other than England in the years immediately preceding the War for Independence. Settlers of English ancestry were only 30 percent of the population in German-dominated Pennsylvania. In the southern colonies African slaves comprised the single largest ethnic or racial group.

These immigrants, and in many instances their descendants, have retained ancestral loyalties. Over centuries, waves of immigration have brought to America innumerable groups and tens of millions of immigrants whose ancestral identity has been handed down to present generations. It has been, and remains, common for ethnic minoritiessuch as Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, and Polish Americansto embrace their new American loyalties while clinging to their kinship ties. Groups with millions of immigrants, such as those noted above, have the advantage of their large numbers in lobbying for a particular foreign policy. A fascinating element of ethnic politics that will be explained is that even a relatively small ethnic group representing only a fraction of 1 percent of the national population, such as Armenian Americans, can exert significant influence on the conduct of foreign policy.

The process through which American foreign policy is formulated works to the advantage of ethnic groups interested in assisting some cause of their homeland. All forms of government, including dictatorships, ultimately rely upon the support of public opinion to sustain their activities abroad. In a democracy, however, the link between the nation's diplomacy and the desires of the citizenry is more direct than in nondemocratic states.

The extent to which ethnic minorities are able to shape foreign policy is a uniquely American phenomenon. No other nation has absorbed such extensive waves of immigration as the United States. Sixty percent of the world's international migration between the early nineteenth century and 1930 came to the United States.


Until the 1960s many historians believed that ethnic group influence on foreign policy would gradually diminish as the population became an American population with fewer immediate ethnic ties. Beginning in the 1920s, the flow of immigration slowed dramatically with laws reflecting anti-immigration public sentiment. Depression and war continued the trend to the point where under 5 percent of the population had been born in a foreign country. The political and cultural trends that lasted through the 1950s stressed the need for assimilation and conformity to the mainstream norms. The Cold War, with its emphasis on the righteousness of the American position and its constant invocation of national patriotism, further inhibited criticism of mainstream American values and institutions. School textbooks extolled the virtues of the "melting pot" to which other cultures contributed, but nonetheless stressed the importance of unity and adaptation to the national norm.

As with so much else in national life, these concepts and the national ethnic and racial makeup changed dramatically in the 1960s. An event that unmistakably precipitated the changes, and one whose legacy might well include significantly altering the policies of American diplomacy in the decades ahead, is the Immigration Act of 1965. Sponsored by liberal Democrats in Congress and Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, this law changed the rules of entering, and thereby opened the doors to the greatest influx of immigrants in history. The Hart-Celler Act, as it was then known, received little attention when it was passed, and continues to be relatively ignored in histories recounting Johnson's reform program, the Great Society. Nonetheless, it may be the single most significant legislation of that era as far as its impact on the nation's future.

Rejecting national origin quotas as the basis for admittance, as had previously been the case, in the 1965 law family reunification became the basis for admittance for nearly two-thirds of those who would immigrate. Three subsequent laws increased the impact of the 1965 law: the Refugee Act of 1980, which recognized a separate category of those fleeing political oppression; the Immigration and Control Act of l986, which provided amnesty for three million immigrants who had entered the United States illegally before l982; and a 1990 amendment to the l965 law that substantially raised the number who could enter as legal immigrants.

The flow of immigrants has risen steadily, particularly after 1990, when the annual totals for legal immigration peaked for several years at approximately 1.5 million. Between 1965 and 2000, approximately 23 million immigrants legally entered the United States. Adding estimates that there are also from 8 to 12 million illegal immigrants, the total attests to a massive foreign-born influence. Twenty-five percent of California's population is foreign born, and New York state is not far behind, with about 20 percent.

As important as the sheer number of immigrants is, it is also significant that 85 percent of the legal immigrants are from non-European backgrounds without the traditional foreign policy interests of most Americans. Europeans comprise approximately 15 percent of legal immigrants, Asian Americans about one-third, and Latin Americans most of the rest. The foreign policy issues that concern these new Americans have already begun to shape the direction of diplomacy, notably on trade and on immigration issues, such as amnesty for undocumented workers already in the country. Future diplomacy is likely to concern such issues more directly. One reason is that demographers project that, because of higher Hispanic birthrates and the origins of future immigrants, the United States will see a decline in its population of European background and a substantial rise in its Hispanic and Asian population.


Astute politicians not only must be aware of broad-based national sentiment concerning a diplomatic issue, but also must give a hearing to ethnic minorities who have a particular interest in certain areas of the nation's foreign policy. Organized ethnic minorities can bring pressure on the government for specific policies that are peculiarly their own and that may favor their original homeland in relation to another nation or a particular political movement within the homeland, or simply reflect an attitude that is common to similar American immigrant groups.

So apparent and consistent are the desired diplomatic policies of some ethnic minorities that politicians can frequently anticipate what actions will solidify their support among these groups. Even though the resulting positions may flout foreign policy objectives outlined by the federal government, politicians have made attempts to please the large ethnic blocs within their constituency. Mayor William H. ("Big Bill") Thompson, for example, placated citizens of Irish extraction when in the late 1920s he threatened that he would "punch the snout" of the king of England should the monarch dare to enter Chicago.

New York City mayors Robert F. Wagner, John V. Lindsay, and Abraham D. Beame pursued a policy designed to meet with the approval of the city's three million Jews by refusing to welcome Arab rulers on goodwill tours of the United States. Politicians across the political spectrum share their contempt for Cuba's Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, in seemingly endless verbal assaults when the goal is to win the support of Cuban Americans.

Mayors and other local officials may irritate foreign leaders, but the extent to which such actions affect American diplomacy is relatively slight. More serious consequences can arise when ethnic minorities place sufficient pressures on the national government to alter the direction of foreign policy. During the first half of the twentieth century, for example, the development of a close understanding between the United States and Great Britain was blocked on several occasions by persistent Anglophobia that centered among citizens of Irish and German ancestry. These two minorities opposed early American intervention to aid Britain in both world wars. Partly on account of such opposition, the United States not only postponed early wartime alliances with Britain, but also handled peacetime rapprochement with extreme caution.


Concern about ethnic groups and efforts they might make to pressure policy decisions dates from before the founding of the Republic. James Madison and others who collaborated in writing the Federalist Papers (17871788) translated their concerns over what they saw as the inevitable impact of ethnic factions into a representative government in which popular passions and individual pressure groups could be countered by calmer and wiser leaders. President George Washington expressed misgivings over what the impact of ethnic factions might be on the young nation's diplomacy. One of the earliest examples of ethnic group pressure came from Irish Americans, who by 1800 made up a majority of the newly naturalized immigrants to America. Favoring the cause of an independent Ireland, and the revolutionary activities already under way to accomplish that goal on the home island, Irish Americans broke with the pro-British stance of Washington and the Federalists and backed the political fortunes of Jeffersonian Republicans.

During John Adams's presidency the passage of the restrictive Alien and Sedition Laws (1798) were in part an effort to silence the criticisms voiced by Irish Americans. Although never seriously competing in effectiveness with the greater influences that moved national foreign policy toward association with Great Britain throughout the nineteenth century, Irish Americans were a consistent and significant force in diplomatic deliberations. The large-scale immigration of Irish to America during the famine of the 1840s, the political activism with which the Irish became associated, and the constant turmoil that seemed to define the struggle in Ireland itself demanded the attention and concern of those who had left. These factors combined to heighten interest in attempting to shape their new nation's diplomacy toward Irish independence and relations with the British.

A domestic affinity group, the Fenian Brotherhoodwhich was associated with the revolutionary Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood in Irelandhad substantial support among Irish Americans in attempting to achieve twin goals. First, the Fenians were committed to assist their revolutionary brothers abroad and, second, to try to foment a war between the United States and Britain as a way to somehow secure Irish independence. Both the Republican and the Democratic Parties looked the other way when the Fenians engaged in activities as radical as launching abortive armed raids on Canada. These raids (18661870) were intended to bring the United States into a war over Canada, but they were dropped after Canadian forces easily repelled them.

As the United States moved inexorably toward closer association with the British around the turn of the twentieth century, Irish Americans' hatred toward their avowed enemy, and any diplomatic understanding between them and America, were translated into political campaigns. Irish-American organizations, lobbyists, and voters unsuccessfully opposed U.S. support for the British in the Boer War, the Hay-Pauncefote treaties (l900 and 1901) that ensured an accommodation on the building of a U.S. canal in Central America, and, most significantly, the U.S. entry into the Great War in 1917.

Racial minorities, including African Americans and Chinese Americans, found themselves excluded from the democratic system as it existed in the nineteenth century, and therefore without leverage to influence policy. Some Caucasian immigrant groups found that they had limited influence because of their precarious economic status and widespread prejudice directed against them. A diplomatic episode involving Italian Americans demonstrates this situation. In 1891 a mob of white nativists in New Orleans converged on the jail in which eleven Italians and Italian Americans were being held following their acquittal on murder charges. Stirred by ethnic animosities, the mob lynched the eleven and subsequently received what must be considered general plaudits from "respectable" Americans, some public figures, and the press. Future president Theodore Roosevelt declared the lynching "a rather good thing."

Italian Americans were justifiably outraged, and demanded prosecution of those involved in the lynching and compensation to the victims' families. The perfunctory rejection of their demands by the American government led to a campaign, spearheaded by Italian Americans, to engage the help of the Italian government. Italy severed diplomatic relations with the United States, and rumors of war between the two nations were widely circulated. President Benjamin Harrison defused the situation by issuing an apology and agreeing to pay compensation to the families of those who had been lynched.

It was less than a satisfying resolution for Italian Americans, who unsuccessfully sought to have justice served through the arrest and conviction of those who had participated in the lynching, and who also wanted some efforts to be made to dampen anti-Italian prejudice. Although Italian Americans lacked any real political influence and were commonly subjected to vicious discrimination that isolated them, they were white and they had sufficient numbers to gain them at least some role in electoral politics.

Tempering any dynamic role that ethnic groups might play in the shaping of policy in the nineteenth century was the reality that for all but the final few years of the century, the United States was not much of an influential player in world affairs. That would change abruptly in the new century.


President Woodrow Wilson projected the United States into the center of postwar European political issues, and his call for self-determination to become an underlying principle in drawing the new map of Europe excited many domestic ethnic constituencies with the possibilities of national independence for their ancestral homes. After having stirred the aspirations and raised hopes of ethnic groups as never before, Wilson the peacemaker could not match expectations. He had not counted on either the multiple conflicting aims among the hopeful nations or his inability to win the approval of the other allied powers. Ethnic groups that had once supported him now fought the approval of the Treaty of Versailles (1919). His inability to press for Irish independence as part of the World War I peace settlement resulted in bitter Irish-American attacks against the president and the treaty, and played a key role in blocking its passage in the Senate.

Whether to ratify the treaty was, in fact, an issue that resulted in several other emotionally charged campaigns. Various ethnic minorities, each specially motivated to seek a negative Senate vote on ratification, assailed Wilson's handiwork. German Americans could not accept the relatively harsh punishment meted out to Germany. Since the Versailles agreement failed to provide for the expanded Italy hoped for by Italian nationals, initial Italian-American enthusiasm for Wilson soon turned to denunciation. Exclusion of the Adriatic city of Fiume from Italy's control was considered to be one of the treaty's most objectionable points.

Not only the larger and more influential ethnic minorities resisted Wilson's endeavors to secure U.S. acceptance of the treaty; Armenian Americans, Syrian Americans, Greek Americans, and Lithuanian Americans, as well as several other groups, joined forces with the foes of ratification for a variety of reasons. Millions of Americans viewed Wilson as the man who had betrayed dreams of nationalistic glory for their land of origin.

New nations did come into existence as a result of Wilson's insistence that the treaty recognize self-determination, and Americans with ties to those fortunate nations were delighted. Few ethnic groups have been as successful in influencing foreign policy as were Polish Americans during the peacemaking following the world war. The re-creation of Poland following the war has been linked to the Wilson administration's interest in securing the Polish-American vote.

Scholars have clashed over the issue of whether Anglo Americans, whose contributions of language, law, and culture have been synonymous with the launching of the Republic, can legitimately be considered another of the nation's ethnic groups. There is no doubt, however, that Americans of English ancestry have had a significant impact on formulating diplomatic relationships with Great Britain. Since the earliest days of the Republic, Anglo Americans have influenced American foreign policy. For instance, by placing pressure upon President Wilson, who was of English ancestry, the Anglo Americans exerted a powerful influence in stimulating American intervention in World War I.


Examining individual ethnic groups and their particular campaigns on behalf of shaping policy in a region or toward a particular nation provides clues as to how and why ethnic politics can work in America's pluralistic democracy. It is likely that the most extraordinary case of an ethnic group successfully shaping the direction of foreign policy is the campaign of American Jews to win U.S. support for both the creation of Israel and the close partnership between the two nations that has followed.

Many factors need to be in place for ethnic politics to succeed; what is interesting about the campaign initiated by American Jews following World War II is that the community did so many things so well. Although small in numbers, there was near unanimity among American Jews in support of the Zionist goal of creating a viable Jewish state. Furthermore, it was understood that although direct support to those creating Israel in Palestine was important, what was essential politically would be to bring the United States in on the side of the new state.

American Jews represented only 3 percent of the population, but in the presidential election year of 1948, when Zionists declared the existence of Israel, American Jews were concentrated in those states that constituted the biggest electoral prizes. Half of the nation's Jews lived in New York State, which had by far the most electoral votes.

Winning American support for Israel became the community's most important political objective, ensuring that politicians would pay attention to the issue. Firmly established within the political structure, almost all Jews voted, many were activists involved in campaigns, and as a high-income group they had already established a record of financial support for candidates and organizations that backed their causes. President Harry Truman, and most members of Congress, responded favorably to the call to assist the newly established state when Zionists proclaimed the creation of Israel on 1415 May 1948.

It was Truman's support in extending de facto American recognition of Israel just eleven minutes after it was declared to exist that proved crucial. It not only gave Israel, which was immediately plunged into defense of itself in the first Arab-Israeli war, great moral legitimacy by being acknowledged as a state by the most powerful nation in the world, but it also proved to be the first step in a continuing stream of support from the United States. It is always difficult to attribute motivation, but a case can be made that Truman recognized Israel and continued American support for the new nation out of a concern for the political consequences in a presidential election year.

Thanks in large measure to American Jews' fostering the "special relationship" that grew between Israel and the United States, by the 1970s the political, economic, and military ties were so firm that they became a foundation of American foreign policy. American Jews identified with and felt pride when Israel achieved its goals in the face of constant adversity. When Israel stunned the world with its unexpected military victories in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, perhaps no citizens of one nation have ever been as committed to another nation's fate as Jews in America were to Israel. More than any other event, the outcome of the war forged unanimity toward Israel on the part of Jewry in the United States.

An American lobbying group, the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), has met with so much success that it has become a symbol of foreign policy lobbying effectiveness. Some political observers have said that AIPAC has become the most powerful foreign policy lobbying group in Washington. Focused exclusively on lobbying the U.S. government for Israel's needs, AIPAC avoids identification with the liberal causes with which Jewish groups usually associate. This has allowed AIPAC to remain ideologically comfortable with anticommunist conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and the territorial expansionists on the political right in Israel. AIPAC developed the capacity to mobilize thousands of activists across the United States when needed, and into the 1980s they were able to stifle dissent among Jews who questioned the direction Israel was taking.


Israel's policies first stirred signs of unease among American Jews when Israeli bombers destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and, in a separate event, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, was the target of Israeli bombers. It was, however, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent massacre of at least six hundred Palestinian civilians by Christian Phalangist (Lebanese) troops allied with Israel that began a new era for American Jews. Prior to the invasion of Lebanon, Israel's wars had been struggles for survival. The invasion tested the resolve of many Jews who had followed the unwritten prohibition against Jews publicly criticizing Israel.

In their dash north, the sixty to ninety thousand Israeli troops, supplemented by naval and air support, left mass destruction of property and substantial numbers of civilian casualties. World public opinion, including most Americans, opposed the invasion. American Jews rallied to Israel's cause at the time, but an erosion of support had begun. One poll found that 93 percent of American Jews still supported Israel, and 83 percent reported that if Israel were destroyed, it would "be one of the great personal tragedies in my life."

Yet as time passed, individual mainstream Jewish leaders and major organizations spoke out in anger and dismay at the actions taken in Lebanon by Prime Minister Menachem Begin's right-wing government. The massacres were particularly troubling because the Israeli army had taken responsibility for the civilians' safety and had been nearby during the two days in which the killings occurred. How could a nation of Jews, with a 5,000-year heritage of respecting human life and a history of suffering nearly as long, be in any way involved in massacres of civilians? As the debate heated up, criticism of Israel reached a new level within Jewish circles in America and elsewhere.

Three years later, Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American Jew employed by the navy as a civilian analyst, was arrested and charged with being the most prolific spy in American history. Over a two-year period he had stolen and turned over to Israel 360 cubic feet of top-secret files. The U.S. government argued that Pollard had compromised the entire American intelligence-gathering apparatus. Many American Jews found it incomprehensible that Israel would engage in such spying. Israel's use of an American Jew seemed to play into the hands of anti-Semites who would surely charge American Jews with dual loyalty. Why, it was written, would Israel steal secrets from the one ally whose goodwill was essential and upon which the country was almost absolutely dependent?

One more event undercut the breadth of support that Israel had had from American Jews. Beginning in l987, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and Israel itself, engaged in a mass revolt against Israeli authority. Led mainly by the young, the Intifada has transformed relations between Palestinians and Israelis, and among many American Jews has led to greater calls for a peace process that will end the fighting and provide Palestinians with some degree of self-governance.

Israel still has the support of American Jews, and the "special relationship" that underpins U.S.Israeli relations continues. Israel receives more foreign aid from America than any country in the world, and is likely to continue to do so. However, Jewish-American unity has fragmented, with significant criticism of Israel being expressed openly as never before. AIPAC remains a model of how a successful lobbying group can represent the policy goals of an ethnic pressure group, but even its supporters acknowledge that it may have lost its edge because there no longer is community consensus on some issues. These changes have created an opportunity for an opposition group to emerge and challenge pro-Israeli policies of the American government. Still relatively in the shadows, an Arab-American group has taken on the direction of U.S. policy in the Middle East.


Proponents of pro-Israel policies might well be sobered by changing public attitudes toward Israel and Middle Eastern issues, and what such changes might mean for future U.S. policy. In the fifteen surveys since 1989 in which the Gallup Poll has asked Americans to describe their attitude toward Israel, there is still a 5930 percent advantage of favorable to unfavorable. However, these results indicate declining public support from earlier times. For comparison, the three countries with the highest rankings in the Gallup survey are Canada (17 May 1999), Australia (12 February 2001), and Great Britain (16 February 2001), with, respectively, 907, 858, and 859 percent favorable to unfavorable ratings.

Events in the Middle East occasionally signal the very real possibilities of regional war, a world energy crisis, the use of nuclear weapons, or an unleashing of worldwide terrorist activities. As a result the American public has heard, read, and seen more about this region than most others, and increasingly has arrived at conclusions not shared by the government of Israel or its American proponents. Successful lobbying groups would often prefer to have their issues exist "under the radar" of public attention.

A Gallup Poll survey in May 1999 indicated that the American public, by a margin of 5326 percent, favored the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Creating such a state has long been the goal of the Palestinian Authority, the internationally sanctioned agency that legally represents the interests of Palestinians currently living within the boundaries of Israel.

Israel remains one of the firmest allies of the United States, and it continues to draw support from the majority of Americans. Arabs are generally viewed unfavorably by the public. The Palestinian Authority received a 2263 percent unfavorable rating when Gallup surveyed public opinion in February 2001. What is likely to change in the future is that the efforts of Jewish Americans, and other supporters of Israel, will no longer go unchallenged by other ethnic groups or larger elements of the general public who have views contrary to those of Israel and Israel's American supporters.


The emergence of a significant Arab-American population, along with its inclination to be more engaged in politics, may already have begun to change the dynamic of how the United States deals with Middle Eastern issues. Until the 1970s Arab Americans were few in number and seemingly invisible on issues involving their ancestral lands. James Abourezk, an articulate senator of Arab-American descent from South Dakota, became one of the first outspoken proponents of the Arab position in national life.

Enumerated at one million in the 1990 census, Arab Americans were estimated to have increased to 3.5 million in preliminary figures of the 2000 Census Report. A source of emerging strength rests in the clustering of Arab Americans in four states crucial in presidential elections. Arab voters are a factor in southern California, New York City, northern New Jersey, and, most critically, Detroit and southern Michigan. The largest concentration in the country is in metropolitan Detroit, with 350,000 Arab Americans. Only African Americans represent a larger minority group in Detroit.

There is now recognition that Arab Americans are a factor in political strategy, particularly in Michigan, where they represent 4 percent of the vote. Spencer Abraham, an Arab American, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1994. Arab Americans vote in high percentages (62 percent in the 1996 election), they have high incomes, and they are increasingly involved in national elections. In 1996 neither Democratic President Bill Clinton nor the Republican challenger, Bob Dole, attended events, but in 2000 all the serious presidential contenders addressed Arab-American groups.


Another contemporary case of an ethnic group dominating regional policy is provided by Cuban Americans. As with Jewish Americans, the record of Cuban Americans in shaping policy toward Cuba proves that groups do not need to be large in number to succeed. Only in the 1960s did significant numbers of Cuban exiles arrive in the United States, fleeing Castro's revolution. Driven by an often all-consuming singleness of purpose concerning one overriding foreign policy issue, Cuban Americans gradually became the driving force behind Washington's unyielding hard-line policy toward the Cuban regime. Most exiles left behind their property in Cuba and settled in Florida, and a significant number among them devoted their time and resources to pressuring the U.S. government to bring down the Castro regime and restore an anticommunist government. Since this result has never occurred, the movement has continued to thrive among Cuban Americans.

Cuban exiles were close to their homeland, only ninety miles away, and expected that the Castro regime might collapse at any time, which in turn would allow them to return. Thus in their first decade in the United States, Cuban Americans were said to have a "visitor mentality," which acted against engagement in local civic activities. Cuban Americans instead promoted an intense interest in how Washington dealt with Cuba and Castro.

Other factors have also been responsible for Cuban Americans' rapidly becoming a force in shaping foreign policy. Many of the early exiles, from the upper classes, were well educated and provided leadership for the group. Continued emigration from Cuba has provided a reasonably significant population base; the 2000 census reported 1.24 million Cuban Americans. A population of over a million is enough for politicians to pay attention. Yet that number dramatizes how even a relatively small ethnic group can be effective. Cuban Americans represent less than 0.50 percent of the national population and less than 10 percent of Hispanics in the United States.

An important factor enhancing the influence of Cuban Americans as a group is their shared political ideology, and the fact that the conservative Republicans with whom they identify have controlled the presidency, and hence the levers of foreign policy implementation, during recent decades. In 1984, for example, Ronald Reagan received 90 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Dade County (which includes Miami). Since it has been estimated that 63 percent of Cuban Americans live in the Miami area, the political significance of winning the support of this group is not lost on presidential candidates. Florida is a crucial swing state in presidential elections, as the presidential race in 2000 amply demonstrated. It is simply political reality that those seeking the presidency must consider the implications of their policy toward Cuba if they wish to win Florida's electoral votes.

Another advantage Cuban Americans have had in driving policy is that there is no significant group challenging their anti-Castro agenda. In fact, the anticommunism expounded by Cuban exiles fit in easily with the Cold War rhetoric that dominated the campaigns of presidential contenders. A series of chief executives, who have been humbled by Castro's resilience, have found it politically advantageous to align with the hardline policies proposed by the exiles.

The result has been a U.S. diplomatic assault on Cuba so virulent and excessive that it has been condemned by many nations, including some that are considered staunch American allies. No other regime anywhere in the world can currently be said to suffer from as clearly prejudicial diplomatic measures on the part of the United States as the Castro regime. Since the early 1960s an embargo has denied trade and investment from the United States. Travel by U.S. citizens has been denied, although since the 1990s exceptions have been made for travelers who can justify their trips as having an educational purpose. Alone among all nations the United States denies the right of its citizens to send medicine or food to Cuba.

In 1992 passage of the "Cuban Democracy Act" prohibited U.S.-owned or -controlled subsidiaries overseas from engaging in any business with Cuba. The harshest measure of all has been the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, a tightening of the embargo that allowed U.S. citizens to sue foreign corporations that had purchased U.S. property confiscated by the Castro regime.

Almost alone in the world, the island nation of Cuba struggles with a total embargo, including medical and food products, imposed by the United States. With a gross domestic product that is less than 6 percent of what the United States spends on its military, the island hardly poses a security threat to its northern adversary. The degree of the isolation and hostility aimed at the Cuban regime is in large measure the result of a successful campaign of a relatively small but dedicated and powerful advocacy group, the 1.24 million Cuban Americans.


American Jews and Cuban Americans, respectively 3 percent and 0.50 percent of the national population, are two groups with enormous influence in shaping foreign policy even though they are relatively small in number. Other similarly marginal groups in terms of population have demonstrated that size alone is not always an impenetrable barrier. One such group, Armenian Americans, were at first unsuccessful when they sought American support against Turkey during World War I. From 1915 to 1923 Turkey engaged in a policy of genocide that cost approximately one million Armenian lives. Yet when Armenia declared itself a republic independent of Turkey in 1918, Armenian Americans waged a campaign that resulted in Wilson extending de facto recognition of the new state. Similar efforts to prevent the United States from recognizing Turkey during this period proved futile.

More recently, Armenian Americans, who number over one million, have demonstrated that they wield a certain degree of influence in their particular area of interest. A California-centered group whose politics leans to the Republican, Armenian Americans lobbied Congress in 1990 to commemorate the aforementioned genocide. Even though Turkey's long-standing record as a crucial NATO military ally of the United States might have suggested different treatment, Congress nearly passed the resolution. Even though the administration of George H. W. Bush opposed it, it took a Senate filibuster to defeat the resolution and prevent a likely break with Turkey. If Congress had approved the measure, which used the term "genocide," Turkey made it clear that a grave crisis would result. Even though they lost, the political acumen of the Armenian-American lobbyists in nearly securing passage of a measure that had significant implications for diplomacy had to be acknowledged.

Although Turkey was firmly integrated within American defense policies during the Cold War, Greek Americans were able to lobby successfully in favor of punitive diplomatic measures against that nation in the wake of bitter Greek-Turkish disputes over Cyprus in 1974. Even though Greece was governed by militarists who had overthrown elected democratic leaders, and had instigated the troubles on Cyprus, the fact remained that there were one million Greek Americans whose lobbyists knew how to use political leverage to affect foreign policy. Washington responded to the pressure by placing a three-year embargo on military sales to Turkey and agreeing to provide Greece with 70 percent of the military aid that would be given to Turkey in future years. Ethnic politics prevailed over what was accepted to be the national security interest in maintaining good relations with a crucial geopolitical partner on the Soviet border.

Finally, the intervention of the United States in the Balkans in the 1990s revealed not only that the Balkan nationalities themselves were broken into competing factions, but also that the conflicts among the various nationalities within America presented policymakers with another kind of Balkanization. U.S. troops entered Bosnia, and then Kosovo, in an effort to block Serbian territorial expansion and genocide ("ethnic cleansing"). As a strategy to stop Serbian genocide in Kosovo, and at the same time limit American armed forces personnel in the campaign, President Bill Clinton in 1999 began a massive bombing campaign within Serbia.

Constituencies in the United States associated with those nationalities that benefited from American intervention supported Clinton's action. Orthodox Christian ethnic groups, including Serbian Americans, Greek Americans, and Russian Americans, all protested. Although there are Serbian enclaves on the east coast, the most politically sensitive Serbian population is made up of the 250,000 who live in Chicago and comprise the largest community of Serbs outside Serbia. Orthodox Christians in America charged Washington with being insensitive to the suffering of their coreligionists in the Balkans while overlooking the excesses and favoring the cause of western Christians and Muslims.


Because the results to date have been so marginal for Mexican American efforts to influence diplomatic issues that affect them, there is some temptation to conclude that this is a group destined to fall short in the future. Yet with the 2000 census reporting what might well be described as an explosion in Hispanic and Mexican populations, cautious observers will likely reserve judgment before suggesting that the future will resemble the past for Mexican Americans. Demographics, the current attention being paid by both political parties, and group activism seem likely to combine to make this ethnic group one with enormous future influence on foreign policy.

From the time of the Mexican cession in 1848, Mexicans were targets of prejudice, violence, and economic exploitation in the land that was once theirs. Whether established residents or itinerant agricultural workers, they were an underclass striving to avoid poverty and discrimination in the United States. The Mexican government was indifferent toward them, and public attitudes in the United States ensured that they remained politically inactive.

Civil war in their homeland and severe economic problems drove one-tenth of Mexico's population into the United States in the two decades prior to the Great Depression. However, a search for scapegoats in the 1930s led to mass deportation of Mexicans back to Mexico. Distinctively dressed Mexican-American youths were frequently attacked by white servicemen in Los Angeles during World War II. These "zoot suit riots" led the Mexican government to protest, and request that measures be taken to end the violence. After the war the Mexican population in the United States rapidly increased with the addition of millions of contract laborers (braceros) and undocumented workers. These groups did not participate in politics, and even those immigrants who could have participated did not move quickly toward naturalization and a role in the political system.

Political activism at the national level began in the 1960s with Mexican-American organizations lobbying for immigration legislation, congressmen of Mexican ancestry playing the major role in forming the Hispanic Caucus, and the Mexican government finally cooperating with the community's leaders and associations. The first real success Mexican Americans demonstrated as a pressure group on foreign policy issues was in shaping the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The inclusion of an amnesty program for millions of the undocumented who could prove they had been in the United States prior to l982 was a striking victory.

Because of demographic changes and their emerging political activism, Mexican-American leaders have suggested that in the future their record of influencing foreign policy in areas of interest could match that of any other ethnic group. The increase in Hispanic population, to 35,305,818 (13 percent of the national total), was the phenomenon of the 2000 census. Mexican Americans comprised 59 percent of that Hispanic total and 7 percent of the national total. The 20,640,711 Mexican Americans represented a 53 percent increase in just ten years. Eighty-seven percent of Mexican Americans live in the West and the South, giving them a regional importance in both sections that could well be translated into even greater political advantage. In two crucial states in presidential elections, Mexican Americans make up 24 percent of the population of Texas and 21 percent in California.

Barriers still exist that militate against Mexican Americans' reaching their potential political strength. Even those Mexican Americans who have been in a position to exercise their citizenship rights by participating in electoral politics have failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Proximity to Mexico has made it possible for some immigrants to travel back and forth and not identify themselves with the cause of working for their rights as residents of the United States. As an ethnic group in the lower economic strata, the route to political influence through financing candidates and causes is not as likely as it might be for high-income groups. The median age of Mexican Americans is twenty-four, compared with a national median age of thirty-five, so a substantial percentage of Mexican Americans are not yet of an age that allows them to participate in the electoral system. Yet with all these qualifications, the overriding conclusion is that someday Mexican Americans will play an influential role in American foreign policy.

The major foreign policy initiatives that most interest Mexican Americans involve immigration and trade issues between Mexico and the United States. These include amnesty for undocumented Mexicans working in the United States, consideration of a new guest-worker program, controls over drug trafficking, liberalizing trade and investment ties, regulation of the border, and fighting discrimination and violence against immigrants. The attention that has recently been given to these issues by the political parties and politicians testifies to an awareness of the political potential of Mexican Americans.

When he ran for governor of Texas, George W. Bush made a concerted and successful effort to win the Mexican-American vote. Both as a candidate and as an elected president, Bush has stressed his understanding of Mexican-American concerns, his interest in immigration liberalization, the promotion of Hispanics to high government positions, implementation of policies to improve the economic status of the group, and his ties with Mexico and its new president, Vicente Fox. Most dramatically, in 2001 Bush promised to work to legalize the status of millions of undocumented workers, mostly Mexicans, living in the United States.

Republicans consider Mexican Americans an ethnic minority that can be won over from its tradition of being Democrats. In 1996 Bill Clinton received 72 percent of the Hispanic vote, so there is no reason why Democrats will concede Hispanics and Mexican Americans to the Republicans. However, since Bush won one-third of the Hispanic vote in 2000, Republicans are confident that a shift is under way. Throughout the presidential and congressional elections from 1990 to 2000, the two major political parties have been as evenly divided in electoral strength as has ever been the case. Perhaps whichever is more successful with Mexican-American voters will prevail early in the twenty-first century as the majority party. Given the history of ethnic politics in making foreign policy, it seems likely that politicians and parties will endorse much of the agenda in foreign policy that Hispanic and Mexican-American groups will put forward in the future.


Since the time of the Constitution, racism frequently has been a part of the mix of factors that shaped diplomacy. Although there were other forces involved, such as the unbridled national enthusiasm for "pole to pole" territorial expansion, race became an articulated element of the expansionist policies associated with "manifest destiny." The term first appeared in 1845, and suggested that the Almighty in his ultimate wisdom had "manifestly destined" the procreative and vigorous Americans to extend their ennobling institutions of republican governance. The result was seen by some as way to spread superior democratic ways of life, but to others, focused on race, it provided a way to replace uncivilized and backward populations with those of purer blood.

President James K. Polk (18451849) translated "manifest destiny" into a plan of action, and the result was the annexation of Texas, purchase of the Oregon Territory, and a war with Mexico that resulted in the northern one-third of that nation being ceded to the victorious United States. Settling the western land acquired during the Polk administration, and the intervening Civil War, dampened further interest in foreign policy initiatives until the 1890s. By the turn of the century there were new ideas that had gained currency and influenced incorporating race into the making of foreign policy.

The British biologist Charles Darwin had introduced his theory of evolution in On the Origin of Species (1859), and by the turn of the century his views had been widely popularized in America. Evolutionary theory suggested that in the biological world, higher life-forms evolved through a process of "natural selection," popularized as "survival of the fittest" in the struggle for existence. Such a hypothesis was easily applied by some to sociological theorizing, even in the realm of international affairs. Since there was a ruthless struggle for existence within the biological sphere that resulted in survival of the fittest, or "best," some concluded that a similar struggle among nations or races might produce similar results. Ruthless international competition might well be justified in the name of "progress." Popular writers and clergymen believed that in the future, Anglo-Saxons, particularly Americans, would dominate in the world.

America's foreign policy initiatives were the result of a variety of forces, and one such force was racism. Before, during, and after his presidency (19011909), Theodore Roosevelt expounded upon the Social Darwinist interpretations of "natural selection," "survival of the fittest," the supremacy of Anglo-Saxons, and the "white man's burden" to uplift and civilize backward peoples. It is sometimes difficult to separate the racism from other factors that motivated conduct. Yet as America began to move into the world at large around the turn of the twentieth century, attitudes of racial superiority were observable. One example is provided by the American presence in the Philippines following the settlement of the war with Spain in 1898.

When it became clear to the Filipino nationalists that the United States was intent on occupying the islands rather than providing for their independence, a four-year war ensued. The historian Brian McAllister Linn, in The Philippine War, 18991902, warns that it is incorrect to ascribe racism to all the vicious behavior of American troops against the Filipinos. However, even with Linn's cautionary note that such behavior has been typical of combat soldiers for hundreds of years, the evidence demonstrates that part of the reason for the poor treatment of Filipinos was racial hostility.

The pacification and occupation of Central America and the islands of the Caribbean during the early decades of the twentieth century also reflect America's attitude of racial superiority. The occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, for instance, resulted from a mixture of morality and strategic concerns, along with racism. Reflecting the racial attitudes of American policy and the occupation troops, Haitians were involuntarily placed in labor gangs, beaten and terrorized, and treated as prisoners. Marines killed two thousand "workers" in 1919, following an insurrection. Enforced segregation was imposed, and Americans favored the mulattos over the darker skinned Haitians. Secretary of State Robert Lansing, who had deployed marines in Haiti, wrote that the "African race" had an "inherent tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature. Of course there are many exceptions to this racial weakness, but it is true of the mass as we know from experience in [Haiti]."


Racism continued as a sometimes expressed element in American foreign policy through the 1920s and 1930s. World War II, however, set in motion events that resulted in a change in attitude on race both domestically and in foreign policy. Ambivalence on racial issues marked the U.S. record during the war. On the one hand, the tradition of white supremacy and racial prejudice, enforced through segregation, in many ways remained the standard of race relations in American society. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, some 112,000 Japanese Americans living in the western states were arrested and removed to a series of "relocation centers" in isolated interior locations. Two-thirds of this group were U.S. citizens, and most of the rest had been denied the right of citizenship because they were not born in the country. The sole criterion for removal was their Japanese ancestry.

Military service was rigidly segregated by race and defined the nonwhite soldier as inferior in every way. Decorated war heroes returned to a society in which they could not get a haircut from a white barber if their skin was not white. However, World War II also proved to be the cauldron from which dramatic changes in race relations would come forth. The beginning of the modern civil rights movement can be traced to the national wartime experience, and these domestic events, as well as the imperative of dealing with a different world, would influence changes in how U.S. foreign policy would deal with racial issues in international affairs.

The world order that emerged from the war was one in which a handful of western European nations no longer were supreme over the majority of the world's populations. The United States, emerging as the single most powerful economic and military nation, found it was in its own interest to distance itself from the racism with which Western nations had been identified. It was essential to Washington that a distinction be drawn between current American policies and association with the European legacy of colonialism, antinationalism, and racism. Interacting with a world no longer predominantly white or European, American policy distanced itself as much as it could from the influence of racism in its past.

Although this new emphasis was pragmatic in nature, it also was shaped by undeniable changes in attitude toward race that were occurring in American society. By the end of the 1960s, the colonies once held by European nations had largely disappeared. Nonwhite populations were assuming control of their own fate around the world, and proponents of white supremacy were increasingly on the defensive. During the war the United States had condemned the racism inherent in Nazi German society. Postwar policies increasingly reflected a condemnation of racial prejudice.

In planning for a continued global American presence, the reality was that the governments and populations with which the United States would deal were inevitably going to be nonwhite. In the presidencies of Harry Truman (19451953) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (19531961), nationalism among the nonwhite populations of the world was publicly acknowledged to be a force that the United States supported. Although the administrations did not always back up their rhetoric on nationalism with action, there were important examples of the United States supporting nationalistic aspirations of nonwhite populations at the expense of traditional European allies. One such example was Eisenhower's decision during the 1956 Suez crisis to side with the cause of Arab nationalism at the expense of British and French interests.


U.S. commitment to the ideals incorporated in the principles of the United Nations symbolized the change in attitude toward race that marked postwar foreign policy. A legacy of Wilsonian diplomacy, the impetus for a United Nations developed during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. The charter of the world organization was written by Roosevelt's aides, and it came into existence in October 1945 largely because Roosevelt made it a centerpiece of his postwar diplomacy.

The charter provides evidence of how postwar U.S. diplomacy identified with policies of fundamental human rights, and had taken a step back from policies that were influenced by racist attitudes. The UN Charter "reaffirm[s] faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small." Pledging its member nations to "practice tolerance and live together in peace," the charter promotes the development of "friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples" and "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all."

Although this ideal was not necessarily always adhered to, the concepts noted above became major elements in the message that America presented to leaders, governments, and populations throughout the world. Policies of the United States were to be based on fundamental human rights and an acceptance of the nationalistic strivings of underdeveloped, largely nonwhite populations. It was never an option in diplomacy to revert to the ideological racism that for so long had been one of the factors shaping the making of policy.

The continued overt existence of racism within American society, and the increasing attention that was drawn to it by the civil rights movement, posed problems for Washington. It made it more difficult to assure others that the racism that had marked American diplomacy for so long was gone for good. News reports of racial discrimination, violence against peaceful civil rights activists, and growing white resistance to integration undercut the message of equal rights and tolerance abroad. When violent protest blocked the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, President Eisenhower commented that it was "a tremendous disserviceto the nation in the eyes of the world." When dark-skinned diplomats were refused service in segregated restaurants, it was reported around the world.

The passage of time brought success for much of the civil rights agenda at home, which was reported the world over. The United States has identified with many of the third world nationalist movements, and it has opposed its European allies when they moved toward policies that could be interpreted as a reassertion of colonial-style conduct. A good example of the latter was the blunt warning given in 1956 by President Eisenhower to Britain and France during the Suez crisis. In effect the American president said that if these two European allies did not end their military campaign in the Suez region, swift economic and political retaliation from the United States would result.


Racial attitudes in the United States ensured that prior to World War II, Asian populations would have little political leverage and would play only a marginal role in determining foreign policy in Asia and the Pacific region. With dramatically increased population and economic affluence, since the 1970s Asian Americans have built the political structure that has allowed them to participate in the process of influencing American foreign policy. It is still more the promise of what the future holds in this arena for Asian Americans than their current ability to shape policy that should be noted.

Chinese were the first Asians to immigrate to the United States in significant numbers: by 1880, with their community numbering seventy-five thousand, they comprised 10 percent of California's population. Fear that Chinese Americans might use the vote was one reason behind congressional passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Among the provisions was one that made Chinese "aliens ineligible to citizenship." With this legislation Chinese Americans were banished to the political margins, and a significant precedent was set for the political and social marginalization of all Asian groups who would follow. Only in 1952 were the last of the legal restrictions against Asian citizenship removed.

During World War II the United States lifted the ban on Chinese immigration; in the first year of implementation (1943) the change was as much symbolic as substantive as only 105 persons were allowed to enter the United States. Chinese immigrants were allowed to become naturalized citizens. Since China was an ally of the United States during World War II, these moves were made in large measure to win favor with Chiang Kai-shek's regime. Chinese Americans were too few in number and too politically inexperienced to be of much influence in promoting such changes. After the war Asian Americans remained politically marginalized in foreign policy decisions. No Asian-American group or individual, for instance, proved influential in shaping the events and policies that brought America into the Korean War.

Koreans in America were too few in number, and they had little experience with American politics. The condescension shown by many U.S. government officials toward both the Korean and the Chinese Communist combatants in the war smacks of racist mentality; these leaders were unlikely to have taken seriously those Asian Americans who would have tried to influence policy. White American soldiers commonly disparaged both the Chinese and the Koreans (including their South Korean allies) with racial barbs. The same pattern prevailed in the growing involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia that began in the 1950s. No Asian-American ethnic groups, nor individual Asian Americans, had any meaningful role in the policies that led to the war in Vietnam.

Several factors changed for Asian Americans beginning in the 1970s. Driven by a surge of immigration from Asia as the result of the 1965 immigration law, Asian Americans command attention by their sheer numbers10,242,998 (3.6 percent of the nation's population, according to the 2000 census). They are well situated politically because in California, the greatest electoral prize by far, between 11 and 12 percent of the population is Asian American. These ethnic groups collectively can boast exceptionally high levels of educational attainment. Education is a primary reason for another political strength shared by Asian Americans, their affluence. Median family income for Asian Americans is 138 percent of the national average.

Obstacles continue to block the path of these groups as they attempt to achieve a level of political sophistication and develop the capability to influence foreign policy toward their ancestral homes in Asia. The population numbers themselves may be misleading when the level of political participation is considered. Because so many of the immigrants allowed in by the 1965 law are part of reunited families, the rate of immigrants who become naturalized is low. The percentage of Asian Americans who register to vote is low, as is the percentage of those who actually vote. If some other ethnic groups have attracted political attention because of their community solidarity and bloc voting tradition, it remains a liability for Asian Americans that they evenly split their votes between Republicans and Democrats. Split votes inevitably remove political leverage. Certain groups also split on the issues involving their land of ancestry. Chinese Americans, for instance, divide over the central issue of what policy should be promoted by the United States toward the communist regime in Beijing.

An "8020 initiative" was begun in the 1990s with the goal of delivering 80 percent of the Asian-American vote to one presidential candidate. However, there are six significant Asian groups represented, and the ideological differences among them make the kind of political solidarity that the "8020 initiative" promotes unlikely. Chinese Americans are the largest ethnic group, with nearly 2.5 million, followed in order by Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese. Each has its own particular foreign policy issues that relate to the homeland, so collaboration among the groups has proved to be difficult.

The Vietnamese, politically the most conservative group, have focused on U.S. policy toward the government in Hanoi. As opponents of the regime, Vietnamese Americans have acted as somewhat of a brake on the inexorable American move toward normalizing relations. With a huge influx of immigrants within their community, Chinese Americans have focused on both immigration issues and the U.S. relationship with China. Dubious charges of espionage against Lee Wen Ho, a Chinese-American nuclear scientist at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 2000 mobilized Chinese Americans to protest that the American government perpetuated the stereotype that Chinese Americans were somehow doing the bidding of the government of China. Because China is seen as the enemy by many Americans, Chinese Americans believe they are tainted by association because they are ethnic Chinese. In a fund-raising scandal in the 1996 election, millions of dollars were illegally collected from Chinese sources outside the United States; Chinese Americans protested that press coverage did not adequately explain that it was not Chinese Americans engaged in raising illegal contributions, but foreign Chinese who may well have been associated with the communist Chinese government. Chinese Americans believe that their ability to influence policy has been compromised by these episodes in which they have been unfairly accused of wrongdoing and of being in the service of a foreign nation disliked by the American public.

Each of the Asian groups wants to bring more Asian Americans into the foreign policy decision-making process involving Asia and the Pacific region. With so many different cultures involved, finding a consensus has not been easy for the Asian-American groups.


There are countervailing pressures that can neutralize or even eliminate the opportunity an ethnic group has to affect foreign affairs. If public sentiment is clearly defined as opposed to the policy being sought, or if nonethnic special-interest lobbies in the United States wage a campaign against an ethnic minority's goals, or if other ethnic groups commit themselves to work on behalf of a different policy, the influence that an ethnic minority can command is mitigated.

The first of these balancing factors has frequently proved to be critical to ethnic minorities desiring to convince a president and Congress that specific policies should be accepted. Ethnic groups can exert disproportionate pressure in a specific area if their demands arouse no broad opposition from the public at large. Part of the Jewish-American success in winning American support for the creation of a Jewish state following World War II resulted from the existence of this condition.

It was fortunate for the Zionists that throughout the struggle to obtain official U.S. backing for a Jewish state, the American public was either mildly sympathetic or at least apathetic. The basic Zionist aim of establishing a Jewish state was consistently favored by those in the polling samples who had an opinion, although at times the margin of support was as narrow as a few percentage points.

Perhaps as significant as the opinions expressed was the fact that so large a percentage of the public did not follow the Palestine controversies. Only 45 percent of those questioned in one poll (National Opinion Research Center poll, May 1946) could identify Britain as the country that had the mandate for Palestine. As late as the fall of 1946, 49 percent admitted that they had not followed the discussion about establishing a Jewish national homeland (American Institute of Public Opinion poll, September 1946). Outside the Jewish community the Zionist program did not raise very intense political issues.

Generally, the public tunes in to foreign policy issues only at times of international crisis or when a policy debate is infused with overwhelming significancefor example, when a war may be on the horizon, or when policies fail (as with the continuing commitment to fighting in Vietnam). Most international issues do not interest the public at large; such apathy translates into public ignorance. In 1964 only 58 percent of those surveyed knew that the United States was a member of NATO. Nearly two-fifths replied that the Soviet Union was a member,

Only half of Americans polled in 1978 knew that the United States imported any oil, at a time when approximately half of the nation's oil came from overseas. It is a tremendous advantage to members of a unified, organized ethnic group when they have the field to themselves to promote an issue that does not interest the public at large.

When an ethnic group does recommend a policy position that is clearly opposed by the general public, they are unlikely to receive it. Significantly, the one aspect of the Zionist program in 1948 that ran into clear-cut public disapproval was never accepted by the American government. Following Israel's birth in May 1948, the new nation asked for positive action by the American president on three specific issues. One was for President Harry S. Truman to extend de jure recognition to Israel. Great urgency was also attached to the request for a $100 million American loan to Israel. Truman responded favorably to both requests. Truman was also asked to lift the American arms embargo on the Middle East, thereby allowing Israel to purchase weapons. On 5 December 1947 the American arms embargo had been imposed at the request of the UN Security Council.

Truman was persuaded by the State Department that any unilateral revocation of the embargo would be regarded as exhibiting a striking disregard for UN efforts to pacify the Middle East. Another compelling reason for presidential inaction derived from the public response to the embargo. Although the Zionist program generally met with either mild public approval or indifference, one nationwide poll (National Opinion Research Center, 1 July 1948) indicated that 82 percent of the electorate opposed any change in the status of the embargo.

A second balancing factor that can challenge the influence of an ethnic minority's ability to influence policy is nonethnic special-interest lobbies that are determined to have foreign policy conducted along the lines they desire. For example, economic interests within the United States might seek policies that are diametrically opposed to the programs sought by ethnic groups. In a democracy, ethnic minorities make up just a small percentage of pressure groups hoping to influence foreign policy.

A third factor that works against the policymaking influence of a particular ethnic minority consists of other ethnic groups taking on the role of the adversary. President Wilson was faced with a variety of ethnic groups, each of which insisted that he fully endorse the claims of their homeland. America's ethnic populations collided over how the map of the world should be redrawn. Wilson's attempts at compromise left most of the groups dissatisfied, and led in part to his inability to have the Treaty of Versailles ratified.

The situation of having one ethnic group lined up against another occurred in 1935 when the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini sent his troops into Ethiopia in an effort to expand his colonial empire. Supporting their ancestral home, most Italian Americans defended the action, and many lobbied against any American plan to establish a discriminatory embargo against Italy. Since President Franklin D. Roosevelt opposed Mussolini's actions during the Ethiopian campaign, large numbers of Italian Americans turned against the president and the Democrats.

On the other side, African Americans rallied to Ethiopia's support on the basis of their ethnic identification with the black African nation. They called for the United States to stand up firmly against Italy. Lester Taylor, the chairman of the New African International League, wired the State Department: "Black citizens are surprised and filled with misgivings at the lukewarm attitude of this government." In the Ethiopian crisis of 1935, there was a tendency for the two ethnic groups, Italian Americans and black Americans, to cancel out whatever political influence the other hoped to wield on this issue.

In summary, the three countervailing factors that can diminish an ethnic group's ability to shape particular policies are the existence of widespread public sentiment in opposition, the presence of nonethnic special-interest lobbies on the other side, and the existence of other ethnic groups who take a contrary position. Where none of the three countervailing pressures exist, even a relatively small ethnic minority can dominate a policy area.

Placing foreign policy in the context of electoral politics, the candidate or officeholder has everything to gain and nothing to lose by endorsing the goals of a particular ethnic group. Politicians can obtain the political support of the members of the group who consider the issue in question to be of significance; at the same time no voters are alienated.

Truman's political advisers made just this argument in obtaining the president's support for the new state of Israel during the 1948 presidential election. White House staff members Clark Clifford and David Niles suggested to the president that he could obtain the support of Jewish voters by taking a pro-Israel stand; at the same time he would not lose any significant number of votes.


For nearly two centuries following the establishment of the American republic, it was generally accepted that a common identity and purpose bound the nation together even though the population itself had various ethnic origins, languages, and religions. Although there was an acknowledgment that immigrants added to the culture through their unique contributions, unmistakably the American standard was white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, and European.

Often referred to as the "melting pot," American society was constantly in transition as new ideas changed it. It remained clear that the dominant values and traditions were still those of the generation of the Founders and their Anglo-Saxon heritage. This tradition provided a standard to which immigrants must strive. Early in the twentieth century the largest influx of immigration in world history brought millions of eastern and southern European immigrants into the United States. Since these newcomers were less familiar with the accepted American values (such as democracy) than previous immigrant groups had been, "Americanization" programs were initiated to ensure that new Americans came to accept the values of the old. Education, politics, and popular culture promoted the bedrock message that America was a single nation, one people, with a common culture regardless of the mixture of backgrounds.

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union there had been a perceived common threat to national security that further emphasized to Americans the importance of consensus and approaching problems with a singleness of purpose. The Cold War created a mood that encouraged solidarity and reinforced the argument that Americans should remain a unified people with shared values. The failure to replace that Cold War consensus with any coherent foreign policy agenda that might have brought the public together has become a factor in the disintegration of consensus for at least a segment of the public.

In recent years a contrary vision concerning how much Americans hold in common has received wide currency and has in turn opened up a serious dialogue concerning what the rights and obligations of individuals and groups should be in a democracy. The question of what it is that holds a nation together is at the heart of the issue. Implications regarding how foreign policy should be determined, as well as the appropriate influence of ethnic and racial groups in the making of policy, are involved.

World War I destroyed the European order and empowered Wilson's doctrine of self-determi-nation, and World War II ended western colonial empires and opened the way for greater racial and ethnic militancy everywhere, including the United States. Changes in immigration law in the 1960s ensured that most immigrants would no longer come from Europe, but rather from Central and South America and Asia. Along with a new militancy on the part of African Americans, millions of non-European immigrants were equally unwilling to accept the old rules of assimilation because their backgrounds were so different from that of the mainstream American ideal.

Among African Americans, other racial minorities such as Native Americans, and new immigrants there has been a growing acceptance of what has been labeled the multiculturalist interpretation of what holds America together. Rejecting assimilation and promoting the concept of America not as one nation but rather a nation of groups, the multiculturalists aim for an acceptance of pluralism without any cultural hegemony. In a nation of groups, race and ethnicity, rather than a national identity, can be the defining experience for individuals. The basic meaning of American history, say the multiculturalists, is as much the divisions into racial and ethnic groups as the traditional explanation of there being one nation and one people.

Is there one national interest that should be protected in the making of foreign policy? In the past, ethnic groups hoping to influence policy had to justify their specific goals as being consistent with basic policy guidelines. Blaming the change on the influence of multiculturalism, Samuel Huntington has written: "They [multiculturalists] deny the existence of a common culture in the United States, denounce assimilation, and promote the primacy of racial, ethnic, and other sub-national cultural identities and groupings."

Critics of multiculturalism decry what they see as a higher priority being placed on ethnic identity than on identifying with the greater American community. By pursuing a diplomatic agenda that is of interest only to itself, an ethnic group is expecting the entire nation to serve its interests. The political scientist Tony Smith, in Foreign Attachments, comes down hard on multi-culturalists, who, he charges, have given a higher priority to one's sense of ethnic identity than to the greater American community. Smith believes that American influence in the world, which should be used for goals related to the common national good, is at risk of being squandered by a process in which ethnic minorities split up the resources and use them for individualized group interests.

With the end of the Cold War leaving America without a defined policy that sets boundaries on what ethnic constituencies can request, and with influencing policy so easy today because of the scramble for money and votes in a political system so evenly balanced between the two major parties, Smith fears that the balance has tipped in favor of pressure groups that include ethnic minorities. While ethnic groups certainly have the right to lobby the government, Smith believes that they also have an obligation to reconcile their ethnic agenda in foreign policy with a broader national interest.

Smith argues that as difficult as it sometimes is to define, America needs a sense of national purpose in world affairs. Individual ethnic groups cannot define that purpose, and they should not have exclusive rights to determine policy, as they sometimes claim they do. Who speaks for America in international affairs? Smith says that the answer should be that it is those who think of themselves first as Americans. Too many multi-culturalists are unable to give that answer.


As American diplomacy enters a new century, it is indisputable that ethnic politics plays an important role in shaping policy. A substantive question is whether such influences upon the conduct of foreign affairs are an obstruction to sound policymaking or make a legitimate contribution. The traditional approach has been for students of American diplomacy to condemn the interrelationship between ethnic pressure and the direction of foreign policy. Diplomatic decision making, it is often said, should be determined solely on the basis of what is best for the national interest of the United States. This sentiment was presented clearly by the political scientist G. Lowell Field, who in 1964 wrote that he was interested in discovering remedies "for the curse of ethnicity in American politics."

According to Field, ethnicity poses a "danger to prudent national decision-making." Besides suggesting the abolition of the nationalities divisions of the Republican and Democratic parties, Field favors the "ostracism[of] any political leader who obviously directs special appeals for the support of particular foreign policies to ethnic groupings with an undue emotional involvement."

Field argues that in the "proper moral climate" an ethnic group should be embarrassed when politicians make "this kind of appeal, just as a judge would be embarrassed by efforts to get him to participate in the decision of a case involving a close relative." It is simply illegitimate, Field says, to promote or even "tolerate situationslike those in which foreign policy hearings are conducted by the major parties before their national conventionsin which it appears that the feelings of ethnic minorities are legitimate grounds for deciding whether or not such intervention by American power is possible or desirable."

Taking decision making in foreign policy out of domestic politics and consigning it to the experts is a suggestion not limited to academe. In 1961 Senator J. William Fulbright insisted that foreign policy should not be determined in a deliberative forum in which parochial domestic interests would have influence. "The question I put," wrote Fulbright, "is whether in the face of the harsh necessities of the 1960s we can afford the luxury of 18th century procedures of measured deliberation."

Fulbright doubted that a successful foreign policy could originate "by continuing to leave vast and vital decision-making powers in the hands of a decentralized, independent-minded, and largely parochial-minded body of legislators. I submit that the price of democratic survival in a world of aggressive totalitarianism is to give up some of the democratic luxuries of the past." Foreign policy, Fulbright argued, should be determined by the experts in the executive branch of government and should not be a political football in Congress. Implementation of Fulbright's thesis that Congress should play less of a role in foreign policy formulation would clearly hinder the ability of ethnic groups to lobby for their particular interests.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, those who approve of the link between ethnic minorities and foreign policy no longer argue from a defensive position. They instead point out that policymakers are themselves often highly partisan and political on specific foreign policy issues. For example, Jewish Americans have long contended that the Middle East desk at the State Department has traditionally been staffed by personnel who are pro-Arab. Since some persons in the State Department contend that the national interest lies in protecting American commercial interests in the Middle East, ethnic bias is not the only possible explanation of the State Department position. Similarly, supporters of America's pro-Israel stance are not necessarily Zionists but can instead insist that the national interest is best served by supporting democracies, such as Israel, wherever they exist. Why, the critics of official Washington ask, should it be assumed that the State Department's interpretation of the national interest is any more creditable than the views of State Department critics?

Ethnic leaders have suggested that nothing could be more appropriate in a democracy than to bring interest groups into the decision-making process. Following an era in Washington marked by governmental disdain for the public, the concept of broadening the public's role in decision making has substantial appeal.

Promoting good relations with foreign nations is basic to American diplomacy. One way to foster such friendly ties would be to make conspicuous a link between specific ethnic minorities and U.S. foreign policy toward their homeland. Ethnic leaders have argued that the goodwill that can be won by emphasizing the interrelationship between the ethnic group and policy toward the land of origin provides a compelling argument for encouraging such a relationship.

Among world powers, only the United States, with its diversity of ethnic populations, has had such obvious opportunities. Individual representatives, as well as an entire ethnic community, can be effectively used for diplomatic purposes. When President John F. Kennedy visited his ancestral home in Ireland and when he frequently referred to his Irish background, the resulting benefit to Irish-American relations was enormous. Similar goodwill is gained when a prominent member of an ethnic group is given a diplomatic assignment.

One example of using an entire ethnic group to obtain a foreign policy goal was presented in Italian-American relations during the late 1940s. Washington became concerned that the Italian electorate might vote the Communist Party into control of the national government. Encouraged by U.S. officials, Italian Americans mounted a mail campaign in which relatives in Italy would be persuaded to vote against the Communists. Italian Americans responded enthusiastically.

The legitimacy of ethnic groups' lobbying for policies they desire no longer seems as questionable as it was once considered to be. American elections and the political process have moved in the direction of multiple interests seeking to have their ideas heard and the policies they support accepted. Why is the attempt by ethnic minorities to influence the direction of foreign policy any less legitimate than the lobbying efforts of any number of economic interest groups? Why should it be any less legitimate to vote from ethnic considerations than for economic or social reasons? These are questions asked by spokesmen for ethnic minorities involved in foreign affairs issues.


An argument made against ethnic influence on foreign policy is that such influence is likely to spring from emotional loyalties rather than rational objectives. The goals of U.S. foreign policy can be summarized as military security, protection of economic interests, and minimization and peaceful settlement of international disputes. Ethnicity certainly has no obvious relation to any of these goals, and to the extent that it might be in conflict with them, it is an improper influence.

What this argument ignores is that the rational objectives articulated by professional policymakers generally omit such "emotional" factors as fairness to downtrodden or impoverished peoples. This has usually been the case with respect to colonial or dictatorial governments friendly to the United States. Such governments, especially in strategically located or mineral-rich countries, have consistently been supported by the United States for the reasons previously suggested.

Thus, the articulation of arguments for a contrary policybased on justice, commitment to democracy, and other idealsis typically left to the affected ethnic groups. An example in the recent past is the dictatorship in Greece, in the creation of which the United States played a considerable and unsavory role. American support was drastically curtailed, in large measure, on account of the persistent efforts of Greek Americans. Similarly, the ethical commitment to displaced Jewry after World War II was argued mainly by Jewish Americans, while the State Department and the public at large took little interest. Any ethical commitment to Palestinian Arabs, who had been consistently under foreign domination, was overlooked. There was not a significant Arab-American lobby to promote the cause of the victimized Palestinian Arabs.

It is argued that to insist that the formulation of foreign policy should remain separate from the right of ethnic groups to exert influence would be to abandon a central attribute of a vital democratic state. Ethnic participation in foreign policy is defended as being consistent with the American political ideals of democracy and freedom.

Those opposed to ethnic participation counter by saying that the result of openly sanctioning such political bartering would be a foreign policy in which a president or Congress would risk national survival simply to uphold a political pledge. The safeguard against such a disaster would likely be the general public. The political reality would seem to be that the public would not tolerate a president or a Congress embroiling the United States in some ill-conceived adventure designed to placate a particular group.

Although it would have been popular with a variety of ethnic voters, the Republican Party did not "liberate" eastern Europe from communism following the 1952 election. Republican campaign pledges proved to be insincere, since there was little likelihood that the new administration was actually going to war in order to terminate communist control of eastern Europe. Presented with the opportunity to intervene in the 1956 Hungarian revolt against the Soviet Union, the administration quickly indicated that it would stay uninvolved in that effort to throw off Soviet domination.

The political scientist Lawrence Fuchs, arguing in favor of a close interrelationship between minority group pressure and American diplomacy, has suggested "that foreign policy is too important to be left to the experts." Opponents of the enhanced role that ethnic constituencies have in contemporary foreign policy decision making remain unimpressed. They instead fore-cast grave danger ahead for any coherent national diplomatic agenda if foreign policy continues to be even more of a political football than it has in the past. The question of the appropriateness of mixing ethnicity with foreign policy will no doubt continue to be debated, but even diehard opponents of the phenomenon now concede that ethnicity is probably an inevitable concomitant of the American political process.


Ahrari, Mohammed E., ed. Ethnic Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York, 1987. Articles on selected ethnic constituencies and their efforts to shape American diplomacy.

Baldassare, Mark. California in the New Millennium: The Changing Social and Political Landscape. Berkeley, Calif., 2000. A treasury of quantified data and political analysis of California's current political scene that includes much on the state's multiple ethnic constituencies.

Chang, Gordon, ed. Asian Americans and Politics: Perspectives, Experiences, and Prospects. Washington, D.C., 2000. Rich collection of articles on both the collective Asian-American political experience and individual studies of particular ethnic groups. Section on voting behavior contains useful quantified data on the political behavior of Asian Americans.

Cohen, Michael J. Truman and Israel. Berkeley, Calif., 1990. Account of both the Jewish-American campaign to influence the Truman administration before and after the creation of the Jewish state, and the administration's response to the pressure, always with its own political interests in mind.

DeConde, Alexander. Ethnicity, Race, and American Foreign Policy: A History. Boston, 1992. By far the best and most thorough contemporary history of ethnic groups and the influence they have in shaping American foreign policy.

Druks, Herbert. The Uncertain Friendship: The U. S. and Israel from Roosevelt to Kennedy. Westport, Conn., 2001. Political history of the diplomacy of four presidential administrations and how they responded to the campaign to establish a Jewish state, and the alliance that developed between Israel and America.

Free, Lloyd, and Hadley Cantril. The Political Beliefs of Americans: A Study of Public Opinion. New York, 1968. Public opinion study with useful material on attitudes on foreign policy issues.

Fuchs, Lawrence. "Minority Groups and Foreign Policy." Political Science Quarterly 76 (1959). An early exception to the view that ethnic pressure on foreign policy goals was undesirable.

Gerson, Louis. Woodrow Wilson and the Rebirth of Poland, 19141920. New Haven, Conn., 1953. Specialized study of how one ethnic group affected a particular aspect of foreign policy. Gerson identifies the role played by Polish Americans in helping to create an independent Poland in the aftermath of World War I.

. The Hyphenate in Recent American Politics and Diplomacy. Lawrence, Kans., 1964. One of the first thorough studies of ethnicity and American foreign policy, Gerson's perspective was the inappropriateness of ethnic group pressure being an important factor in shaping diplomacy.

Gomez Quinones, Juan. Chicano Politics: Reality and Promise, 19401990. Albuquerque, N.M., 1990. Examines the barriers Hispanics encountered in efforts to establish a position of legitimacy within the American political system, and the initial successes they experienced within the Democratic Party structure beginning in the 1970s.

Gutierrez, David G. Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. Berkeley, Calif., 1995. Of particular value for the material on the relationship between Mexican Americans and the Mexican government.

Huntington, Samuel P. "The Erosion of American National Interests." Foreign Affairs 76, no. 5 (1997): 2849.

Levering, Ralph B. The Public and American Foreign Policy, l9181978. New York, 1978. Valuable work on the link between public opinion and foreign policy from the end of World War I through the late 1970s.

Levy, Mark, and Michael Kramer. The Ethnic Factor: How America's Minorities Decide Elections. New York, 1972. Contains some valuable statistical data on ethnic group voting patterns.

Linn, Brian McAllister. The Philippine War, 18991902. Lawrence, Kans., 2000. History of the war waged in the Pacific that includes material on U.S. troops' racial attitudes and antagonisms toward the native population.

Moynihan, Daniel P., and Nathan Glazer, eds. Ethnicity. Cambridge, Mass., 1975. Moynihan and Glazer sympathize with the goals of ethnic political campaigns and emphasize the significant impact ethnicity has had on American diplomacy; they state "that immigration is the single most important determinant of American foreign policy."

Nathan, James A., and James K. Oliver. Foreign Policy Making and the American Political System. 3d ed. Baltimore, 1994. Survey of what Americans know of world affairs.

O'Grady, Joseph P. The Immigrants' Influence on Wilson's Peace Policies. Lexington, Ky., 1967. Account of the efforts by several groups to influence Wilson's peacemaking.

Rosenthal, Steven T. Irreconcilable Differences? The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair with Israel. Hanover, N.H., 2001. Well-argued study to the effect that what was once unquestioned American Jewish support for Israel has been replaced by a number of sharp disagreements over Israel's conduct that have divided American Jews.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. New York, 1998. A highly influential rejoinder to multiculturalism by a noted historian identified with the establishment. Although there is no real attempt to examine multiculturalism and its relationship to the issue of who should speak for the United States in foreign policy, the arguments nonetheless relate to the central issue of identity and policy.

Smith, Tony. Foreign Attachments: The Power of Ethnic Groups in the Making of American Foreign Policy. Cambridge, Mass., 2000. Persuasive argument that ethnic groups play a larger role in making foreign policy than is widely understood, and that the negative consequences of this phenomenon far outweigh any benefits.

Snetsinger, John. Truman, the Jewish Vote, and the Creation of Israel. Stanford, Calif., 1974. An effort to explain the critical role that Jewish Americans played in bringing the state of Israel into existence.

Torres, Maria de los Angeles. In the Land of Mirrors: Cuban Exile Politics in the United States. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1999.

United States Census 2000. Washington, D.C.: Department of Statistics and Administration, United States Census Bureau, Department of Commerce, 2001.

See also Asylum; Cultural Imperialism; Cultural Relations and Policies; Immigration; Public Opinion; Refugee Policies; Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy .


At age thirty-eight Clark McAdams Clifford arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1945 to serve in a relatively minor position as an assistant to the president's naval aide. By 1946 Harry Truman was so delighted with Clifford's performance that he chose the lawyer from St. Louis to be special counsel to the president. Clifford was immediately responsible for preparing many of Truman's state papers, speeches, and memoranda.

Once at the center of power, Clifford displayed an intelligence and an instinct for power that made him Truman's most influential adviser and one of the handful of most important White House aides in history. Labeled a "golden boy," the elegant, handsome, and charming aide seemed an unlikely political and personal partner of the president. With the enthusiastic backing of Truman, Clifford prepared a memorandum that in general terms outlined a strategy for Truman to win the 1948 election. In November 1947 the forty-three-page document, "The Politics of 1948," was presented to the president. This bold report demonstrated that Clifford was a tough political pragmatist.

Recommending a "course of political conduct" for Truman, his aide emphasized that the approach was based "solely on an appraisal of the politically advantageous course to follow." Truman read the memorandum carefully, and agreed with Clifford's analysis and proposed victory strategy. The report became the blueprint for the 1948 campaign waged by the president. One section dealt with the various special interest groups that the Democrats hoped to attract, including Jewish voters.

The memorandum, "The Politics of 1948," from Clifford to Truman on 19 November 1947, stated:

The Jewish voteis important only in New York. But (except for Wilson in 1916) no candidate since 1876 has lost New York and won the Presidency, and its forty-seven [electoral] votes are naturally the first prize in any election. Centered in New York City, that vote is normally Democratic and, if large enough, is sufficient to counteract the upstate vote and deliver the state to President Truman. Today the Jewish bloc is interested primarily in Palestine and will continue to be an uncertain quantity right up to the time of election.

Throughout the election year of 1948 Clifford recommended policies on the Palestine issue (involving the Zionist effort to establish a Jewish state in Palestine) that were intended to improve the president's standing with the American Jewish community. In the final six months of the campaign the president's decisions on Palestine bore the mark of Clifford's influence. Truman was increasingly willing to follow recommendations based upon domestic political considerations.

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Race and Ethnicity


Within public health, there is disagreement about the meaning and use of the term "race." Often, public health scientists and the general public alike mistakenly base their notions of race on the idea that the human species can be separated into distinct human races identifiable through differences in physical traits (e.g., skin color, hair texture, facial features). Furthermore these ideas frequently carry with them the notion that these physical or other distinguishing traits have a basis in a homogeneous set of genes that differentiate races from one another. These ideas originated in the fifteenth century when the ability to support such ideas using sound scientific methods was not possible. Now, scientists from many disciplines (e.g., genetics, anthropology, sociology, biology) agree that there are no distinct human races as was previously claimed.

A more recently developed concept about race is ethnicity. This concept, which emerged in the late eighteenth century, is usually conceptualized as membership in a group defined by a shared geographical origin or cultural history, including common language, religion, art, and other cultural factors. Ethnicity is distinguished from race in public health studies. In North America, the most common ethnic group designation is Hispanic, or Latino/Latina.

Historically, there are examples of extreme human rights violations justified through the notion of biologically homogeneous race and ethnic groups. Eugenics has been used to target members of racial and ethnic groups with oppressive and genocidal societal policies and actions. Just before World War II, eugenics formed the basis of Nazi genocidal policies toward Jews, and in the early twentieth century it resulted in landholding and job exclusionary policies toward European immigrants to the United States. Race as a social construction and social fact continues to figure prominently in political and ideological relations and systems of contemporary societies worldwide.

Starting in the 1970s, scientific evidence began to accumulate to support the idea that races, as distinct biologically or genetically homogeneous groups of humans, do not exist. Geneticists have shown that only a very small proportion (6% or less) of human genetic variability occurs between so-called races. Furthermore scientists within other disciplines, such as biology and anthropology, have discarded such definitions of race based upon notions of biologic or genetic homogeneity. Rather, scientists recognize that the concept of race has been socially constructedinitially in the sixteenth century to justify economic exploitation and political domination of certain populations distinguishable by physical features such as skin colorand that race is a set of economic, political, and cultural relations that result in health and social inequalities.

Public health scientists continue to use various categories of race in research. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), setting standards for the nation, recently recommended using the categories American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. The OMB recognizes that these categories represent a "sociopolitical construct" and "are not anthropologically or scientifically based."

In public health research, racial categories are often used to demonstrate inequalities in health status and other health-related factors such as access to and quality of health care. Unfortunately, some public health studies still interpret such inequalities as having a biologic or genetic basis. Thus, subtle and blatant forms of "scientific racism" and biological determinism are seen within the field of public health today. Public health scientists should be encouraged to use theories of race informed by current scientific evidence that so-called races are social constructs and social facts. Fortunately, public health studies have begun to identify and measure the social mechanisms (e.g., institutional and individual racism) that contribute to racial gaps rather than using race as a proxy for these exposures.

Patricia O'Campo

(see also: Economics of Health; Ethnicity and Health; Ethnocentrism; Eugenics; Social Determinants )


American Association of Anthropologists (1999). "Statement on Race." American Anthropologist 100(3): 712713.

Banton, M. (1998). Racial Theories. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bonilla, S. E. (1999). "The Essential Social Fact of Race." American Sociological Review 64:899906.

Cavilis-Sforza, L. L. (2000). Peoples and Languages, trans. M. Seielstad. New York: North Point Press.

Lewontin, R. L.; Rose, S.; and Kamin, L. J. (1984). Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature. New York: Pantheon Books.

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