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David W. Engstrom and Lissette M. Piedra

Our Diverse Society

Race and Ethnicity—Implications for 21st Century American Society

Global immigration and unprecedented levels of intermarriage between groups are transforming the United States. Historically a multiethnic and multiracial country, the United States is increasingly becoming even more so as a consequence of population shifts set in motion in the 1960s through social movements and landmark legislation, most notably the civil rights movement and the 1965 Immigration Act. In 1976, when Cafferty and Chestang edited The Diverse Society, the implications of these powerful demographic changes and their effect on the structure and culture of our society were only beginning to emerge.

Now, 30 years later, the increasing diversity of the United States is readily apparent, although we are still grappling with its meaning and implications. Perhaps the best way to summarize the growing diversity is how we measure race. In 1976, the Census Bureau classified race by three categories: “white,” “black,” and “other.” Three decades later, the Census Bureau has expanded its racial categorizations to include American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders; also, for the first time, it allows people to identify themselves as biracial. Further, the Census Bureau added an ethnic identifier, “Hispanic,” to measure the demographic consequences of large-scale immigration from Latin America.

Since 1976 approximately 70 million people have been added to the U.S. population. Much of the population increase has resulted from immigration from Asia and Latin America and from the higher fertility rates of immigrant parents. The racial and ethnic diversity that now characterizes the United States is abundantly visible both in the country’s large metropolitan areas and in many of its smallest towns. It is literally reshaping our country, and several examples illustrate that fact. In two of the most populous states, California and Texas, the white population is no longer the majority. For the first time since the founding of the United States, the black population no longer constitutes the country’s largest minority group, having been overtaken by Hispanics in 2001.

Our Diverse Society builds on the foundation laid by Cafferty, Chestang, and their colleagues. Like The Diverse Society, this volume frequently uses historical analysis in an attempt to understand the context of diversity, and it uses an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the complexity of racial and ethnic diversity in the United States. Unlike The Diverse Society, which had to argue for the inclusion of ethnicity in the analysis of social problems and policy, this volume takes that point as a given; that debate has been settled. Instead, debate now centers on the implications of diversity, how diversity shapes and is shaped by social institutions, and what role social policy plays in enhancing or restricting diversity.

About This Book

This book, a long-overdue follow-up to the original Diverse Society, was conceived of as a culmination of scholarly work presented at a symposium, “Race and Ethnicity in American Life: Diversity and Society,” held at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago in April 2005. The symposium was organized to honor the scholarly legacy of Pastora San Juan Cafferty upon her retirement from the University of Chicago, and to offer a fresh look at the implications and effects of racial and ethnic diversity in the United States.

Our Diverse Society is the product of scholars from a range of disciplines and professions, who examine how diversity shapes contemporary U.S. society and how social institutions have responded to the diverse demography that is the United States. Specifically, Our Diverse Society explores how race, ethnicity, and social class interact with social institutions and communities in ways that influence the ability of individuals and families to enjoy basic freedoms: the right to adequate education, health care, social services, employment opportunities, and equal protection and treatment under the law. The nature of these institutional interactions affects people’s capacity to harness their sense of agency, pursue their ideals, and constructively participate in society.

Racial and ethnic diversity has always been a source of creativity and strength, but it has also been a catalyst for significant social unrest and conflict. Consequently, it is of utmost importance to understand the role that diversity plays in how social problems are constructed. Understanding diversity as critical in the analysis of social problems promotes effective social action and advocacy. Faulty conceptualization of diversity results in poor public policy and misdirected advocacy efforts. To this end, we have set aside all celebrations of racial and ethnic diversity to focus instead on how diversity is being structured and reflected in communities and institutions. Placing a value on American heterogeneity precludes critical examination of how that heterogeneity is structured, promotes particular agendas, and ultimately obfuscates issues that give rise to social tensions.

Our Diverse Society presents a synthesis of what is known and the implications of that current knowledge. Each chapter provides an analytical treatment of factual information and raises new questions about the creation and implementation of social policy in a diverse society. As important as the facts may be, we believe it is the questions raised by these analyses that are important; the answers will change over time.

Each chapter is strong in narrative. Because this material is intended to be “user-friendly” for public policymakers, social workers, and students, the chapters not only discuss things as they are, but also raise issues for the rest of the 21st century. Whenever possible, the scholar-authors have situated their discussions of current and projected issues in a historical context, as well as in the contemporary social and political context of the United States. Taken together, the chapters in this book lay the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of how ethnic and racial diversity is affected by U.S. social institutions and communities and the transformational influence racial and ethnic groups have on those same institutions and communities.

The book is organized into four parts, the first of which, “America’s Changing Landscape,” explores demographic change and analyzes how diversity creates tensions and potential conflicts that policy must address. In his provocative introductory essay, “Why Can’t They Be More Like Us?,” Father Andrew Greeley argues that ethnic diversity is an asset, and reminds us that public demand for quick assimilation falsely assumes that to be an “American” requires a shedding of one’s original culture. In short, he declares, people have the right to be different. Theresa Sullivan, a labor-force demographer, discusses how strongly demographic trends affect the demand for social services. Her analysis uses public education and Social Security to explore the issues of intergenerational and interethnic justice. The impact of immigration is explored by David Engstrom, who contends that the outsider status of immigrants is reinforced by exclusionary policy and that such policy is counterproductive to the goal of incorporating newcomers. In “Beyond the Rainbow: Multiraciality in the 21st Century,” Gina Miranda Samuels examines the implications of multiracial identity, challenging notions of monoracial loyalties and identity. While recognizing that multiracial and multiethnic populations are not new, Samuels posits that the way some people experience their mixed-race heritage—as a result of identity options made available by contemporary society—is a departure from the racial essentialism, racism, and more recently colorblind individualism that typically have framed contemporary discussions of multiraciality. Samuels argues that this recent development of multiracial identity formation and empowerment challenges social work practice to abandon essentialist and decontextualized frameworks of human development.

The second part of the book, “Conduits of Values and Beliefs,” explores how language, religion, and education transmit and transform cultural beliefs. The transmission of values and beliefs through social institutions affects individuals’ ability to navigate life in a heterogeneous society. Lissette Piedra notes that the United States has always been a multilingual society; she highlights the fact that the incorporation of non-English-speaking immigrants poses institutional challenges, but argues that these are the realities of a sizeable group making a linguistic transition, rather than a threat to the predominance of English. Religious historian Charles Lippy argues that religious expression in America historically has been pluralistic, not one-dimensional as is often asserted. However, religious pluralism is being expanded further by immigrants, many of whom are non-Christian. These immigrants bring new religious beliefs and traditions, which they are adapting as necessary. Moreover, in the course of transporting religious beliefs, immigrants are also changing older religious traditions.

Perhaps no institution is more important for the transmission of social values than public education. Nora Ishibashi and Noriko Ishibashi Martinez trace how public education has responded to racial and ethnic diversity, often in an exclusionary and oppressive manner. They submit that we are not bound to that history, but can, instead, create public schools that unify differences instead of fostering conflict and separation.

The third part of the book, “Access to Institutions in a Diverse Society,” addresses how diversity is structured in American institutions: the workplace, the political system, and the criminal justice system. Institutions directly affect individuals’ quality of life by signaling social inclusion or exclusion. The intersection of race, ethnicity, and social class is most disturbing when it results in systematic institutional inequalities. The issue of inequality in the labor market is examined by Anna Haley-Lock and Sarah Bruch, whose approach moves us beyond documenting over- or underrepresentation of certain racial or ethnic groups in specific occupations. Instead, they focus on how workplace benefits such as health insurance and child care shape the lives of workers and, because those benefits are not available to all, result in inequality. Damian Martinez extends the analysis of race, ethnicity, and imprisonment to understand disproportionate incarceration; he argues that socioeconomic inequality is the central problem confronting the criminal justice system. He points out that incarceration most directly affects low-income minority families and communities, often worsening the social ills that are associated with crime in the first place. In “Democracy and Diversity: Expanding Notions of Citizenship,” Maria de los Angeles Torres aptly observes that authoritarian societies are associated with monoculture, whereas democratic societies tolerate degrees of cultural differences. Reviewing U.S. political history, she shows that although the universal right to participate politically in government has been the cause of conflict and sometimes violence, the political franchise has been extended. According to de los Angeles Torres, the issues now before us are how to incorporate immigrants into our political community and how to respond politically to the often conflicting interests of racial and ethnic groups.

The final section of Our Diverse Society examines the role of health care and social services, two institutions that play a critical role in shaping what people are able to do and able to be. These institutions, perhaps more than any other, address the stark disparities between the wealthy and the poor and struggle to assist those with different cultures and capacities. Edward Lawlor advances a “nondisparities” approach to understanding and addressing health disparities. Although current approaches to health disparities lead to disease-specific and group-specific interventions, Lawlor argues that organizing research, policymaking, and intervention by community, without an initial disease or group focus, could yield more productive approaches to addressing the underlying conditions that give rise to health disparities. Katherine Tyson focuses on the features of practice models that can help social workers enhance their clients’ power and dignity, so that the client-worker partnership can be more responsive to an increasingly diverse client population confronted by continuing injustices.