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Chapter 8

Cross-Cultural Studies
of Majority-Minority Relations

[Revised: August 19, 2007]


Key Concepts

The following concepts should be understood in terms of their impact on the character of majority / minority relationships.
  • The Number of Racial and Ethnic Divisions
  • Cultural and Demographic Characteristics
  • Overlapping vs. Crosscutting Cleavages
  • The Existence of a Territorial Ethnic Base
  • Language
  • International Relationships (Immigration)
  • Racial Vs. Ethnic Divisions
  • International Pressure

I.     Cross-cultural Evidence on
the Effects of Colonialism

Farley (2000:212) notes that by studying various periods of U.S. history, we can see some of the conditions that lead to racial and ethnic inequality. We have also looked at various forms of inequality. The American experience, however, does not portray all possible types of racial and ethnic relationships. The goal of this chapter is to investigate the international context. International evidence is used to test and refine theories of racial and ethnic interaction. Cross-national evidence is also used to discover new principles regarding minority-majority relationships.

Of major importance in this chapter is the effects of colonialism and conquest. Generally, societies that have been colonized experience the greatest inequality and the greatest conflict.

A.     South Africa

Farley (2000:213) contends that South Africa is known for its system of rigid racial inequality called Apartheid. The classification of South African citizens was mandated by law.

1.     Apartheid began in 1949.

2.     Apartheid led to violent uprisings in the 1960s and an increase in underground political activity.

Apartheid came to an end in 1994 as Nelson Mandela became the first Black President elected by majority vote in South Africa.

B.     Northern Ireland

Farley (2000:215-217) notes that Northern Ireland is an instance where intergroup relations do not involve people of different races. The conflict is, on the surface, between religious groups (Catholics and Protestants).  Despite the religious character of the conflict, the conflict in Northern Ireland is mainly economic.

The roots of the conflict go back to the 16th century when Britain established colonies in Ireland and became feudal landlords over the Irish population. Later, the English were joined by the Scottish who occupied a middle-level between the English and the Irish.

The Irish never accepted English rule and ultimately violence forced the division of Ireland into the Catholic Republic and the predominately Protestant North called Ulster. The violence remains in Ulster. Protestants are the majority of the population and control major social institutions. A historic agreement in 1998 led to the formation of a parliament where both Protestants and Catholics would hold seats.

C.     Quebec, Canada

The dominant group in Quebec is the English-speaking population.   The minority group is the French -speaking group.

D.     The Former Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was made up from an area seized by the Russian Empire over a four hundred year period. Russians were the dominant group in the Soviet Union and made up 50 percent of its population. The destruction of the Soviet Union led to the independence of the 15 republics. When Gorbachev introduced freedoms into Soviet society, many of the fifteen republics began to seek independence. In the past, Stalin and the Red Army imposed a sense of order in central Asia. Their departure allowed many of the ethnic rivalries, which had existed historically, to resurface (Farley, 2000:218-221).

An example is found in Nagorno-Karabakh. Here Armenia and Azerbaijan fight over the disputed region which lies inside Azerbaijan, but is populated by Armenians.

E.     The Former Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia was one of the countries controlled by the Soviet empire.   Serbs were the dominant ethnic group in the former Yugoslavia.  Once the Soviet Union came to an end, Yugoslavia experienced the worst genocide in Europe since the end of World War Two.

F.     The Middle East: Palestine and Israel

Farley (2000:226-228) suggests that the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel came about when the Palestinians came under the domination of a new Jewish population through the use of force.

Farley (2000:226-228) contends that this relationship is unique because it is more of an international conflict between Israel and several Arab countries. He contends, however, that it belongs in this course because:

1. The conflict has an internal component with reference to the Palestinian population that live within the boundaries of Israel.

2. It is ethnic in that being Jewish or Arab largely determines where one stands on the political issues.

3. Even the international aspects involve an area of land that both groups feel they have a historic and legitimate claim.

The relationship is unique in that both groups have a historic claim to the land prior to the formation of the state of Israel. None-the-less there was no significant Jewish presence after 70 A.D. The area was under Arab rule although there was no distinct Arab or Palestinian state. Much of the rule was directed by the Ottoman Empire.

The middle-East situation was also unique in that the Jewish population was, itself, a displaced population. Thus, the impetus for the Jewish people comes, not from a colonial power, but from the desire of a persecuted people for a safe homeland.

G.     Some Comparisons and Contrasts

H.     Great Britain: Another Effect of Colonialism

II.     Societies with Peaceful Intergroup Relations

A.     Switzerland & Hawaii

Farley (2000:229-230) notes that Switzerland has a variety of racial and ethnic groups, many of whom do not speak the same language. Despite it’s differences, Switzerland’s racial and ethnic groups, for the most part, have harmonious relations.

Farley (2000:230) suggests that the lesson learned from the Swiss experience is that colonization and conquest leave a legacy of conflict that persists for centuries.

III.     Cross-cultural Evidence on the
Effects of Urbanization and Modernization

Farley (2000:230) contends that urbanization and industrialization have been associated with a decrease in the rigidity of race relations in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe - especially since the end of World War Two. This section looks for similar experiences in other parts of the world.

A.     Industrialized Countries

This section explores experiences in the more developed countries of the world. There are two changes discussed in this section.

1.     Minority groups have increasingly turned to social and political Action

Farley (2000:231) argues that minorities in Canada, the U.S., and western Europe have turned more to social and political action to achieve their goals of reducing overt-discrimination and  legal protection.

2.     A Reduction in Overt Discrimination and a Move toward Legal Protection

Farley (2000:231) contends that countries in both Western Europe and North America have passed anti discrimination laws and tend to frown on expressions of prejudice. There has, however, been an increase in anti-immigrant sentiments as the number of immigrants identifiable by skin color has grown. .There has also been a resurgence in hate-groups with Germany experiencing the greatest problems in this area. The following three items highlight why Germany has greater problems with prejudice against immigrants that other societies.

a.     Germany, by far, admitted the most immigrants when compared to other developed countries.

b.     Germany experienced serious economic difficulties as they absorbed the population from the former East Germany. Economic difficulties also followed from the worldwide recession on the 1990s.

c.     Germany has not accepted the concept of a multi cultural society. Compared to Great Britain and France, which are former empires, Germany has been entirely European. Farley (2000:232) suggests that, for Germans, anything outside of Europe is close to Mars.

Nunavut, Canada


B.     Increasing Fluidity? Or Rigidity with Conflict?

It is surely an overstatement to suggest that industrialization automatically leads to more fluid race and ethnic relations (Farley, 2000:232). South Africa, Northern Ireland, and to a lessor extent Germany, demonstrates that this is not always the case. Important elements of traditional structure remain. Their racial and ethnic patterns of relations in South Africa show rigid group relationships and overt conflict.

There may still be a desire for discrimination even after industrialization. Some portions of the population may still benefit from discrimination. In countries with a history of rigid race relations, the dominant group can exert strong pressure to ensure discrimination as a means of shielding themselves from competition.

The following material suggests two competing patterns exist which encourage either increasingly fluid or continued rigid relationships.

1.     Increasing Fluidity

a.     Minority groups are in a position to generate protest.

b.     There is external pressure for more equal race relations.

c.     Social and political gains by minorities are not seen as a threat by the majority.

d.     The country does not have a history of highly rigid race relations. In the U.S. and Canada have more blurred ethnic divisions than racial divisions, in part, because the U.S. does not have a history of rigid ethnic divisions like it does racial divisions.

2.     Continued Rigid Intergroup Inequality

a.     The dominant group has great power relative to the minority group

b.     The dominant group sees the subordinate group as a threat

c.     There is no effective source of external pressure for more fluid intergroup relations.

d.     The country has a history of very rigid racial distinctions

e.     The dominant group is smaller in numbers than the subordinate group.

C.     Third World Countries: Two Major Trends

1.     A Move From Colonialism toward National Independence

Farley (2000:235) points out that there has been a great movement away from colonialism and toward national independence. He also points out that colonial empires have virtually disappeared. Sometimes the colonies were given up voluntarily, but others were given up only after long periods of warfare.

2.     A Change in those Places Still Under Colonial Influence

When considering those places still under colonial influence, Farley (2000:235) calls attention to two forms.

a.     Sometimes there is a small minority, which is ethnically associated with the colonial power that dominates the indigenous population. One example is the decedents of the British and Dutch who still dominate in South Africa.

b.     In other cases, a country may be influenced by a colonial power while the country was never a colony to start with. Two recent examples are the governments of Vietnam (pre 1975) and the monarchy of the Shaw of Iran. Both governments were established by the CIA and heavily influenced and supplied by the United States. In both cases there has been significant opposition from indigenous populations.

D.     Industrialization and Modernization: Changing Demands on Minority Populations

1.     The Demand for Labor

Industrialization has created demands for labor which open up new opportunities and a wider range of opportunities for everyone (Farley, 2000:235).

2.     The Requirements of Higher Education

Industrialization has created a need for people with higher educational levels. Often, revolutionary leaders of the third-world are educated in the first-world.

3.     Greater Contact Between Minority Populations

Industrialization has produced greater contact between nations. This contact exposed indigenous populations to a wider range of social, religious, and political ideologies than ever before.

Greater access to communication

4.     First-World Competition

Competition between first-world powers facilitates minority movements in the developing world. A given power may aid a third-world revolutionary group in order to gain strategic global advantage.

5.     The Momentum of Change:  Contagion Effect

Minority and anti colonial movements gain a momentum of it's own. Farley (2000:236-7) calls it a contagion effect. The success of one movement serves as encouragement for other movements.

IV.     Combined Effects of Colonialism
and Degree of Modernization

A.     Societies with a history of colonialism and conquest have greater racial and ethnic conflict (Farley, 2000:237).

When an indigenous group is made subordinate to another group entering from the outside, the result if usually conflict and ethnic inequality.

B.     Race and ethnicity are more important in less-developed countries.

C.     As a country modernizes, they tend to become differentiated less in terms of race and ethnicity and more on a wide range of basis such as economics, behavior, sex, and age.

V.     Number of Racial and Ethnic Groups

Generally speaking, when a society has a number of racial and ethnic groups, there is less interracial and inters ethnic conflict (Farley, 2000:237). When there are several groups, there is often no one group that can dominate the others. Further, a group who discriminates, runs the risk of being treat4ed in a similar fashion by all the others.

A.     Several Groups Where None Dominate: Hawaii

These facts, in part, explain Hawaii's harmonious race relations. There are many whites, Japanese-Americans, native Hawaiians, Filipino-Americans, and Chinese Americans. The fact that no one group dominates makes' Hawaii particularly conducive to harmonious racial and ethnic relations.

B.     Complex Racial Classification Systems: Mexico

Mexico's current racial and ethnic relations can be accounted for by amalgamation practices.  A complex system of racial classification generally produces more harmony than one which is categorical. Mexico once had a racial categorization system that recognized between ten and forty-six different groups. Farley (2000:238) argues that it became so confusing that people simply ignored it and used one category. People are Mestizo (mixed Indian and white) or simply Mexican. This condition is similar to other Latin American countries.

C.     Categories are More Important than Numbers: United States and South Africa

The number of groups present is less important than the classifications: In the U.S. there are a variety of groups from Europe, Africa and of Native American origin. None-the-less, they are classified into three categories: White, black, and Indian (Farley, 2000:238).

South Africa also has a variety of racial and ethnic groups, but they are all classified into a four-group scheme: Whites, blacks, colored, and Asians. Interestingly, as South Africa moved toward majority rule in the 1990s, ethnic divisions and tribal conflict intensified. An intense conflict erupted between the ANC (Mandela's group) and that of Chief Buthelezi (Inkatha Freedom Party). The ANC backers were Xhohas while Inkatha appealed to the Zulu nation.

VI.     Cultural and Demographic Characteristics
of Majority and Minority Groups

Farley (2000:239) contends that cultural and demographic characteristics of the groups involved help determine the kinds of relations that develop.

A.     Brazil

Brazil as a society has extensive assimilation which includes widespread intermarriage between the black and white population and the Indian and white population. There is racial stratification in that the darker races are subordinate. Brazil did have a long period of slavery where both blacks and whites were forced to live under a paternalistic system. On the other hand, there is no overt discrimination. The biggest problem seems to be associated with those groups that do not want to assimilate.

The characteristics of the ethnic groups involved help account for the relative tranquillity.

1.     The Portuguese, who settled Brazil, brought mainly men with them. This encouraged a lot of intermarriage with Indian women. This mixing has blurred racial distinctions.

2.     The Moorish influence in Portugal led to a tolerance of dark-skinned people in Brazil. Some view dark skin as a source of prestige. Brown skin and straight black hair is a standard of beauty in Brazil.

3.     A common custom in Portugal in concubinage which institutionalized relationships between white males and racially mixed females.

4.     Farley (2000:240) argues that a final factor which accounts for the relative ease at assimilation is the Catholic Church. Farley contends that the church emphasizes human equality and conversion, which encouraged efforts to assimilate the Indians and blacks into Portuguese society.

B.     Mexico

Mexico shared with Brazil many of the characteristics that lead to racial and ethnic tolerance.

1.     The colonizers of Mexico were mostly male and they were catholic

2.     A unique feature of Mexican history was that the Indian populations were members of the Aztec Empire. The capital city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan had a population of more than 300,000 people. It is regarded as one of the great cities of the world at the time.

3.     The mixture of the Indian and the Spanish culture became a national symbol and this assisted in the disappearance of racial categories. Thus, an individual's identity became based upon one's role in society and their cultural attributes and not on their genetic composition.

VII.     Overlapping Versus Crosscutting Cleavages

A.     Overlapping Cleavages

Overlapping cleavages occurs when several social characteristics cut the same way (e.g., race, religious, and class differences). In these societies, the potential for conflict is high (Farley, 2000:242). No one would have mixed loyalties.

Example: Bosnia-Herzegovina and Northern Ireland

In both cases, ethnic background, religion, and class overlap.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina ethnic groups overlap with religion. Croats and Slovenes are Catholic while Bosnians are Muslims (Farley, 2000:243).

In Northern Ireland nearly all the Protestants are British and nearly all Catholics are Irish. The wealthy are mainly English and the poor are mainly Catholics.

B.     Crosscutting Cleavages

Crosscutting cleavages describe societies where there is little relationship between race, income, religion, language and so on. Knowing a persons race would tell you nothing about their social class or their religion (Farley, 2000:242).   Societies that have crosscutting cleavages have less intergroup conflict that societies that have overlapping cleavages.

Example: Switzerland and Canada

VIII.     Territorial Ethnic Base

Ethnic conflicts may become more intense if the minority has a territorial base. The position of the French in Canada is enhanced because they are concentrated in one area - Quebec. The Basques in Northern Spain also represent an ethnic group with a territorial base (Farley, 2000:243).

IX.     Language

When two ethnic groups speak different languages, the prospects for conflict are increased. Language is a major source of conflict in Quebec and it may become a source for conflict in the United States (Farley, 2000:244).

X.     International Relationships

Within a country, race and ethnic relations can be greatly affected by international relations. When a country is in conflict with another, then the minority members associated with the other country tend to experience greater prejudice and discrimination (Farley, 2000:244).

Best Example: The internment of Japanese-American during World War Two. They were imprisoned for up to two years without trial or hearing. Many lost all their property (Farley, 2000:244).

A.     Surges of Immigration

Ethnic prejudice and discrimination may be triggered by surges in immigration. The U.S. experiences two such surges in the past 100 years. The first was from 1900 to 1920 and the other began in the mid-1970s and continues today (Farley, 2000:245).

Both periods are characterized by substantial opposition to immigration ... especially to non-European immigrants. The immigration in the early part of the twentieth century gave rises too much anti-Asian legislation. Currently, the U.S. experiences a rise in anti-immigrant sentiments such as the English-Only law legislation and the increase in hate group activity by groups such as the KKK (Farley, 2000:246).

The 1980s and 1990s were also characterized by increased aggression between minority group populations such as that seen in L.A. between African-American and the Asian community or between African-Americans and Latinos in Florida (Farley, 2000:246).

The worst anti-immigrant violence is found in Germany. Many Germans perceive their country's economic problems as related to the presence of foreigners (Farley, 2000:246-7).

XI.     Racial Versus Ethnic Divisions

Racial divisions tend to be more intense than ethnic divisions because race makes discrimination easier (Farley, 2000:247).

XII.     International Pressure

International pressure can have important effects on race and ethnic relations within a country. Zimbabwe and South Africa are examples where a country changed its domestic policy regarding race because of pressure from the U.S. and Europe (Farley, 2000:247).

XIII.     Conclusions

Farley (2000:247) contends that no one factor explains the pattern of intergroup relations in a given society. The factors are multiple and complex. Further, none of the generalizations which follows will explain interfacial inter-ethnic relations in all societies.

A.     Some Generalizations

B.     Evaluations of Generalizations in terms of Theoretical Perspective.

1.     Social-Psychological Perspective

Items 4, 7, 8, and 10 suggest that attitudes are important. These attitudes, however, are determined by the large scale characteristics of the society.

2.     Functionalist Perspective

Item 2 addresses the pattern of intergroup relations in a modern society that are functional as compared to those patterns that were functional in more traditional societies. Items 4, 7, 8, & 10 recognize the importance of ethnocentrism. The functionalist. Of course, argue that ethnocentrism is a cause of ethnic stratification.

3.     Conflict Perspectives

There is much evidence that supports conflict theory and the importance of competition and conflict in majority-minority relations. Item 1 recognizes the importance of one group's opportunity to benefit at the expense of another in the context of unequal power. Item 2, 3, 6, and 11 stress the importance of power.