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It explores the little-known fact that most such incidents in New York City during the past five years have involved West Indians as victims.Nevertheless, these incidents have generally been reported and understood in terms of the long-term racial problems involving whites and blacks in the United States.
The paper proceeds as follows: First, I trace the historical distinction in the United States between groups defined in terms of ethnicity and in terms of race.Introduction This paper argues that the historical experiences of groups in the United States significantly shape the various cultural lenses through which people understand inter-ethnic conflict.Specifically, the mode of incorporation of a people into the social and cultural structure of the United States, along with their subsequent treatment, influences three aspects of that understanding at both the individual and group levels: 1.The meanings attached to racial and ethnic identities: are these oppositional identities, immigrant identities, or symbolic identities? The relationship of the group and its component individuals to the state: do they trust the institutions of the state to be fair and honest?Do they see systematic oppression, and the power of the state exercised against them, or do they see the state as an instrument of power to be used by their own group or as a neutral arbiter among groups? The meanings attached to incidents of hate crimes, violence, and intergroup encounters: are they perceived as temporary, accidental and individualized, or as permanent, systematic, and institutionalized?I explore the differences in the ways these groups have been incorporated into the American society and polity and the differences in how they have experienced violence.
Second, I examine the ways in which some of these distinctions have broken down in the last 30 years or so, with the large-scale immigration of non-Europeans following upon changes in American immigration laws in 1965.
Third, I introduce a typology of three groups - involuntary minorities, voluntary minorities, and the dominant white group (who are themselves descendants of voluntary minorities).
The empirical material used to amplify this argument is a study of four major bias incidents in New York City in the period 1987-1992.
Subsequent to these incidents, the well-publicized rioting in Los Angeles occurred, a racially-tinged event that caused considerable death and destruction of property.
While Los Angeles is not discussed here, the four New York incidents examined remain particularly worthy of analysis.
This paper focuses on understanding the roles, reactions, and perceptions of three groups of people: West Indian immigrants, African Americans, and white ethnic Americans.