Sample: "Can We All Get Along?", 7th Edition


Sampled below is the Preface and Chapter Two from “Can We All Get Along?”, Seventh Edition, by Paula D. McClain with Jessica D. Johnson Carew.


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Table of Contents



Chapter 1 – America’s Dilemmas

Terms Used in This Book
Race and Ethnicity
American Government Foundation and Racial Minorities
The Constitution and Black and Indian Citizenship
Citizenship and Later Minorities: Latinos and Asians
The Constitution and Black and Indian Suffrage
Structure of This Book
Discussion Questions

Chapter 2 – Resources and Status of America’s Racial Minorities

Population Size, Socioeconomic Status, and Concentration
Participation in a Civil Rights Movement
Voting Rights Law
Discussion Questions

Chapter 3 – America’s Racial Minorities in the Contemporary Political System: Actors

Group Identity and Perceptions of Discrimination
Political Ideology
Partisan Identification
Voting Behavior
The 2000 Elections
The 2004 Elections
The 2008 Elections
The 2012 Elections
The 2016 Elections
Interest Group Activities
Discussion Questions

Chapter 4 – America’s Racial Minorities and the Policymaking Process

Agenda Setting
Minority Representation in the US Government
Minority Representation in the Presidency
Minority Representation in Congress
Minority Representation in the Supreme Court
Minority Representation in the Bureaucracy
State Elective Office
Equal Educational Opportunity for Minorities
Affirmative Action in Employment
Discussion Questions

Chapter 5: – Intersectional Identity in Racial and Ethnic Politics

Intersectionality: Identity Along Multiple Dimensions
Salient Dimensions for Racial And Ethnic Intersectional Identities
Sociopolitical Experiences When Multiple Identities Intersect
Participating in Electoral Politics
Social Activism and Protest
Discussion Questions

Chapter 6 – Coalition or Competition?

Patterns of Interminority Group Relations
Interminority Group Relations
Coalition or Competition Politics?
Racial Threat and Competition Theories: Memphis, Little Rock, and Durham
Discussion Questions

Chapter 7 – Will We “All Get Along”?

The Dilemmas Revisited
Targeting Racial and Ethnic Minorities
VRA: Looking to the Future
Discussion Question

Time Lines



This is the seventh edition of Can We All Get Along? and I want to thank Joseph Stewart Jr. for his coauthorship on the previous editions. With this new edition, Jessica D. Johnson Carew, a coauthor on other research and a former student, joins me as a new coauthor. She is now an assistant professor of political science at Elon University. Her expertise in gender, politics, and the politics of women of color add a new dimension to this edition. I am thrilled with her addition. For those who do not know, the first edition of this book was the result of a collaboration between Joe Stewart and me that began over a bottle of cabernet sauvignon at the 1992 American Political Science Association (APSA) meeting in Chicago. What started as an evening devoted to reading papers quickly turned into a discussion of the difficulties of teaching a true minority group politics course.

Some universities, depending on their location, have a course devoted to a particular group—for example, black politics, Latino politics, Asian politics, American Indian politics—or even a more specialized course such as Mexican American politics or Puerto Rican politics. Indeed, we have both taught such courses. But more commonly the demand is for an umbrella course that, ideally, compares the politics of the four principal US racial and ethnic minority groups—blacks, Latinos, American Indians, and Asian Americans—and their relationships with the majority. This is the situation at our current institutions.

Such umbrella courses generally take one of two forms. The less-than-ideal alternative is focused on one ethnic group because that is where the interest and expertise of the instructor lie. In such situations, it is possible for a student to take the same course twice from different instructors, never to encounter overlapping patterns, and never explicitly to consider interminority group relations. The second, preferable form involves undertaking a comparative examination of the politics of the major racial and ethnic minorities of the United States. This is an idealized alternative because, as we can report from personal experience, it is difficult to implement. One must spend countless hours amassing data from various sources in an attempt to draw out the similarities and the differences among the groups and to develop the depth and nuance that characterize a good course.

Toward the bottom of the bottle of wine, we decided that we had sufficient expertise on black and Latino politics and enough familiarity with the literature of American Indian and Asian American politics to write a book for a true junior/senior-level minority politics class. We mentioned our “prospectus from a bottle” to Cathy Rudder, executive director of APSA, who discussed it with Sandy Maisel of Colby College, the editor of Westview Press’s new series Dilemmas in American Politics. Sandy contacted us and indicated that this was the book the series’ editorial advisory board had decided was a high priority; McClain, a member of the board, had missed the meeting! Sandy convinced us to write a shorter, less-detailed volume for use as a supplement, primarily in American government courses. The larger, upper-division book is still in our plans.

The words for the title are appropriated from Rodney King’s first news conference following the acquittals of his attackers and the subsequent Los Angeles riots. His words crystallize the dilemmas faced by the nation, by members of both minority and majority groups.

Response to the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth editions has been gratifying. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, we would like to thank everyone who made this seventh edition necessary. Sales for all editions suggest there is an interest in learning more about the nation’s racial and ethnic politics (or in teachers having their students exposed to more material on the topic). Racial and ethnic politics, like politics in general, is constantly changing. Thus, for this book to fulfill its role, it is necessary to produce a new edition. The basic structure has been altered somewhat to accommodate Jessica’s expertise, and materials have been added or updated. Readers will find an analysis of the 2016 elections and data from the 2010 census updates.

We could not have accomplished what turned out to be a larger undertaking than we had imagined—to write the first edition—without the help of numerous people. Steven C. Tauber served as our principal factotum. (Hint: This word appears in the GRE verbal exam. Look it up. Fans of the old TV series The Fugitive will have already encountered it.) Steve spent countless hours on numerous tasks, with perhaps the worst being an attempt to get the National Black Election Study data file to run again after a transfer from one computer system to another. Steve served as McClain’s teaching assistant for her Minority Group Politics course at the University of Virginia for several years in the early 1990s. His intellectual contributions to the study of racial minority group politics are present throughout the book.

Thanks also to Don Nakanishi of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA for helping us identify Asian American elected officials; to Larry Bobo of the Department of Sociology at UCLA for sharing his Los Angeles County Survey data with us; to Paul Waddell and his staff at the Bruton Center for Development Studies of the University of Texas at Dallas for generating the maps in Chapter 2 in the first edition; the research staffs of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials; and to Paula Sutherland, head of government documents, and Linda Snow, reference librarian, McDermott Library, University of Texas at Dallas, for tracking down or pointing us toward valuable information we knew existed somewhere but had no idea where. McClain’s and Stewart’s colleagues and students over the years, especially those in McClain’s Minority Group Politics class, helped by enduring our on-the-job efforts to fashion a coherent, comparative course by asking questions that forced us to seek more answers, and by answering questions we posed.

We are also indebted to Sandy Maisel; to Jennifer Knerr, our acquisitions editor, Shena Redmond, our project editor, and Cheryl Carnahan, our copyeditor, at Westview Press for the first edition; and to the reviewers of a very rough first draft—the late Stephanie Larson of Dickinson College, Roderick Kiewiet of California Institute of Technology, and F. Chris Garcia of the University of New Mexico. Each offered helpful comments, some of which we heeded. Ted Lowi also read the rough draft and gets a special nod for pushing us to put more politics in the book. This book is better for their efforts, and none of them is responsible for any errors that remain. We blame those errors, as has become the convention in our discipline, on Paul Sabatier.

The second edition benefited from the encouragement and suggestions of many individuals in addition to those who helped us in the beginning. We cannot remember everyone who provided helpful suggestions, but some people cannot be forgotten. Working with series editor Sandy Maisel and our Westview editor Leo Wiegman was a joy. Hanes Walton Jr., University of Michigan (who left us far too soon in 2013); Todd Shaw, University of Illinois; and Rick Matland, University of Houston, provided us with detailed insights of their experiences in using the first edition and numerous suggestions for what we should change or not change for the edition. We actually paid attention to some of those suggestions! Several graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Virginia—Stacy Nyikos, J. Alan Kendrick, and Andra Gillespie—tracked down items that helped us update the earlier edition. Stacy, Alan, and Andra are heartened to know that there is life after working with us. Their predecessor, Steve Tauber, now an associate professor of political science at the University of South Florida, would like us to note that it took three people to replace him. Amy Fromer of the Institute for Public Policy at the University of New Mexico produced the maps of the United States, and David Deis of the Department of Geography, California State University–Northridge produced the Los Angeles map found in Chapter 2.

We were gratified to be able to produce the third edition. We noticed an increasing interest in race, ethnicity, and politics as the demographics of the United States continue to change. The importance of the politics of the groups examined in the book cannot be understated. Several graduate students at Duke University—Shayla Nunnally, Monique Lyles, and Jen Merrolla—found much of the information used to update the edition. We thank them for all of their help. We would also like to thank those individuals who reviewed the second edition and offered us valuable suggestions for the third edition; their names remain anonymous to us. Our thanks as well go to David Deis of Dreamline Cartography for producing all of the maps in that edition.

In the publication of the fourth edition, we continued to be buoyed by the tremendous increasing interest in race, ethnicity, and politics. Several graduate students at Duke University—Efren O. Perez, Michael C. Brady, and Niambi M. Carter—found the data and updated most of the tables in this new edition. We owe Mike Brady a tremendous thank you for finding the picture that appeared on the cover of that edition. He included in it pictures of multiracial groups and its sense of irony, authority, and power jumped out at us. We also must thank our editor, Steve Catalano, and our marketing manager, Michelle Mallin, of Westview Press for their continued support and belief in this book. They are our champions and we are truly appreciative.

When we put the fifth edition to rest, we were only weeks away from the inauguration of former senator Barack Obama as the forty-fourth president of the United States. We were still elated that we had seen the election of the first black president of the United States, and still a little stunned that this occurred so quickly between the fourth edition and the fifth edition. As we examined the foundation of presidential politics laid by the late representative Shirley Chisholm in her groundbreaking run for president in 1972, we could not help but think that the slogan for President Obama should be, “Thank you, Mrs. Chisholm,” because without her first steps, we are convinced that the path would not have been laid for President Obama. Several graduate students at Duke University—Candis S. Watts, Jessica Johnson Carew, and Eugene Walton Jr.—found the data and updated all of the tables in the new edition. David Deis of Dreamline Cartography produced the new maps with 2006 updated data from the census. We were pleased that the fifth edition’s editor, Anthony “Toby” Wahl, continued the high standard and quality of production set by our previous editor, Steve Catalano.

When we put the finishing touches on the sixth edition manuscript, President Obama had just taken the oath of office for a second term. His reelection continued his historic first victory as he became the first president since 1956 to achieve 51 percent of the vote twice. As in 2008, the mobilization and votes of racial and ethnic minorities were key to the president’s 2012 victory. Duke University graduate students continued to be critical to the research needed to produce the sixth edition—Jessica Johnson Carew and Brittany Perry found the data and updated all of the tables and created several new ones for the edition. Paula’s youngest daughter, Jessica A. McClain-Jacobson, found all of the pictures used in that edition. Her willingness to pitch in over her holiday break is much appreciated; she came through like a champ. David Deis of Dreamline Cartography once again produced all of the maps with 2010 census data. David has been with this book since the beginning, and we appreciate his sticking with us. We also want to thank our former editor, Anthony “Toby” Wahl, who saw the fifth edition and part of the sixth edition through the process. We miss him! But, we are in very capable hands with our new editor, Ada Fung, and our editorial assistant, Stephen Pinto, for working so closely with us and for believing in this book.

As the seventh edition goes into production, Donald J. Trump has been president for less than two weeks. What that might mean for racial and ethnic minorities, women of all colors, immigrants, Muslims, and other groups that are not part of Trump’s coalition is unknown. But, we have some inklings of where these groups fit—or more precisely, do not fit. Protests against his presidency have been regularly occurring since Trump took office. Our hope is that the foundation upon which racial and ethnic minorities have been able to make their voices heard and gain access to the political system will provide the impetus to resist the policies that are surely coming down the pike.

The seventh edition benefitted, once again, from Paula’s doctoral students in the Department of Political Science at Duke University—Nura Sediqe, Gloria Ayee, Taneisha Means, and Katelyn Mehling. Jessica also updated many of the tables before coming on as a coauthor. We thank them immensely and hope that their efforts benefitted their intellectual development. David Deis and his students Tom Chen and Amanda Lindgren of California State ­University­–Northridge again created the maps in Chapter 2. We want to thank our editor, Ada Fung, for her commitment to the book and her thoughts and guidance on how to make changes and add material to the seventh edition that keeps it current and ahead of the curve. Finally, we would like to thank those who reviewed the sixth edition and provided us with invaluable feedback, including: Sharon Austin (University of Florida); Clarissa Peterson (DePauw University); Jason F. Kirksey (Oklahoma State University); Kira Sanbonmatsu (Rutgers University); Robert C. Oberst (Nebraska Wesleyan University); and others who wished to remain anonymous.

Perhaps most important, Joe and Paula thank Don Lutz, University of Houston, for giving us the bottle of wine that began this process for the first edition. Paula wants to thank her family—Paul C. Jacobson, Kristina L. ­McClain-Jacobson Ragland, and Jessica A. McClain-Jacobson Hester. Jessica was two-years old when the first edition came out, and she is now a young woman of twenty-seven. Kristina is now the mother of our grandsons—Jackson (age seven) and Sterling (age two). As in politics, much changes in one’s life as well. Jessica also extends her thanks to her family—Khary S. Carew, Jonathan A. Carew (age nine), and Benjamin E. Carew (age three). Khary’s support and encouragement has been existential throughout this process. Jonathan and Benjamin help to brighten the world and our home, and they provide a constant reminder of the importance of this work.

Finally, for Paula the book is dedicated to her mentor, Harold M. Rose, an urban geographer at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, who passed in February 2016. They shared close to four decades of research collaboration on black urban homicide and other research projects. While they became intellectual partners, it was in 1977 that Rose befriended the new assistant professor; shared his ideas for a major collaborative project; mentored her in the ways of the academy; and taught her the importance of maintaining one’s intellectual integrity, of paying attention to detail, and of being thoughtful and reflective in one’s scholarship. Paula affectionately dedicates this book to him and misses him tremendously. There is not a day that passes that I do not see his influence on my career and my development as a scholar.

For Jessica, the book is dedicated to her parents, Elaine C. W. Johnson and Frank O. Johnson Jr. Her parents provided the guidance necessary to better understand history, the present, and the possibilities for the future, by sharing their own experiences and their families’ courage in the face of racial segregation and oppression. They also imparted their strong beliefs in the equality of all and the importance of seeing people for who they are, without regard to race. Their unwaveringly high expectations and mantra that, given society’s continuing racial beliefs, she would have to work “twice as hard to get half as far” were essential to Jessica’s early academic success, and were the bedrock for her later scholarly pursuits in the world of academia. She is forever indebted to them for the love and support they have given and the unwavering example of integrity and meticulousness they provided, and she will continue to pay this forward to her own children and through her work.

Paula D. McClain
Durham, North Carolina

Jessica D. Johnson Carew
Elon, North Carolina

Chapter Two

Chapter 2

Resources and Status of America’s Racial Minorities

President Barack Obama’s eldest daughter, Malia Obama, recently shared her decision to enroll in Harvard College for her undergraduate studies. The backlash created by her decision was seen primarily in the comments sections of news articles. Comments on an article posted online by Fox News provided the clearest example of racist commentary (Roussi 2016). They included “I wonder if she applied as a muDslime . . . or a foreign students . . . or just a N——” and “Sounds like black privilege to me.” There were also many pointing to affirmative action assisting Malia in the admissions process (Willis 2016). Fox News subsequently shut down the comments section in light of these remarks (The Grio 2016).

—May 2 and 3, 2016

The fact that all American racial and ethnic minority groups have not been treated according to the rhetoric of the nation’s founding principles has resulted in differences in these groups’ contemporary political status based on differential resources, histories of political activism, and levels of access to political participation. The size, economic well-being, and geographic concentration of the group’s population; the extent to which the group has participated in a civil rights movement; and the amount of protection that is provided under contemporary voting rights law all affect the way members of each of the groups will be treated within the American polity, what kind of role members of the group will be expected to play in the political system, and what kind of ­strategy—cooperation or conflict—will be chosen. A consideration of these factors identifies the commonalities and the differences among the various groups that are often lumped together under the rubric “minority group politics.”


The number of people and where they are located are important pieces of data in the US political system. The population of a certain location affects important factors, such as the number of members each state will have in the US House of Representatives, the way electoral districts will be drawn, the number of votes each state will have in the Electoral College to choose the president, and the way some government resources will be distributed. The latest population surveys (2015) provide a detailed picture of the populations with which we are concerned. Tables 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 present these data and provide basic information about the populations of each group, the groups’ age structures, and some indicators of socioeconomic status—the general social and economic conditions of these groups—a variable that is related to political participation. In addition, we are able to see the variations that exist within the Latino and Asian communities.

Despite the growth in the populations of the various minority groups, non-Latino whites constitute slightly more than three-fifths of the nation’s population (61.5 percent). Latinos, as of the 2015 Census update, are the next-largest single group, at more than one-eighth of the nation’s population, but less than one-fifth (17.6 percent), while blacks are slightly less than one-eighth of the population (12.3 percent). Latino attainment of the status of the nation’s largest racial/ethnic minority has occurred over a relatively short period of time—increasing 63 percent between 1970 and 1980, 53 percent between 1980 and 1990, 58 percent between 1990 and 2000, and 43 percent between 2000 and 2010. (Yet, growth from immigration slowed significantly between 2010 and 2014 [Stepler and Brown 2016].) Thus, in any political issue in which raw population counts matter, from a national perspective whites will clearly maintain an upper hand for the foreseeable future. Even with rapid Latino population growth, and with Latinos projected to be the primary component of national population growth for the next century, Latinos are predicted still to be a clear minority—around 29 percent of the population by 2060. Yet the US Census Bureau estimates that minorities, now roughly one-third of the US population, are expected to become the majority in 2042. By 2060, non-Hispanic whites are estimated to compose only 43.65 percent of the total population (US Census Bureau 2014 National Population Projections).

Table 2.1. Selected Characteristics of the Non-Latino Black, Asian American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and White Populations in the United States, 2015

Source: Figures reflect data from the US Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates (Selected Population Profiles), http://factfinder.census.

Population Data: “Total Population”; age data: “Median Age (Years)” and “18 Years and Older”; education data: “High School Graduate or Higher”; unemployment data (found or computed): “Employment Status: Unemployed”; median income data: “Income in the Past 12 Months: Median Family Income (Dollars)”; homeownership data: “Housing Tenure”; poverty data: “Poverty Rates: All People”; health insurance coverage data: “No Health Insurance Coverage.”

At the same time the Latino population has been growing, it has been diversifying. Immigration from Central and South America and the Caribbean has reduced the proportion of Latinos of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban origins among Latinos; Colombians, Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, and those from other countries now are more than one-third of the Latino population in the United States (Stepler and Brown 2016).

Table 2.2. Selected Characteristics of the Latino Population and Selected Subgroups in the United States, 2015

1Total Latinos includes aggregate data on the following Census groups: “Puerto Rican,” “Mexican,” “Cuban,” and “Other Hispanic or Latino,” all of which include respondents of any race.

Sources: Figures reflect data from the US Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates (Selected Population Profiles), Population data: “Total Population”; age data: “Median Age (Years)” and “18 Years and Older”; education data: “High School Graduate or Higher”; unemployment data (found or computed): “Employment Status: Unemployed”; median income data: “Income in the Past 12 Months: Median Family Income (Dollars)”; homeownership data: “Housing Tenure”; poverty data: “Poverty Rates: All People”; citizenship data: “Not A U.S. Citizen”; health insurance coverage data: “No Health Insurance Coverage.”

Electoral politics, however, depends not just on the number of bodies but also on the number of those who vote. The one consistent legal restriction on the right to vote is age. In no US jurisdiction can one vote until one is eighteen years old. If each group’s age distribution is approximately the same, the translation of the potential power of numbers into the actual power of votes becomes an issue of mobilization. But as the tables show, there are broad variations in age structures. In general, the non-Latino white population is older than the other groups, and a higher proportion of its population is over age eighteen. The only exceptions to this pattern are the Japanese, whose median age is higher than that of non-Latino whites, and Japanese, Korean, and Filipinos, whose proportion of those eighteen years and older is also higher than that of non-Latino whites—who cumulatively account for only about 1.6 percent of the nation’s population. Thus, whites not only continue to constitute the overwhelming majority of the population nationwide, but they also maintain an advantage over most other racial and ethnic groups in the proportion of their population that is old enough to vote. Minority groups’ numerical disadvantage is therefore exacerbated by the relative age distributions.

Beyond the numbers and age structure, socioeconomic status has been found to be important in determining levels of participation. Simply put, people who fare better economically have a greater stake in the system and are more likely to be able to afford the time to participate in politics, to engage in activities that stimulate political participation, and to have peers who are politically active. If one is struggling to subsist, political participation—even the simple act of voting—may be perceived as a luxury, a not very profitable investment of one’s time and energy.

Tables 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 also present some selected indicators of socioeconomic status taken from the latest data released by the US Census Bureau. These indicators reflect a number of different perspectives on such status, and the picture that emerges from these data is clear. Only Asian Americans approximate, and in some instances surpass, the educational attainment levels of whites, and as Table 2.3 shows, there is significant variation within the Asian American community. Blacks are the next closest group, but even they only come within 7.5 percentage points of whites’ educational attainment levels.

Table 2.3. Selected Characteristics of Selected Asian American Population Subgroups in the United States, 2015

Sources: 2015 US Census Bureau, American Community Survey (Selected Population Profiles), Population data: “Total Population”; age data: “Median Age (Years)” and “18 Years and Older”; education data: “High School Graduate or Higher”; unemployment data (found or computed): “Employment Status: Unemployed”; median income data: “Income in the Past 12 Months: Median Family Income (Dollars)”; homeownership data: “Housing Tenure”; poverty data: “Poverty Rates: All People”; health insurance coverage data: “No Health Insurance Coverage”; citizenship data: “Not A U.S. Citizen.”

Only Asian Americans approach whites’ unemployment levels. The rates for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are lower and the rates for Filipino and Asian Indian are higher than that for whites, while the rate for Vietnamese is the same as that for whites. The rates for other groups, however, are noticeably higher than the rate for whites. Thus, it should not be surprising that the median white family enjoys at least a $30,000 advantage over any other group, with the exception of Asian Americans. Asian Americans report a median family income almost $12,064 higher than that of whites. Moreover, this difference is more than the $5,327 difference measured in the 2000 Census. It must be remembered that the US Census Bureau median family income measure takes into account all persons in the household who are working. Some Asian American families, many with small businesses, have more persons in the household working than white families do.

In spite of the family income advantage enjoyed by Asian Americans, a smaller proportion of whites lives below the poverty line than does any other major group. Asians are about 1.2 times more likely, Cubans are slightly more than 1.9 times more likely, and each of the other groups is slightly more than 2 times more likely than whites to live in poverty. Whites clearly overshadow all of the other groups when we look at homeownership. White homeownership is 1.73 times the rate of black homeownership, 1.23 times the rate of Asian American homeownership, 1.28 times the rate of American Indian homeownership, and 1.57 times the rate of homeownership for Latinos in general. The meltdown in the subprime mortgage market between 2007 and 2010, to which racial minorities were more often steered than were whites, and the rising number of home foreclosures as a result, increased the disparity in homeownership between whites and racial and ethnic minorities. Clearly, by whatever measure one wants to use, the numerical and age distribution disadvantages of racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States are generally compounded by the lack of resources that may be used to compensate for these disadvantages. Only Asian Americans have some apparent equity with or advantage over whites on some of the variables, but there are several areas of disadvantage. Further, Asian Americans make up only 5.3 percent of the US population. Additionally, for Latinos and Asian Americans, the high proportion of noncitizens in the various subpopulations reduces their ability to use what resources they may have available to them.

Despite these apparently cumulative disadvantages, there are clearly examples of each of these communities mobilizing for political success. How is this possible? The answer lies in looking lower than the national level. Just as the population figures must be considered in light of age structure and socioeconomic resources, we must also look at the way these groups’ populations are distributed geographically. Although the figures suggest that minority groups are certain to be overwhelmed in any type of national contest, if former US House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill’s dictum, “All politics is local,” is correct, we should be looking at the subnational level.

Maps 2.1 through 2.4 display the concentration by county within the United States of each of the groups considered here. These maps confirm that each of the minority groups has very different geographic distribution patterns and that areas exist in which each of the “minorities” either is a majority or has the potential to be an important political player.

On each of the maps, we have identified areas in which the group is totally or virtually nonexistent (because the maps use natural breaks in the population, the scales differ for each group). Because our data are aggregated at the county level, it is possible and even likely that subcounty-level jurisdictions (e.g., cities, school districts) exist in which minorities may constitute majorities but do not appear on our maps. Likewise, there are areas within what appear on our maps as heavily minority that maintain a majority white population. Still, these maps give us some sense of where minority group members are most likely to be found in our nation and where potential minority group political power exists.

Map 2.1 African American Population Distribution, United States, 2014

Source: United States Census, 2014 Population Estimates

Map 2.1 reveals that the African American population is concentrated in a crescent that runs from Maryland down the Atlantic seaboard across the Deep South to east Texas. The heaviest concentrations of black population are found in the traditional “Black Belt,” where blacks were concentrated during the days of slavery. The overwhelmingly black counties in the nation are found in rural Alabama and Mississippi. There are, however, more than token populations of blacks scattered throughout most US regions, with the exception of the upper Great Plains. Much of the non-South concentration of blacks consists of residents in predominantly black central cities ringed by “whiter” suburbs; therefore, the county populations depicted here do not adequately reveal the black concentration.

Map 2.2. Hispanic Population Distribution, United States, 2014

Source: United States Census, 2014 Population Estimates

Map 2.2 shows a similar pattern for Hispanics but in a different area of the country. The Hispanic crescent runs along the United States–Mexico border from the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas through New Mexico and Arizona and into Southern California. An appendage of this crescent juts up through New Mexico into southern Colorado, and separate pockets of significant concentrations appear in central Washington State. The overwhelmingly Hispanic counties in the nation are found along the Rio Grande in south Texas and in northern New Mexico. The only significant Hispanic concentrations east of Texas are found in urban areas, particularly around New York City and in south Florida. This pattern reflects the different settlement patterns of the three major Latino groups. Although Hispanics of different origins are found in each of the three major areas of concentration, in general Mexican Americans are concentrated in the southwestern states that were added after the Mexican War, Puerto Ricans are concentrated in the New York metropolitan area, and Cubans are concentrated around Miami. Indeed, a majority of Cuban Americans in the United States live in Dade County, Florida. Of particular note are the increasing numbers of Latinos in such states as Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. These states had extremely small Latino populations in the 1990 Census, but because of increased Latino immigration coupled with jobs in the poultry, meat-packing, and farming industries they are finding significant increases in their Latino population as demonstrated by the 2000 and the 2010 Census, and the 2014 Census updates. This has also resulted in a dispersion of the Hispanic population. In 1990, the Hispanic population topped 5 percent in only fifteen states and was the largest minority group in sixteen of the fifty states. The 2000 Census revealed that in twenty-three states, Hispanics exceeded 5 percent of the population and were the largest resident minority group. And in the 2010 Census, Hispanics exceeded 5 percent of the population in thirty-six states, although they were not always the largest resident minority. In 2010, 41 percent of Latinos lived in the West and 36 percent lived in the South. It is possible that by the 2020 census, the largest proportion of Latinos in the country might live in the South rather than in the West.

Map 2.3. American Indian Population Distribution, United States, 2014

Source: United States Census, 2014 Population Estimates

The distribution of the American Indian population, shown in Map 2.3, reflects the effects of the group’s push westward. Although there are pockets of Indian concentration in the eastern states, the areas of greatest concentration are found in the Great Plains and westward. This map shows the continuing effects of putting Indians on reservations in rural areas where whites showed little demand for the land. Because of the numbers, however, the map hides the fact that over one-half of American Indians live in metropolitan or suburban areas. Table 2.4 shows the populations of the five largest American Indian tribes and the states in which they are primarily concentrated. Also listed are the states with the highest number of American Indians as a proportion of the state population.

As of 2010, Cherokees, concentrated largely in Oklahoma, California, and North Carolina, were the largest tribe, accounting for 14.1 percent of all American Indians. The Navajo, whose nation occupies the corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, were concentrated in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and were the second largest, with 15.2 percent of the total American Indian population. Alaska had the highest proportion of American Indians (including Eskimos and Aleuts) of any of the US states—14.6 percent of its total population. New Mexico and South Dakota were next, with 9.4 and 9.0 percent of their respective populations being American Indians.

Map 2.4. Asian Population Distribution, United States, 2014

Source: United States Census, 2014 Population Estimates

Finally, Map 2.4 illustrates the intense concentration of the Asian American population. Except for some pockets in eastern urban areas, such as Washington, DC; New York; and Boston, and areas just outside Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Houston, Asian Americans are concentrated in the Pacific coast states, particularly in California, Washington, and Hawaii.

County-level data obscure the fact that blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans are concentrated in urban areas. Latinos now represent the largest minority group in urban areas in the United States. Well over half of America’s cities are now majority nonwhite. More than half of all minority groups in large metro areas, including blacks, now reside in the suburbs. The share of blacks in large metro areas living in suburbs rose from 37 percent in 1990, to 44 percent in 2000, to 51 percent in 2010. Higher shares of whites (78 percent), Asians (62 percent), and Hispanics (59 percent) in large metro areas live in suburbs (Frey 2011, 1). In 1940, only 5 percent of American Indians lived in urban areas. In the 1950s, the federal government instituted a program to relocate reservation Indians to urban centers. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) offered employment assistance to Indians who would voluntarily leave their reservations and relocate in urban communities where job opportunities were more plentiful. The Voluntary Relocation Program, renamed the Employment Assistance Program in 1954, provided a one-way bus ticket, temporary low-cost housing, and new clothing to Indians willing to relocate. As a result of this program, in 1990, 51 percent of American Indians lived in urban areas (Hirschfelder and de Montaño 1993). Table 2.5 shows the ten cities with the largest American Indian populations as of 2010. New York City headed the list, with slightly less than 1.8 times the number of the next city, Phoenix, Arizona, which had the second­largest number. This represents a shift from 2000, when Los Angeles had the second-­largest American Indian population. In 2010, Los Angles was number three, behind Phoenix.

Table 2.4 Population Size and Percent of Largest Five American Indian Tribes,1 and States of Primary Concentration,2 States with American Indians as Highest Percentage of Population,3 and States with Largest Number of American Indians and Alaskan Natives,4 2010

Sources: 1Table C02005, “American Indian and Alaskan Native Alone for Selected Tribal Groupings,” for United States, 2010 American Community Survey.
2Table C02005, “American Indian and Alaskan Native Alone for Selected Tribal Groupings,” for all states, 2010 American Community Survey.
3Table R0203, “Percent of the Total Population Who Are American Indian and Alaskan Native Alone,” 2010 American Community Survey.
4Table S0201, “Selected Population Profile in the United States,” for all states, 2010 American Community Survey.

Historically, cities have been magnets for new immigrants, having offered greater employment prospects than have rural areas, as well as established immigrant com­munities into which newcomers could integrate. Between the 1860s (the Civil War) and World War I, the populations of major US cities swelled as ­Europeans from Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and England—and later, southern and eastern Europeans, such as Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Greeks, and Russian Jews—immigrated and settled en masse in these urban areas (Lineberry and Sharkansky 1978). During this period, early Asian immigrants settled primarily in cities on the West Coast, particularly in California. More recently, Asians, Latinos, and the overwhelming majority of other newcomers have continued this pattern of predominantly urban settlement. As a result, US cities today have large populations of these immigrant groups.

Table 2.5. Cities with the Largest American Indian Population, 2010

Source: “Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics,” for Selected Cities, 2010 Decennial Census.

It was not only immigrants, however, who were drawn to cities by the promise of greater economic opportunity. Large numbers of native blacks, Latinos, and Asians also migrated to urban areas in search of economic and political advancement. Between 1910 and 1930, nearly one million blacks—one-tenth of the black population in the South—moved to cities in the North (Judd 1979). The migration of blacks to northeastern states was followed by another black migration to selected manufacturing centers of the Midwest, which continued into the post–World War II era. Many of these migrants were seeking increased economic opportunities as well as escape from the harsh conditions of segregation and racial discrimination in the South. By 1960, socioeconomic trends had resulted in a concentration of blacks in most of the nation’s urban centers outside the South (Rose 1971). Coupled with this migration of blacks and other racial minorities into the cities was the exit of a sizable number of whites to the newer suburbs surrounding the cities.

Yet urban centers were not the havens of opportunity that immigrants and migrants had envisioned. Blacks, Latinos, and Asians routinely encountered racial discrimination in employment and housing. Many cities enacted racial zoning ordinances to ensure that racial minorities would be confined to “separate cities” within the larger city, making it virtually impossible for these groups to move out of these segregated areas (Silver and Moeser 1995; Sugrue 1996). Lenders, real estate agents, school boards, city governments, and the federal government, among other individuals and institutions, participated in segregating blacks, Latinos, and Asians not only from whites but from one another. Los Angeles is an example of the racial segregation present in many US cities. Map 2.5 shows the racial and ethnic geographic distribution of blacks, Latinos, and Asians in the city and county of Los Angeles. Yet in many cities the concentrations of minority populations in certain areas could be used by these groups as powerful political and economic resources. How well have these population resources been mobilized? We now turn to this question.


With the level of resources just described, even without a knowledge of the history depicted in this text in the timelines, one would guess that these minority groups are at a disadvantage in the political system. They fit under the rubric “dominated groups”—groups that have generally been excluded from participation in the decision-making process by which society’s benefits are distributed. “Because of this exclusion, dominated groups at different times attempt to change their situation of powerlessness by engaging in nontraditional and usually nonlegitimized struggles with power holders” (Morris 1984:282). These overt efforts by groups to empower themselves constitute social movements.

Certain prerequisites appear necessary for a social movement to have a chance to enhance the group’s power. First, successful social movements generally tap a reservoir of social organizations for experienced leaders, potential followers, communication networks, money, and labor. The ability to draw from preexisting organizations minimizes start-up costs and provides stability in the early, tenuous days when the movement is vulnerable to a serious countereffort by the dominant group.

Second, successful social movements require catalytic leadership—social activists who create or recognize opportunities to protest the groups’ subordinate status. Furthermore, they must be able to organize and motivate people to engage in the effort over what may be an extended period of time.

The movement will be stronger if these two prerequisites are combined—that is, if the leadership is taken from preexisting organizations. These organizations have already demonstrated their ability to raise money and to organize people sufficiently that, at the least, they still exist. If the leadership arises from such organizations, the task becomes one of redirecting energies toward a new goal rather than of having to create an entirely new organization.

Third, successful movements tap outside resources. They elicit money and personnel from the environment that is not immediately affected by their struggle. These resources, although they may be sporadic and may come with strings attached, can be valuable in sustaining the movement and in expanding the scope of conflict. As part of a dominated group, people active in social movements have little to lose by getting others involved. The existing social, political, and economic decision-making apparatus does not yield positive results for them. They see change—any change—as likely to yield an improvement.

Finally, the social movement must have a plan—a set of tactics and an overall strategy it can use to confront the existing power structure. An effective set of tactics and strategies will disrupt the existing order; educate others about inequities, injustices, and civil wrongs; provide some sense of hope or efficacy for movement participants; and push the system—if at times imperceptibly—toward change.

Each of the groups considered in this book has participated to some extent in a social movement in an attempt to improve its situation. But the level, scope, and forms of activity have varied across groups. We now discuss the movements of the respective groups.

Map 2.5 Population Patterns, Metropolitan Los Angeles County, 2014

Photo 2.1 (not displayed in sample) – About fifty-five members of civil rights organizations protested desegregation policies in public schools at a meeting of the Board of Education in downtown St. Louis on June 11, 1963. Among those protesting were members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, and St. Louis parent groups. (AP Photo: 6306110534)

The Black Civil Rights Movement

The black Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s is the best known and most studied of such movements, and in many ways it has served as a model for other groups. As with most movements, it was not one overall movement led from the top but instead constituted a collection of local movements that when added together produced massive social change. In recognition of the localized nature of the black Civil Rights Movement, this section examines three small but vital parts of this movement as illustrations of the way it operated and what it was and was not able to achieve.

Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge bus boycott, which began on June 19, 1953, is often used as the starting point of the modern black Civil Rights Movement. The boycott sought to have the city enforce its ordinance allowing black riders to be seated in city buses on a first-come, first-served basis—in essence, to force the city to make reality match rhetoric. The city refused to discipline drivers who failed to enforce the ordinance, so Reverend T. J. Jemison, minister of Mt. Zion Baptist Church—the city’s largest black church—broadcast a radio appeal for blacks to boycott the city bus system.

The United Defense League (UDL) was formed to direct the mass boycott. This confederation of organizations held mass rallies, which drew up to three thousand people, each of the seven nights of the boycott. A movement “police department” was organized to patrol the black community and to provide security for movement leaders. A free carpool was organized with volunteer drivers to help boycotting blacks get to and from work. Even the black community’s drunks and winos were organized to “open up the car doors of movement participants as they arrived” at the mass meetings (Jemison, quoted in Morris 1984:19).

Such an effort, of course, is not free of cost. Reverend Jemison asked for and received permission to redirect $650 he had been given for a business trip to help support the boycott. Following his example, his church gave an additional $1,500 to the effort. Other churches in the community followed, donating $3,800 to give the movement its initial capital. The nightly mass meetings provided an opportunity to collect operating expenses. As a result, all of the volunteer drivers’ expenses were covered, and the expenses of the movement’s police department, as well as the costs of miscellaneous goods and services necessary to run the boycott, were paid as they were incurred.

The dominant white power structure in Baton Rouge quickly offered a compromise, reserving only the two front side seats for whites and the long bench seat in the rear of the bus for blacks and leaving all other seats open on a first-come, first-served basis. After much debate, and with the approval of a mass meeting of eight thousand blacks, on June 25, 1953, Reverend Jemison announced the end of the boycott and the dismantling of the free carpool.

Although the subsequent Montgomery bus boycott became more famous, probably because the recalcitrance of the white power structure there resulted in a more extended and complex effort, the Baton Rouge boycott is instructive. First, this boycott drew on the black churches for the masses of people needed to implement and carry out the boycott, communications networks, leadership, and money. But the successful operation of the boycott also necessitated the creation of an umbrella organization. Without the UDL, there was too much danger that the purposes of the individual churches would have superseded those of the movement.

Second, in Jemison the movement had an educated, articulate leader who had the ability to recognize the potential for effective social action and to organize and motivate people to take advantage of that opportunity. In a pattern that was repeated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Reverend Jemison was a relative newcomer to Baton Rouge and was unencumbered by any history of personal or organizational conflicts with other potential leaders or by any residual level of distrust.

Third, in the Baton Rouge movement the movement leader was an insider in an existing social organization—the largest black church in town—whose resources the movement needed to tap. The advantage this gave the movement was best exemplified by the ease with which Jemison redirected to the movement coffers the $650 from the canceled business trip. His dual status as both a movement and a church leader placed him in a unique position to make an almost effortless, yet vitally important, contribution to the initiation of the movement.

Fourth, there is limited evidence that external resources were tapped (Jemison reported that “a few whites” contributed; see Morris 1984:23), but the brevity of the boycott made these resources less necessary than would have been the case in a prolonged effort. It is important to note, however, that if the movement had been dependent on external resources, it is doubtful that they could have been amassed quickly enough to allow the leadership to mobilize against this grievance.

Finally, the tactic chosen in this case—an economic boycott—was well suited for its task of disrupting the status quo. It allowed—in fact, required—the concerted effort of the masses, giving them a feeling of solidarity while simultaneously inflicting great financial losses on the bus company. This tactic demonstrated the economic clout of the black community to both whites and blacks and also served to broaden the conflict and perhaps to recruit some unwilling, or unwitting, allies. Individuals who had never thought about the seating arrangements on buses, or who, if they had thought about the issue, might have preferred the status quo, may have been willing to tolerate change if their insistence on continued segregation would have meant the loss of bus service or the loss of a job if the bus service had been forced out of existence.

The Baton Rouge bus boycott was only the opening skirmish in the black civil rights movement, but it provided some valuable lessons. The leaders of other, later bus boycotts—Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy in Montgomery (1955–1956), the Reverend C. K. Steele in Tallahassee (1956), and the Reverend A. L. Davis in New Orleans (1957)—were all church-based movement leaders who were keenly aware of the experience of Reverend Jemison in Baton Rouge (Morris 1984).

Of course, the black Civil Rights Movement continued to evolve, new issues were addressed, other leaders emerged. One major area in which the Baton Rouge boycott is not very instructive is in promoting a movement over time. The experience in Mississippi from summer 1961 through summer 1964 sheds more light on the way the black civil rights movement was able to accomplish what it did.

Mississippi. It is an understatement to say that Mississippi was the stronghold of segregation. As late as 1964, a black attorney who was active in the civil rights movement saw the movement as a “no-fail” situation because “it was impossible for things to have grown worse” (Holt 1966:13).

The black Civil Rights Movement came to Mississippi in 1961 in the form of Freedom Riders, individuals who challenged the state’s refusal to desegregate buses and bus stations and who viewed the state through bus windows and jail bars. Late that summer field secretaries from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) also arrived, led by Robert Moses, a Harvard-­educated schoolteacher from Harlem. Moses sought to organize black Mississippians based on the idea that they would need to be self-reliant when SNCC left. Rather than taking an obvious leadership role, Moses worked to develop local leaders and to discourage “outside” involvement. His fear was that outsiders who played a major role in the movement would leave at some point without having equipped indigenous leaders for the continuing struggle.

The development of leadership is a slow process, and there is a risk of stalling or stopping the movement if such development is arrested. Continued and increasing white resistance threatened to do just that. With the assassination of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) field secretary Medgar Evers in June 1963 and the continuing violence against civil rights workers with no protection from federal authorities (local and state authorities were often involved in perpetrating the violence or allowing it to continue), Moses began to reconsider his opposition to outside, episodic assistance. In particular, he thought the presence of Northern white students might insulate civil rights workers from the most blatant discrimination and might raise Northern white consciousness about the racist system that existed in the South. It had become clear to Moses that violence against, and even murders of, Mississippi blacks had been insufficient to arouse national sympathies, much less to inspire protest or action.

Local white officials generally argued that blacks did not vote because they did not want to, because they were apathetic. The first tentative use of white students occurred during the fall 1963 “Freedom Vote,” which was designed to reveal the state’s hypocrisy and to puncture the apathy myth. Essentially, the idea was to put forth a slate of candidates and to have black voters cast “votes,” not at the normal polling places but at less threatening locations and not for any official candidates but for individuals who supported the Civil Rights Movement; further, the blacks knew these votes would not count. If black Mississippians bothered to cast “ballots” under these conditions, the apathy myth could be dispelled.

Allard Lowenstein, a white activist and attorney, organized white students—mainly from Stanford and Yale—to assist in this project. The project accomplished four things. First, with a turnout of more than eighty thousand black “voters,” no one could seriously argue that black Mississippians were apathetic. Second, and as a result of the first accomplishment, local blacks gained confidence. Not only had they taken a courageous step, but so had many of their fellow black citizens. Third, white Mississippians became hysterical over both the idea of a Freedom Vote and the presence of the white students in support of the black Civil Rights Movement. America’s best and brightest students were threatened, beaten, shot at, and arrested for the heinous crime of attempting to attend a performance of the Jackson Philharmonic as part of an interracial group. Thus, and fourth, the student volunteers came to understand clearly what life was like in Mississippi, and they communicated this reality outside of the state. The white volunteers wrote to their parents, friends, and representatives in Congress; national attention became focused on Mississippi, and news coverage of the movement increased. The symbolic exercise, therefore, was not meaningless (Chafe 1993).

Based on the Freedom Vote experience, Robert Moses became convinced that bringing in more students from prominent white Northern families would either restrain white violence or highlight it for national attention, thus increasing pressure on federal authorities to become involved. An umbrella organization, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), was formed to coordinate the civil rights movement efforts. Under COFO auspices, more than one thousand college student volunteers were brought to Mississippi for the 1964 Summer Project. The underlying logic was correct but disheartening. The movement had discovered a tactic that would help it to expand the audience for its struggle and, it was hoped, bring federal intervention on its behalf. The bad news was that the tactic was predicated on the notion that threatening, beating, and shooting at affluent white Northern students was a serious offense, but that doing the same to black Mississippians was not.

This logic proved all too true. At the very beginning of the Summer Project, three participants—James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman—disappeared while on a trip to investigate the bombing of a black church. Their disappearance prompted a massive investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that eventually led to the discovery of the men’s bodies. The important lesson for the movement was that the murder of white civil rights workers (Schwerner and Goodman) resulted in federal attention, whereas the numerous attacks on black Mississippians that had been reported previously had not done so.

Although the Summer Project did not change Mississippi overnight, it provided an important first step in the process. For example, “freedom schools” enhanced the academic skills of black children, better preparing them for future political and economic participation. And building on the Freedom Vote, the racially integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which pledged allegiance to the national Democratic Party ticket, was formed to challenge the still segregated regular Mississippi Democratic Party. Although it was unsuccessful in achieving its goal of replacing the “regulars” as the official Democratic Party, the project’s efforts foretold a major increase in black political participation in the state that had been the most resistant to any such participation of any state in the nation. Perhaps because of the length of their effort, or perhaps because of the more resistant environment, the movement leaders in Mississippi—unlike those in Baton Rouge—used outside resources to further their cause. The lessons of the black civil rights movement were not lost on other racial and ethnic minority groups.

Black Lives Matter. Although not a social movement in the classic definition, Black Lives Matter (BLM) can be considered one of the latest chapters in the black Civil Rights Movement. BLM began in 2012, after the shooting of seventeen-­year-old Trayvon Martin (Garza 2014). The suspect, George Zimmerman, shot Martin, but claimed he had done so under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, and he was later acquitted at trial. Martin’s death generated a national discussion on racial profiling and gun control, and Zimmerman’s acquittal spurred widespread uproar as many perceived that justice for Trayvon Martin had not been served (Smith 2014).

Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza, three community organizers, began discussing whether black lives matter and calling attention to the lack of accountability when unarmed African Americans are murdered. Cullors developed the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media, and they began a national conversation on the disparate treatment of black Americans by law enforcement, particularly the deaths of young black males as a result of encounters with the police (Zyra 2015). As the deaths of unarmed black Americans continued, Black Lives Matter began to gain national attention. The death of Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, became an important flash point (Smith 2014). More vocal leaders, including DeRay McKesson, a public school administrator, became active in BLM, speaking out and criticizing the police response to the events that transpired in Ferguson. Protests increased across the nation, as more young black individuals were killed by police, including Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Sandra Bland in Texas. Between August of 2014 and August of 2015, over 950 demonstrations occurred nationwide (Ruffin n.d.).

BLM’s main platform for activism is online organizing through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. It mobilizes through the “Black Twitter” community, a term that refers to black activists who utilize Twitter as a means to develop collective action around issues of concern for the black American community. While their members are primarily African American, BLM’s growth has caught national and international attention.

Two points about the origins of BLM need to be emphasized. One is that the organizers have specifically worked to include members of the black American community who are typically on the margins—queer black women, undocumented people, and the working poor. The organizers stress that the effort is meant to include and uplift traditionally marginalized experiences. In a magazine interview, cofounder Opal Tometi emphasized, “It’s not just about black heterosexual lives. . . . It’s about all black lives” (Zarya 2015). Second, the BLM effort has spread internationally, with chapters now in Canada and Ghana. Activists in Toronto, Canada, shut down a major highway to protest the deaths of two black Canadians at the hands of police (Johnson 2016). Additional international campaigns included the #Palestine2Ferguson campaign, where protestors in Ferguson began a conversation with Palestinians residing in Gaza, later resulting in an international convention between organizers in Ferguson with activists in Gaza (Tamari 2015).

In addition to protesting the deaths of unarmed black men and women, Black Lives Matter activists have highlighted the issue of police brutality by organizing nonviolent protests during the 2015–2016 campaign cycle and by boycotting Black Friday shopping (Henderson 2015). During the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, BLM pressured Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, and as a result of these efforts, both Sanders and Clinton incorporated more conversations around the issues that BLM championed (Patterson 2015). Events during the summer of 2016—the police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minneapolis and the murder of five police officers in Dallas by a lone black Army veteran shooter after a peaceful march to protest the deaths of Sterling and Castile—brought the issues of police killing of black men and of support for police officers front and center. The unanswered question is whether these two positions will be able to find common ground or if the debate will continue to be viewed as zero sum—support for one means opposition to the other.

BLM remains a salient part of the national conversation, and some black celebrities have highlighted the effort through their art. The imagery and lyrics in Beyoncé’s “Formation” music video, released on February 6, 2016, the day before Super Bowl 50, highlighted her support for BLM. The music video, and her performance of the song at the Super Bowl, which referenced BLM elements, renewed and reinvigorated national conversation around the movement and its platform.

The Chicano Movement

Social movements among Latinos have been limited, and there has been no overarching pan-Hispanic effort. Young Puerto Ricans in New York and Chicago have participated in a Puerto Rican nationalist movement. César Chávez emerged as a leader of the National Farm Workers Association, which joined with Filipinos to protest pay inequities in the agricultural labor force. But the most wide-ranging, significant Latino movement was the Chicano power movement of the 1960s among Mexican Americans in the Southwest.

The Chicano movement was influenced both directly and indirectly by the black civil rights movement. The direct influence came through the participation of a few Mexican Americans in that movement. Such individuals as Maria Varela and Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez gained both valuable experience and a realization that the black movement was not concerned with the plight of Mexican Americans. Indirectly, however, the Chicano movement emerged from the general activism of the 1960s, which was spearheaded by the black civil rights movement.

At the core of the Chicano movement were Mexican American students, male and female, who sought more attention for the needs of their people. They wanted to move beyond the efforts of the more conservative Mexican American interest groups. The movement’s most dramatic early political success came in Crystal City, Texas, in 1963, when the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations (PASSO) was formed and coalesced with a predominantly Mexican American local chapter of the Teamsters Union to defeat all of the white candidates for the city council, replacing them with Mexican Americans. This “Crystal City Revolt” was important because it demonstrated the possibilities for local Mexican American political mobilization. This was the first time Mexican Americans had taken political control of a municipal government in the US Southwest. Furthermore, it highlighted the important role young people were to play in the movement.

This role was further highlighted in the March 1968 Mexican American student walkout at Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles. Acting on an idea of Sal Castro, a teacher at the school, more than one thousand students staged a week-and-a-half-long strike that was “the first major mass protest explicitly against racism undertaken by Mexican Americans in the history of the United States” (Muñoz 1989:64). This action served as a catalyst to increase political awareness, revitalize existing community organizations, generate new political organizations, and mobilize young Mexican Americans, who became the heart of the Chicano movement.

Unlike the black civil rights movement, the Chicano movement relied less on established organizational resources and more on the energies of young people. By doing so, it found an energetic reservoir of leaders and skilled organizers—including Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles, José Angel Gutiérrez, and Reies López Tijerina—who minimized the need to tap outside resources. Furthermore, by emphasizing the need to win local political and economic control of Mexican American communities, the movement adopted a strategy in which there was a possibility of a visible payoff in an effort to attract new supporters.

The spirit of the Chicano movement is best expressed in the autobiographical writing of Gutiérrez (1998:11).

My generation of Chicano activists made events happen. We were determined, motivated, political actors in the Chicano movement. As proud militants and ready activists . . . we sought group ascendancy; we wanted to uplift our people, la raza, as a group. . . . [We] were in solidarity with one another. . . . We asserted our right to a homeland, Aztlan. My generation began the struggle to make a reality of Aztlan, building community in a serious way. Nation building begins at the neighborhood level, and we were the epitome of community development. To date, our generational struggle and creativity is manifest in the numerous Chicano institutions we created while making community. We took the Chicano movement from sporadic unrest to social protest to social movement to political party to governance and left Chicano institutions in place to keep vigil and shepherd over our gains.

We created more organizations and programs for all Chicanos than any previous generation of activists. Our record as builders of the Chicano community remains unmatched and unchallenged by the present generation of Hispanics.

The Asian American Movement

The Asian American movement is a clear example of a civil rights movement that was spawned by the black civil rights movement. Until the time of the black movement, each group of Asians in the United States had organized, litigated, and participated in politics when such participation was permitted, but they had done so as Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Korean Americans, or whatever their country of ancestry rather than as Asian Americans. The example of the black civil rights movement, which heightened sensitivity to racism, in combination with the anti-Vietnam movement, changed that situation. A generation of middle-class college students was suddenly aware of its “Asianness” as it questioned the nature of the Vietnam War. The students were in a unique position to raise questions about the racial implications of US military policy. Thus, much like the Chicano movement, the Asian American movement was youth-oriented and drew less on established organizations than did the black movement.

Perhaps because of the attempt to bridge such a broad spectrum of diversity, no single national leader or strategy emerged. Leaders were prominent only within a specific geographic area or a particular Asian ethnic group. Thus, it is not surprising that no single plan of action was ever formulated. The unifying principle of the various localized movements seems to have been the pursuit of equality (Wei 1993).

The American Indian Movement

The 1960s and 1970s also marked the reemergence of American Indian activism from the seventy-year hiatus that had followed the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 28, 1890. The group that came to symbolize this renewed activism was the American Indian Movement (AIM), a protest group modeled after black protest groups, formed in Minneapolis in 1968 to deal with the problems faced by urban Indians, especially the problem of police brutality. Within two years, AIM had expanded its concerns and addressed tribal and Indian issues regardless of the Indians’ place of residence. Unlike other social movements, AIM and related Indian interest groups have sought “to retain their political and cultural exclusion from absorption or incorporation in the American polity” (Wilkins 2002:201).

Leadership of AIM came not from established groups but from Clyde Bellecourt and Dennis Banks, two of the cofounders of the movement, and Russell Means—the most outspoken of the AIM leaders, who became a symbol of American Indian resistance. This leadership allowed AIM to attract bright, energetic young Indians from all parts of the country.

AIM became best known for its participation in dramatic events to highlight injustices. For example, in 1972 AIM was a major actor in the takeover of the headquarters of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Washington, DC. And in 1973, AIM activists protested tribal government corruption on the Pine Ridge Reservation, US violations of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, and continuing federal controls over American Indians by seizing the village of Wounded Knee and holding it for ten weeks against a force of hundreds of federal officers. But AIM’s use of confrontation triggered the concerted opposition of the BIA, the FBI, and other federal agencies. These agencies engaged in an effective, organized campaign of surveillance, infiltration, and intimidation against American Indian activists—including AIM—which diverted their energies from pursuing policy changes to squabbling internally.

Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest. Like Black Lives Matter, the Lakota Sioux protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline is not a classic social movement, but it can be considered the next chapter in the American Indian Movement. The Lakota Sioux have a long history of struggling against encroachment on their ancestral lands. The Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868 established the increasingly smaller boundaries of the Sioux Nation as settlers, prospectors, and railroad companies pushed farther and farther west (History n.d.). Despite the treaties, the Sioux sovereignty and lands were consistently violated. Conflict enveloped the second half of the nineteenth century (History n.d.) In 1890, the Sioux Act was passed, breaking the twenty-five million acres of the Sioux Nation into six separate, much smaller reservations—one of those was the Standing Rock Reservation for the Lakota Sioux (History n.d.).

Standing Rock Reservation is approximately 2.3 million acres, of which less than half is owned by tribe members. Their primary occupations are farming and ranching; water needed for these operations is drawn primarily from the Missouri River. The Sioux fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is not the first time they have fought with the US Army Corps of Engineers ­(USACE). In 1948, the Sioux tried and failed to prevent the creation of the Oahe Dam (relevant to the current conflict), as the confluence of the two rivers previously there were considered sacred by the Sioux (History n.d.).

Photo 2.2. (not displayed in sample) – Harlington Wood, assistant U.S. attorney general (third row center without hat) is escorted into the village of Wounded Knee by militant Indians of the AIM group, March 13, 1973. Russell Means, one of the AIM leaders, and Carter Camp, another leader walks beside Wood. Wood was sent to the reservation in an effort to find a solution to the problem. (AP Photo: 3714410322)

The Dakota Access Pipeline Project, which is being developed by Dakota Access LLC and constructed by Michels Pipeline Construction and Precision Pipeline LLC (Dakota 2015), is over eleven hundred miles of underground pipes that will connect the production areas of Bakken and Three Forks in North Dakota and an oil tank farm in Patoka, Illinois. The end point in Patoka serves as a crude oil distribution point for refineries throughout the Midwest and along the Gulf of Mexico. The bulk of the pipeline is being built on private land, but the pipeline will pass under a number of major waterways (Dakota n.d.); the effect on the environment in the event of a leak is a major worry. Though the pipeline will not pass directly through reservation land, it is within one-half mile of the northern edge of Standing Rock. More importantly, in the case of the Standing Rock Reservation eight thousand people and their livelihoods depend on the Missouri River for water (Heim and Berman 2016). There are also objections to the pipeline on the basis of violations to sacred American Indian ancestral lands, specifically with regard to the area surrounding Lake Oahe, though the Sioux object to the pipeline in its entirety (Civil 2016).

Individuals have been protesting the pipeline since April 2016 (Northcott 2016). As of this writing, members from all seven Sioux tribes have arrived and made their home at what has come to be called Red Warrior Camp. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims representatives from as many as two hundred tribes have joined the protest. The estimated number of protestors varies from several hundred to a couple thousand and includes children who travelled to the site with their families (Northcott 2016). The protests are mostly peaceful, individuals standing in prayer, blocking the main road to the construction site with their bodies. There has been episodic violence, however, between the American Indians and the private security company protecting the workers and construction site (Healy 2016, Peralta 2016). As a result, North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency, which has produced a highway roadblock, first by police, then by the National Guard, thirty miles south of the protest camps (Cook 2016).

In late July 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux filed a lawsuit against the ­USACE to block the permits issued for the Dakota Access Pipeline, claiming that the pipeline threatened their economic and environmental prosperity. The Sioux further claimed the Dakota Access Pipeline posed a risk to lands of “cultural and historical significance” (Civil 2016). The Standing Rock Sioux also filed a preliminary injunction to halt construction on the pipeline near the area of contestation for USACE violation of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NPHA). Briefly, this section mandates that the USACE consult with American Indian peoples on projects that may pass through and potentially damage or destroy sacred or tribal lands (Civil 2016).

A federal judge denied the Standing Rock Sioux’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction of the pipeline. But shortly after the judge’s decision, the Obama administration issued a federal order to stop construction until the USACE could revisit its previous decision about the placement of the pipeline (Heim and Berman 2016). The work on the pipeline near Lake Oahe was halted as a result of the order, and the USACE was ordered to follow the procedure that required consultation with American Indian tribes for permitting infrastructure projects (“Joint” 2016). In early December 2016, the Department of the Army announced that it would not allow the pipeline to be drilled under a dammed section of the Missouri River, and said that it would look for an alternative route. As of this writing, it is unclear if this decision will stand in the Trump administration, given President Trump’s support for the pipeline. He also owns stock in the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, although he has said that his stock ownership will not play any part in his decision on the issue (Healy and Fandos 2016).

The Native Hawaiian Movement[*]

A little known and excluded history is that of the push by Native Hawaiians for full inclusion into their original homeland, now the state of Hawaii. In 1893, the American military overthrew the constitutional Hawaiian government headed by Queen Lili’uokalani. This was the final disposition that began in the early 1800s, when white missionaries began the systematic destruction of Native Hawaiian culture by getting the legislature to outlaw the Native Hawaiian language and the hula dance, which they viewed as idleness, debauchery, and leading to unproductive workers (Imada 2004:117). Despite Native Hawaiian resistance, an all-white puppet government was established in 1894, which evolved into the Republic of Hawaii. Native Hawaiians lost all political and economic power, and their Hawaiian citizenship was nullified. In 1898, the United States formally accepted the cession of sovereignty of Hawaii, although the Hawaiian people never had an opportunity to vote on whether they favored or opposed annexation by the United States. After the annexation, Native Hawaiians were officially citizens of the United States, but did not have the right to vote and remained inferior to the white “haoles” (Halualani 2002).

From 1898 to 1959, Hawaii was a territory of the United States. During this time, the United States refused to enter any formal treaties with the native peoples whose land had been taken from them during the annexation. In 1900, Congress passed the Organic Act, removing limitations on Native Hawaiian voting rights in the new Republic. Because Asians were denied citizenship in the United States, the passage of the Organic Act left Native Hawaiians as the majority of voters on the islands. Nonetheless, voting rights did nothing to improve the life chances and economic circumstances of native peoples.

In an attempt to alleviate the economic hardships of Native Hawaiians, in 1921, Congress enacted the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA), which set aside two hundred thousand acres of lands the United States received in 1898 to provide residences and farm lots for natives. The HHCA provided long-term inalienable leases to “native Hawaiians”—as defined as “any descendant of not less than one-half part blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian islands prior to 1778” (The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act 1921). While the HHCA was designed to improve the economic circumstances of Native Hawaiians, it provided only marginal benefits, partially because of pressure from sugar interests, who wanted to keep the best lands for themselves (Levy 1975). In addition, the program was never properly funded; and to this day, many HHCA lands remain undeveloped and unavailable for many waiting applicants.

One significant outcome of the HHCA was that it constructed and imposed a definition of what it meant to be a “Native Hawaiian.” Even today, the 50 percent blood quantum rule is used in the islands to manage and evaluate claims to indigeneity (Kauanui 2008). As Kēhaulani Kauanui explains, after 1921 “blood quantum began to stand in for race, indigeneity, and nationhood and it is now used to mean any or all of these depending on the specific political agenda of any given moment” (6). In many cases, the blood criterion emerged as a way to avoid recognizing Native Hawaiian entitlement to the specific lands that were desired for the leasing program. During debate over the HHCA, need was redefined in racial terms by using blood quantum as an indicator of social competency, where those defined by the 50 percent rule were deemed incapable of looking out for themselves.

In 1959, Hawaii was admitted as a state, and responsibility for the HHCA was transferred to Hawaii’s new state government. At that time Congress also conveyed, in trust to the state, 1.2 million acres to be used for five listed purposes, including “the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians.” The truth was that no benefits were actually given to Native Hawaiians until the state constitution was amended in 1978 (Van Dyke 1998). This amendment provided that 20 percent of the funds received from ceded lands would go to a new entity, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), for the benefit of natives (Office of Hawaiian Affairs [OHA] 2016).

Overall, statehood did not remedy the injustices imposed by colonization, and many Native Hawaiians remained staunchly opposed to joining the United States as the fiftieth state. When it came to voting on statehood, the vote of the indigenous peoples was essentially nullified by the nonindigenous Hawaiian settlers, who were given an equal vote if they had lived in Hawaii for one year (Anaya 1993). Additionally, the statehood ballot did not afford indigenous individuals the choice of sovereignty. Instead, voters only had two choices: to become a state or remain a territory, neither of which met the immediate interests of Native Hawaiians.

Hawaiian statehood was followed by a period of uncontrolled growth in Hawaii (McGregor-Alegado 1980). The tourism industry expanded, and farms were shut down to make room for hotels, resorts, and condominiums. The cost of living increased tremendously and left many Native Hawaiians dependent on welfare. According to a government survey conducted in 1970, 80 percent of Hawaii’s people were priced out of the housing market (Thompson 1971). In response to deteriorating standards of living, many Native Hawaiians began to organize and protest for better economic opportunities. Natives who worked in union-organized industries actively participated in efforts for higher wages and better working conditions. The forty-one-day United Public Workers strike in 1979 most significantly influenced the labor issue in the Hawaiian community.

In the 1970s, many Hawaiians also began to organize advocacy groups for welfare recipients. They established the Welfare Recipients Advisory Coalition for Welfare and Employment, which fought against major cutbacks to the welfare program under the Nixon administration. In many instances, Native Hawaiians also joined forces with many other ethnic groups to obtain certain benefits. As an example, during the 1970s, many Native Hawaiians joined with Filipinos, Okinawans, Portuguese, Japanese, and even a few whites to promote low-income housing, long-term farm leases, and access to Hawaiian fishing villages (McGregor-Alegado 1980).

Native Hawaiians also organized to protect certain aspects of their culture, and they continue to do so today. As an example, Native Hawaiians have worked to protect the tradition of surfing. Surfing has been a part of Native Hawaiian life since 500 CE, and since 1778, this tradition has been threatened by outsiders (Helekunihi-Walker 2005). Pro surfers from around the world have come to Hawaii and exploited native surfing beaches. In response, some Native Hawaiian surfing groups, including the Hui O He’e Nalu, have organized in protest. Despite efforts to peacefully protest the International Professional Surfing (IPS), the Hui were portrayed as terroristlike savages in the national media during the 1970s and 1980s. In the movie North Shore (1987), Hui members are shown as uncivil men who carry cane knives and threaten white “haoles.” Although the media and Hollywood stigmatized Native Hawaiians, the positive effect of such attention was that Native Hawaiians were finally visible to the public and they were not viewed as weak and emasculated, as they had been in the past. Today, the Hui are seen as an anticolonialist group and continue to work to protect Native Hawaiian culture and Native Hawaiian land. They hold yearly Native Hawaiian paddleboard races and beach cleanup operations and have helped push legislation to recognize surfing as a sport in Hawaii’s public schools.

On a broader scale, the Hawaiian Renaissance, founded in the 1970s, was a collective Native Hawaiian movement designed to restore traditional Hawaiian culture and language. Influenced by global culture and civil rights movements on the American mainland, the Renaissance spurred various forms of political and social activism. Leaders of the Renaissance included musicians, scholars, and even hula instructors. The movement led to the resurrection of the Hawaiian language and the founding of Hawaiian immersion schools (Tsai 2009).

During the 1970s, many Native Hawaiians were also working to protest the presence of the US military in Hawaii. Many were particularly concerned with US Navy bombing exercises being conducted on Kaho’olawe Island at the time. Natives organized what was called the Kaho’olawe movement and successfully stopped the bombing and won a partial cleanup and return of the island. Today, such organizations as DMZ Hawaii continue to work to counter the military’s negative social, cultural, and environmental effects on the islands (DMZ Hawaii/Aloha Aina 2008).

On the one-hundredth anniversary of the overthrow of Hawaii, thousands of Native Hawaiians gathered to put pressure on Hawaii’s congressional delegation to take their grievances surrounding the unauthorized overthrow of Hawaii to Washington. The result was the 1993 Apology Resolution, introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka, Native Hawaiian Democrat from Hawaii, and approved by Congress and President Clinton. In signing this resolution, the US government formally acknowledged its complicity in the overthrow of Hawaii. Today, Hawaiian leaders are continuing to press the US government to also acknowledge the illegality of annexation and statehood.

In 1994, Congress passed the Native Hawaiian Education Act, which extended equal privileges and rights afforded to other Native Americans to Native Hawaiians. Essentially, what this law did was establish the special responsibility of Congress toward Native Hawaiians as a result of the US overthrow of Hawaiian sovereignty in the 1800s. [^]

Photo 2.3 (not displayed in sample) – Native Hawaiian activists march during a Hawaiian independence protest in Honolulu on Friday, August 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia; ID: 090821035772)

It was because of this act that Native Hawaiian groups have since argued that they have a right to self-determination under international law (Ah Nee-Benham and Heck 1998). Many worked to pressure the US government to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education, and other issues. Although the second Bush administration refused to support this declaration, President Obama agreed to sign it in December 2010. However, the terms of the declaration only apply to federally recognized Indian tribes, not Native Hawaiians. Efforts have been made to recognize Native Hawaiians as indigenous peoples with a status similar to that of American Indian tribes, but to date they have been largely unsuccessful. One example of such a failure is the National Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act (known as the Akaka Bill), last proposed in 2009 by Hawaiian senator Daniel Akaka. This bill sought to establish a process for indigenous Hawaiians to gain federal recognition similar to that of an Indian tribe. Although both the House and Senate were looking to pass this bill, in the end, they could not completely agree on its content and thus it failed in the 111th Congress.


One of the goals of each of these movements has been to attain political power. Casting a vote is the most basic formal act of participation in a polity, and this simple act has important symbolic and practical ramifications. The right to cast a ballot separates the insiders (citizens) from the outsiders (noncitizens) and dependents (the underaged). When aggregated, votes determine who the nation’s public policymakers, the people who allocate public resources, will be. In short, the vote is seen as a tool for protecting other rights and achieving other goals—as a means rather than an end. In this section, we consider the contemporary status of voting rights for minority groups.

For most Americans the right to vote is assumed, and Americans assume all other citizens have the same right. After all, in the wake of the Civil War, the Constitution was amended to ban intentional discrimination by public officials based on race or previous condition of servitude (the Fourteenth Amendment) and to prohibit the denial or abridgment of the right to vote by officials at all levels of government on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude (the Fifteenth Amendment). But within a few years, the Supreme Court declared much of the legislation designed to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment unconstitutional, and Congress repealed other such legislation. Thus, when federal supervision of Southern elections ended in 1877, the states were effectively free to structure and operate their electoral processes as they saw fit.

What followed was the systematic disenfranchisement of the black electorate. Through a variety of devices—discriminatorily administered literacy tests, poll taxes, white primaries—Southern states passed some of the most effective legislation ever enacted. For example, between 1896 and 1900, the number of black Louisianans registered to vote dropped from 130,334 to 5,320. Likewise, at the end of the nineteenth century, only 9 percent of Mississippi’s black voting-­age population was registered to vote; three decades earlier the figure had been 70 percent (US Commission on Civil Rights 1968).

In the early part of the twentieth century, some legal progress was made in attacking various methods of disenfranchisement. In 1915 the Supreme Court, in Guinn v. United States, declared unconstitutional the grandfather clause—a device used by Southern states to deny the vote to those whose grandparents were slaves—which circumvented the Fifteenth Amendment. In 1944, in Smith v. Allwright, the Court invalidated Texas’s white primary as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. This primary had been based on the logic that the state’s Democratic Party was a private organization and, thus, that its means of nominating candidates—the “white primary”—was not covered by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Democratic Party was the dominant party in Texas, and the individual who won the primary was the predetermined winner of the general election. If the Democratic Party were a private organization, and if only members of the party could vote in the primary, black voters were effectively blocked from participation. In spite of these victories, the Supreme Court rarely changed day-to-day realities for black citizens. It was against this backdrop that the black civil rights movement pressed for the right to vote as a top priority. The belief was that the ballot could be a tool for achieving other changes sought by the movement.

The federal legislation that was passed at least partially in response to the black civil rights movement was the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, which was amended in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006. Much of the law continues in perpetuity, unless specifically repealed, and the act was extended without major changes in 2006 for another twenty-five years. The extension passed the Senate 98–0 (Babington 2006). Basically, the act, as amended,

  1. prohibits “tests or devices” that had been used in the past to dilute racial minorities—for example, literacy tests, education requirements, tests of good character, racial gerrymandering, and English-only elections in jurisdictions in which a single linguistic minority constitutes more than 5 percent of the voting­age population;
  2. makes clear that if the effect of a practice is discriminatory, it is unlawful, regardless of the intent of its originator;
  3. defines the jurisdictions covered by special provisions of the law as those which used a “test or device” to limit voting and in which less than half of the voting-age population (VAP) were registered or voted in either the 1964, 1968, or 1972 presidential elections (Section 4 of the VRA);
  4. requires that “covered” jurisdictions gain federal permission to implement any changes in election laws or procedures to assure that such changes are not “retrogressive,” that is, do not make it more difficult for protected minorities to elect representatives of their choice (Section 5 of the VRA);
  5. allows the attorney general to assign federal examiners to register voters who must be accepted as qualified by local authorities and to appoint federal poll watchers in the jurisdictions in which examiners have been used to attempt to detect irregularities in the conduct of elections.
  6. requires jurisdictions with significant language minority populations who have limited proficiency in English and higher than the national illiteracy rate to provide voting materials in the language of the applicable minority group as well as in English.

The fourth, the “preclearance” provision, applies only in those political jurisdictions in which fewer than half of those who were eligible to vote were registered or voted in the 1964, 1968, or 1972 presidential elections and in which a discriminatory “test or device” was used in registration or voting. Thus, the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, as well as five counties in California, five counties in Florida, two towns in Michigan, ten towns in New Hampshire, three counties in New York, forty counties in North Carolina, and two counties in South Dakota are covered jurisdictions. These jurisdictions remain covered today.

This legislation has been fairly effective in dealing with vote denial. Although gaps still exist between the political participation rates of the various racial and ethnic populations and the rate of the white population, these gaps have narrowed since the passage of the VRA. And the number of successful office seekers from groups previously denied the vote is increasing—particularly for blacks.

More work remains, however, in the area of vote dilution. Vote dilution involves “the impairment of the equal opportunity of minority voters to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice” (McDonald and Powell 1993:27). Drawing on Supreme Court decisions that mandate that voting power must be apportioned equally based on population (the one person, one vote decisions), the logic has been extended to mandate that voters have the right to cast ballots that have the potential to elect candidates of their choice. At various times, at-large elections, racially gerrymandered districting schemes that unnecessarily fragment or unnecessarily concentrate minority group voters, laws that prohibit single-shot voting, discriminatory annexations or deannexations, and the abolition of elected or appointed offices or the changing of the means of selection have been used to dilute minority voting strength. These practices are not necessarily dilutive, but when they are combined with other social and historical circumstances, they may create an unequal opportunity for minority groups or white voters to elect their preferred candidates.

The determination of whether a jurisdiction is engaging in minority vote dilution requires an examination of the “totality of circumstances.” The circumstances that courts examine include racial bloc voting; a history of discrimination; depressed minority socioeconomic status; a paucity of elected minority officials; the use of racial campaign appeals; the existence of formal or informal “slating” groups, which are groups of candidates who band together or who are endorsed as a group by other organizations; and the employment of devices that enhance the possibility for discrimination, such as numbered positions, where electoral offices are designated by number and political candidates are essentially running for separate offices in separate elections, which requires each candidate to specify the position for which he or she wants to be elected.

Although much of the voting rights legislation was designed to vindicate the suffrage rights of blacks, other groups have also used the law to attempt to enhance their own political power. For example, American Indians used litigation pursuant to modern voting rights legislation in such attempts. Indians have the same right to vote as all other citizens, and election districts in which they vote must be apportioned under the one person, one vote principle. All four nonblack minority groups—Hispanics, Asian Americans, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives—are recognized as language minority groups under the VRA, and election administrators must take that into account in affected jurisdictions.

A common remedy applied when vote dilution is found or when legislators are reapportioning or redistricting following the census is to draw districts in which a protected minority constitutes a majority of the residents—“majority minority” districts. Both the creation of such districts and the shape of some of them are matters of continuing controversy. A series of US Supreme Court decisions about the appropriateness of considering race in the drawing of congressional districts, raised in the context of a number of oddly shaped districts, has apparently limited the drawing of majority minority districts. The first such case heard by the court, Shaw v. Reno (1993), focused on a congressional district drawn in North Carolina in response to Justice Department pressure to give effect to potential minority voting strength in certain parts of the state. The plan that was adopted created a district in the north central part of the state that linked urban black population concentrations with a 160-mile-long “bridge,” at times no wider than the I-85 right-of-way. The court subjected this arrangement to strict scrutiny and ultimately struck down the majority black district as an example of racial gerrymandering (Shaw v. Hunt 1996). Specifically, the court found that when districts’ shapes are “bizarre”—that is, when they are inexplicable on grounds other than race—strict scrutiny by the court is required. Building on and clarifying this decision, the court struck down districting plans in Georgia (Miller v. Johnson 1995) for three majority black congressional districts and in Texas (Bush v. Vera 1996) for two majority black districts and one majority Latino district, requiring that congressional districts in both states be redrawn. Subsequently, federal district courts declared the majority black Third District in Virginia and the majority Latino Twelfth District in New York unconstitutional. These rulings meant that in the 2001 round of redistricting, following the 2000 Census, the crafting of new majority minority districts was severely constrained.

The issue is important because of what majority minority districts mean relative to the ability of blacks and Latinos to be elected to office. There is substantial evidence that racism persists in American society, that voting is still racially polarized, and that racial appeal tactics are still used in political campaigns (Grofman, Handley, and Niemi 1992; Davidson and Grofman 1994; Reeves 1997). Nevertheless, controversy surrounds the creation of majority minority districts because some believe that the VRA has become an affirmative action tool to get minorities elected, thereby making representation an entitlement; that racism among whites has decreased; and that racially polarized voting is no longer a problem (Thernstrom 1987). From the latter viewpoint, if minorities are not elected in white majority districts, it is for reasons other than racial ones, and therefore the drawing of districts to maximize minority electoral prospects is unnecessary (Reeves 1997).

Such controversy is part of the ongoing struggle over whether and, if so, how to merge the reality of racial minorities’ political status with the rhetoric of American democracy, and its resolution will have a tremendous impact on the strategies chosen by minority political activists. At its heart, this controversy centers on the notion of representation and what it means. The structure of our electoral process, and of who wins and loses in the process, affects who will raise the questions and what positions will be taken.

Lani Guinier, Harvard University law professor and President Clinton’s failed nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1993, has ideas on representation and power that are not as outlandish as her opponents and the media portrayed them to be (Guinier 1994). Her questioning of whether it is fair in a majoritarian system for a majority—50 percent plus one—in any given election to hold 100 percent of the power is gaining currency. What about the other 50 percent minus one? Should they, because they are in the minority, be excluded from the governing body? It should be understood that whereas Guinier is concerned with the electoral representation of racial minorities, in her view “minority” refers not only to racial minorities but to gender minorities, and to Republican or Democrat minorities as well. She also questions whether concentrating racial minorities in majority minority districts is the best approach to rectifying the exclusion of such minorities from the political process.

One of Guinier’s solutions to this imbalance is the concept of cumulative voting. Cumulative voting, a technique used until recently by the state of Illinois in its legislative races, is a mechanism that benefits numerical minorities, whether they are blacks, Latinos, Asians, Indians, women, Democrats, or Republicans. The concept is simple. At present, if there are seven seats on the city council, each voter votes for one individual in each of seven contests. In essence, each voter has seven votes but can vote for only one candidate in each contest. Under cumulative voting, each voter has seven votes and can assign them however he or she wants. The voter can give five votes to one candidate and one each to two others or can give all seven votes to one candidate. In this manner, numerical minorities could give all of their votes to a particular candidate, thus increasing their chances of electing members of their own group. Cumulative voting systems have allowed the Sisseton Sioux Indians in South Dakota to elect a representative to the local school board; and in Chilton County, Alabama, allowed blacks to elect a black to the County Council, along with two white Republicans who, until the implementation of cumulative voting, had never been able to overcome the Democratic registration and voting majorities. In May 2000, as a result of the settlement of a voting rights lawsuit, cumulative voting was used in Amarillo, Texas, to elect members of the school board. Despite constituting a significant portion of the city’s population, blacks and Latinos had not been elected to the school board in more than two decades. Under cumulative voting, both a black and a Latino were elected to the seven-member school board. More than one hundred jurisdictions have adopted alternative voting systems, with cumulative voting among the most preferred. Although cumulative voting is often mentioned in relation to the four groups that are the subject of this book, it would also benefit whites who are increasingly becoming numerical minorities in many urban centers. Clearly, a serious yet highly charged discussion of the concepts of majority and the access of numerical minorities will take place in the future.

After the 2010 elections, Republicans controlled both chambers in state legislatures in twenty-six states, and controlled the redistricting process in seventeen of those states. As a result, Republicans were able to draw congressional districts that benefited their party and disadvantaged Democrats. (It should be noted that both political parties draw lines to benefit their own partisan goals. Democrats controlled the redistricting process in six states, courts controlled redistricting in eight states, five states have independent redistricting commissions, four states have split control between Republicans and Democrats, and two have politician-appointed commissions.) According to the Brennan Center, Republicans redrew the lines for four times as many congressional seats as Democrats did (Iyer and Gaskins 2012). In some states, Republicans drew districts that packed black and Latino voters into excessive population majority minority districts or, in others, diluted minority voting power. Lawsuits challenging the redistricting maps were filed in thirty-eight states. For example, in Texas, suits were filed over vote dilution of Latino populations in federal congressional seats, as well as state House and Senate seats. The federal district court in Washington, DC, found that the maps violated the VRA and that the dilution of Latino voting was intentional. The federal court in San Antonio had to draw its own maps in order for the 2012 congressional elections to occur. The court-drawn maps increased black and Latino voting power, but those maps were to be used for the 2012 elections only. Interestingly, the legislature adopted them, with only minor changes, as permanent maps in 2013, and they have been used in two election cycles, including 2016. Despite legislative action to adopt the court’s maps, litigation is still ongoing on the congressional and state House districts. State Senate boundaries were settled in court.

The Voting Rights Act has been subjected to a number of legal challenges since its implementation in 1965, particularly Section 5 of the VRA. Section 5, referred to as the preclearance portion of the VRA, requires state, county, and local governments that have a history of discrimination and marginalization against some members of the community to submit all proposed changes to voting laws to federal authorities (Rutenberg 2015). Section 5 was ratified to halt changes in election practices or procedures in specified jurisdictions until it could be determined that the new procedures did not have a discriminatory purpose or effect (US Department of Justice 2015). Such determinations would be made following administrative review by the attorney general, or a lawsuit before the US District Court for the District of Columbia (US Department of Justice 2015).

In South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966) the state of South Carolina challenged the constitutionality of Section 5 of the VRA. In 1969, the state of Mississippi attempted to alter voting regulations, but the US Supreme Court held that the state could not implement any voting provisions unless these provisions were approved under Section 5 of the VRA (Allen v. State Board of Elections). In Oregon v. Mitchell (1970) the Supreme Court held that Congress could establish rules regarding voter age requirement for federal elections, but not for state and local elections. In Georgia v. Ashcroft (2003), the Supreme Court had to determine if a redistricting plan in the state of Georgia should have been precleared under Section 5 of the VRA.

A case from Shelby County, Alabama, became one of the most important challenges to the Voting Rights Act. The county argued that Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 when it reauthorized Section 5 of the VRA, requiring that states and localities with a history of discrimination receive federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws. On June 25, 2013, in a landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court held that “it is unconstitutional to use the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act to determine which jurisdictions are subject to the preclearance requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.” Thus states are no longer required to apply for preclearance before changing their voting laws (Bondl 2015; US Department of Justice 2015).

Although the Supreme Court did not actually rule on the constitutionality of Section 5, the court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder nullified Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, since Section 4 outlines the formulas for how the US Department of Justice must implement Section 5 of the VRA (Fuller 2014; Rutenberg 2015). Without Section 4 of the VRA, the Justice Department has fewer legal resources at its disposal for challenging voting laws that are deemed to be discriminatory (Fuller 2014). Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature implemented a revised, and highly restrictive, voter ID law. In July 2016, a federal appellate court struck down this law, ruling that North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers had enacted new voting restrictions to suppress black voter turnout and “intentionally blunt the growing clout of African American voters” (Barnes and Marimow 2016; Wine and Blinder 2016).

The effects of changes in voter ID laws can be difficult to measure, but evidence suggests that voter turnout can be affected by restrictive and discriminatory voting laws. The Moral Monday movement started by the North Carolina NAACP was directly involved in protesting the racially discriminatory provision of HB 589, North Carolina’s legislation that included the voter ID requirement put in place after the Shelby decision. Other states with new voting legislation, including Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, also began similar protests.


Political success has not been attained without struggle. Civil rights movements have been necessary for each group openly to challenge the system not only in which it was at a disadvantage, but in which the rules were structured to keep it that way. One of the goals of each of these movements has been to achieve the right to vote, which it hopes it can use as a tool for winning political victories and protecting the fruits of those victories. The Voting Rights Act, as amended, has provided some protection for each of the groups. But the gutting of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act puts access to one of the core elements of a democracy, the vote, at risk for communities of color. In Chapter 3 we address the way members of these groups have been able to play a role in the US political system.

Discussion Questions

  1. A group’s size is important in a majoritarian system, but population means different things depending upon the political issue under consideration. How do demographic characteristics affect actual and potential political power?
  2. “Minorities” by definition are at a disadvantage in national politics. But in some areas, groups that are in the minority nationally constitute a near majority or a majority. What are the implications of this pattern for minority politics?
  3. Why are some political movements successful, whereas others fail? Choose a group that suffers from a disadvantage within the US political system and explain how you would design a political movement to try to alleviate this situation.
  4. What kind of protection is afforded to racial and ethnic minorities under contemporary voting rights law, and why was such a law thought to be necessary when it was passed and extended?
  5. Do you agree with Lani Guinier’s questioning of whether a majoritarian system means that 51 percent of the people control 100 percent of the power?
  6. How have social media platforms altered the way in which social movements and political activism organizations operate? Consider this question in the context of Black Lives Matter particularly.
  7. How do the protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation fit into our broader understanding of civil rights movements and activism? What are the similarities and differences between Standing Rock activism and other instances of political activism?

[*] The research and some of the writing in this section were done by Brittany Perry, doctoral candidate in political science, at Duke University at the time this was written. She is now Dr. Perry and is on the faculty of Texas A & M University.
[^] Yet this law did not recognize Native Hawaiians as having a relationship with the US government that was akin to that of American Indians. This reality was drawn out
distinctly in Rice v. Cayetano (2000).

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