Ethnicity is identity with a group sharing cultural traditions of a homeland. Geographers are interested in ethnicity because it represents an element of local diversity. Ethnic diversity is not as threatened by the forces of globalization as is the diversity of language or religion. Geographers are also interested in the social classification of people by race because of the past and present spatial sorting of people according to racial characteristics.
Ethnicityis identity with a group of people who share cultural traditions of a particular homeland or hearth. Ethnicity is often confused with race, which is identity with a group who share a biological ancestor. The traits that characterize race are those that can be transmitted genetically from parents to children. Classification by race is the basis for racism, which is the belief that race is the primary determent of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. A racist is a person who subscribes to the beliefs of racism.
The U.S. census shows difficulty in distinguishing between ethnicity and race. Most census categories relate to ethnicity, such as Japanese or Asian Indian, because they derive from places. However, the census also offers three race-related categories—black, white, and other race. African American is an ethnicity and black is a race, though the 2010 census combines the two. Most black Americans are descended from African immigrants, but there are some black Americans that trace their cultural heritage to regions other than Africa.
Ethnic Clustering: State ScaleAfrican Americans compromise 85 percent of the population in the city of Detroit and only 7 percent of Michigan. Chicago is more than 33 percent African American compared to one-twelfth in the rest of Illinois. New York City is 25 percent Hispanic, compared to one-sixteenth in the rest of New York State. Cities near the United States/Mexico border have a higher than normal concentration of Hispanics.
Ethnic Clustering: Regional ScaleThe United States’ most numerous ethnic groups display regional concentrations. These groups are Hispanics (clustered in the Southwest), African Americans (clustered in the Southeast), and Asian Americans (clustered in the West).
Ethnic Clustering: Urban Scale African Americans and Hispanics are clustered in urban areas (more likely to live in cities than rural). Cities themselves exhibit ethnic clustering at the neighborhood level. In many large cities African Americans and Hispanics now compromise the majority and live in neighborhoods originally inhabited by European ethnic groups.
Key Issue 2: Why Do Ethnicities Have Distinct Distribution?
Forced Migration from Africa During the eighteenth century, the British shipped about 400,000 Africans to the 13 colonies that later formed the United States. In 1808, the United States banned bringing in additional Africans as slaves, but 250,000 were illegally imported during the next half-century. The forced migration began when people living along the east and west coasts of Africa, taking advantage of superior weapons, captured members of other groups living father inland and sold the captives to the Europeans. Many European ships transported slaves from Africa to the Caribbean islands, molasses from the Caribbean to Europe, and trade goods from Europe to Africa—this was known as the triangular slave trade.
Voluntary Migration from Latin America and Asia Quota laws used to limit limited the number of people who could immigrate to the United States from Latin America and Asia. After the immigration laws were changed during the 1960s and the 1970s, the population of Hispanic and Asian Americans in the United States increased rapidly. The rapid growth of Hispanics in the United States beginning in the 1970s was fueled primarily by immigration from Mexico and Puerto Rico. Chinese comprised the largest group of Asian Americans, followed by Indians, Filipinos, Koreans, and Vietnamese.
Interregional MigrationAt the close of the Civil War, most African Americans were concentrated in the rural South working as sharecroppers. A sharecropper works fields rented from a landowner and pays the rent by turning over to the landowner a share of the crops. Sharecropping became less common in the twentieth century, as the introduction of farm machinery and a decline in land devoted to cotton reduced the demand for labor. At the same time sharecroppers were being pushed off the farms, they were being pulled by the prospect of jobs booming in industrial cities in the North and West. Southern African Americans migrated north and west in two main waves, the first in 1910s and 1920s before and after World War I, and the second in the 1940s and 1950s before World War II.
Intraregional MigrationAfrican Americans clustered in one or two neighborhoods in big cities. The expansion of black neighborhoods in American cities was made possible by the emigration of whites from a neighborhood in anticipation of blacks immigrating into the area. Rather than integrate, whites fled. “White Flight” was encouraged by unscrupulous real estate practices. Under blockbusting, real estate agents convinced white homeowners living near a black area to sell their houses at low prices, preying on their fears that black families would soon move into the neighborhood and cause property values to decline.
United States: “Separate but Equal”In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court stated that that blacks and whites should be treated equally, but equality does not mean that whites had to mix socially with blacks. Once the Supreme Court permitted “separate but equal” treatment of the races, Southern states enacted a set of laws to separate blacks from whites as much as possible. These “Jim Crow” laws made blacks sit in the back of buses and restaurants. Throughout the country house deeds contained restrictive covenants that prevented owners from selling to blacks. Schools were also segregated. U.S. segregation laws were eliminated in the 1950s and 1960s.
South Africa: ApartheidWhile the United States was repealing laws that segregated people by race, South Africa was enacting them. Apartheid is a legal system that separates different races into different geographic areas. In South Africa, a newborn baby was classified as being one of four races—black, white, colored (mixed white and black), and Asian. Each four races had different legal status. The apartheid laws determined where different races could live, attend school, work, shop, and own land. Blacks could not vote or run for political office. The apartheid laws were repealed in 1991. In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected the country’s first black president.
Key Issue 3: Why Do Conflicts Arise among Ethnicities?
Nationalities in North America Identity with a group of people who share legal attachments and loyalty to a particular country is referred to as nationality. Cultural values shared with others of the same ethnicity derive from language, religion, and material culture. Cultural values shared with others of the same nationality derive from voting, obtaining a passport, and performing civic duties. The United States forged a nationality in the late eighteenth century out of a collection of ethnic groups gathered primarily from Europe and Africa. Early Americans shared the values expressed in the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights.
Ethnicities and Nationalities in the United KingdomDistinctions between ethnicity and nationality become confusing in many places. The United Kingdom contains four principle ethnicities and two nationalities. A strong element of ethnic identity in the United Kingdom comes from sports. Even though they are not separate countries, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland field their own national soccer and rugby teams. They even compete separately in international tournaments, such as the World Cup.
NationalismA nationality must hold the loyalty of its citizens to survive. Nationalism is loyalty and devotion to a particular nationality. States foster nationalism by promoting symbols of the country, such as flags and songs. Nationalism is an example of centripetal force, which is an attitude that tends to unify people and enhance support for the state. Most countries find that the best way to achieve citizen support is to emphasize shared attitudes that unify the people. Loyalty to a particular state can be beneficial to the state’s internal governance but can also lead to intolerance of differences.
The concept of a state composed of entirely of one ethnicity is called a nation-state. There are no true examples of nation-state since no country has only one ethnicity within its borders. Some countries in the world are generally organized into approximations of nation-states. Denmark is the closest example of a nation-state.
Ethnic Competition in LebanonEthnic competition for control of a state can result in total war. Lebanon is 60 percent Muslim and 40 percent Christian. Most of Lebanon’s Christians consider themselves ethnically descended from the ancient Phoenicians who once occupied present-day Lebanon. Lebanon’s Christians differentiate themselves from the country’s Muslims, who are considered Arabs. Lebanon’s religious groups have tended to live in different regions of the country. There was a civil war between the two religious groups in 1975 and 1990. The agreement ending the civil war in 1990 gave each religion half of the seats in parliament.
Ethnic Diversity in Sri Lanka Sri Lanka is an example of a multinational state. Sri Lanka is inhabited by three principle ethnicities known as Sinhalese (Buddhists), Tamil (Hindus), and Moors (Muslims). The Sinhalese and Tamil speak their own language. The Moors speak either Sinhalese or Tamil. War between the Sinhalese and Tamil erupted in 1983 and continued until the Tamil were defeated in 2009. The Sinhalese made their language the official language and Buddhism the official religion of Sri Lanka. The Tamils fear that the military defeat will jeopardize their ethnic identity.
Dividing South Asian Ethnicities among NationalitiesWhen the British ended their colonial rule of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, they divided the country into the two irregularly shaped countries—India and Pakistan. Pakistan comprises two noncontiguous areas, West Pakistan and East Pakistan, which are a thousand miles apart, separated by India. East Pakistan became the independent country of Bangladesh in 1971. The people living in the two areas of Pakistan were predominantly Muslim; those in India were predominately Hindu. In modern India, with its hundreds of languages and ethnic groups, Hinduism has become the cultural trait shared by the largest percentage of the population.
Muslims have long fought with Hindus for control of territory in South Asia. The partition of South Asia into two states resulted in massive migration because the two boundaries did not correspond precisely to the territory inhabited by the two ethnicities. Approximately 17 million people caught on the wrong side of the boundary felt compelled to migrate during the late 1940s. Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India were killed by the rival religions. Pakistan and India never agreed on the location of the boundary separating the two countries in the northern region of Kashmir.
Dividing the Kurds among NationalitiesWhen an ethnic group’s distribution spans a national boundary, conflict can result as the ethnic group on one side may wish to reunify with the group on the other side. The Kurds are an ethnic group whose homeland straddles the border between Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. The Kurds are Muslims who speak a distinctive language and have their own literature, dress, and other cultural traditions. Many Kurds would like an independent homeland, but the countries in which they are the minority are unwilling to let go of that territory.
Ethnic Diversity in Western AsiaThe lack of correspondence between the territory occupied by ethnicities and nationalities is especially severe in western Asia. Approximately three-fourths of Iraqis are Arabs, and one-sixth are Kurds. The Iraqi Arab population is divided among Muslim branches, with two-thirds Shiite and one-third Sunni. In Iran, the most numerous ethnicity is Persian, but Azeri and Baluchi represent important minorities. The most numerous ethnicities in Afghanistan are Pashtun, Tajik, and Hazara. The most numerous ethnicity in Pakistan is Punjabi, but the border area with Afghanistan is principally Baluchi and Pashtun. The Punjabi are Sunni Muslims and the Pashtun are Shiite Muslims.
Key Issue 4: Why Do Ethnicities Engage in Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide?
Ethnic Cleansing occurs when a more powerful group removes all the members of an ethnic group from an area to create more territory for the powerful group. Rather than a clash between armies of male soldiers, ethnic cleansing involves the removal of every member of the less powerful ethnicity—women as well as men, children as well as adults, the frail elderly as well as the strong young. Ethnic cleansing may take the form of large-scale forced migration or genocide, where members of the ethnic group are targeted for extermination.
Multiethnic Yugoslavia After World War I, the allies created Yugoslavia to unite several Balkans ethnicities that spoke similar South Slavic languages. The six republics within Yugoslavia had more autonomy from the national government to run their own affairs than was the case in other Eastern European countries. The three major religions in Yugoslavia included Roman Catholic in the north, Orthodox in the east, and Islam in the south. The creation of Yugoslavia brought stability that lasted for most of the twentieth century. Rivalries among the different ethnicities resurfaced after the death of the president in 1980, leading to the breakup of the country.
Ethnic Cleansing in BosniaWhen Yugoslavia’s republics were transformed from local government units into five separate countries, ethnicities fought to redefine the boundaries. Ethnic Serbs and Croats practiced ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina in hopes of unifying their regions with Serbia and Croatia. Ethnic cleansing ensured that areas did not merely have Serbs and Croats, but were ethnically homogeneous and therefore better candidates for union with Serbia and Croatia. Bosnia and Herzegovina is now divided into three regions, one each dominated by the Croats, Serbs, and Muslims.
Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo With the breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbia took direct control of Kosovo. The Serbs practiced ethnic cleansing in the province of Kosovo, where the large Albanian population was forced to migrate to Albania. At its peak in 1999, Serb ethnic cleansing had forced 750,000 of Kosovo’s two million ethnic Albanian residents from their homes. NATO launched an air attack against Serbia and the Serbs eventually agreed to withdraw from Kosovo. Kosovo became an independent state in 2008.
BalkanizationThe term balkanized is used to describe a small geographic area that could not successfully be organized into one or more stable states because it was inhabited by many ethnicities with complex, long-standing antagonisms toward each other. Balkanization is a process by which a state breaks down through conflicts among ethnicities. Balkanization led directly to World War I because the various nationalities in the Balkans dragged the larger powers that they had alliances with into a war. The Balkans have become balkanized again because of the rise and fall of communism in the region.
Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide in Northeastern AfricaIn Sudan several civil wars have raged since the 1980s. A north-south war between black Christians and animist ethnicities in the south and the Muslim population in the north resulted in the establishment of Southern Sudan as an independent state in 2011. Sudan’s black Africans in the extreme westernmost region of the country (Darfur) felt neglected by the government and launched an attack in 2003. Sudan’s government crushed the rebellion in Darfur and killed almost half a million people. Ethnicities in eastern Sudan fought government forces between 2004 and 2006 over the disbursement of oil profits.
Ethiopia was captured by Italy in the 1930s, but regained independence after World War II. After World War II the United Nations awarded the Italian colony of Eritrea to Ethiopia. The Eritreans thought they were being mistreated by Ethiopia and rebelled. Their fight for independence lasted for 30 years with Eritrean rebels defeating Ethiopia and Eritrea becoming an independent state. In 1991, a dictatorship that ran Somalia collapsed and various clans claimed control over parts of the country. The United States military has tried on several occasions to help the Somalia people. Islamic militias are now controlling Somalia.
Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide in Central AfricaRwanda’s major groups of Hutus and Tutsis have practiced genocide against one another. The two ethnicities speak the same language, hold similar beliefs, and practice similar social customs. Intermarriage has even lessoned the physical differences between the two groups. The Hutus were farmers and the Tutsis were herders, and relations between settled farmers and herders are often uneasy. Hutus constituted a majority of the population of Rwanda historically, but Tutsis controlled the kingdom of Rwanda for several hundred years and turned the Hutus into their serfs.
Belgium gained control of Rwanda after World War I. Belgium administrators permitted a few Tutsis to attend university and hold responsible government positions, while excluding the Hutus altogether. Hutus gained power when Rwanda became a country in 1962. The Hutus undertook ethnic cleansing and many Tutsis fled to Uganda. The Tutsis invaded in 1990. In 1993, an agreement to share power was signed. There have been several incidents of genocide between each group since then.
The conflict between Hutus and Tutsis spilled into neighboring countries, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tutsis were instrumental in the successful overthrow of Congo’s president in 1997. The new president relied heavily on Tutsis and permitted them to kill some Hutus who had been responsible for atrocities against the Tutsis in the early 1990s. Later, Congo’s president split with the Tutsis and was assassinated in 2001. The president’s son took power and negotiated an accord with the Tutsis.
Colonial boundaries were drawn in a way that grouped historic enemies together or split others apart and it has resulted in opportunities for ethnic conflict. Africa contains several thousand ethnicities with a common language, religion, and social customs. Many of these ethnicities seek self-determination, which means that the ethnicities have the right to govern themselves. The precise number of ethnicities in Africa is impossible to determine because boundaries separating them are not usually defined clearly.