Ethnic Groups and Discrimination
The United States was originally formed of immigrants that came to the new-found continent and settled along the coast. Immigration is still an overwhelming force today in America, which has become the land with the most widespread multiculturalism.
My own ancestors came from Scotland around the 1770’s. Initially, upon their first arrival on the continent many of the Scots were subject to both prejudice and discrimination by the groups of British that had taken control in some parts of the land. Coming from a poor country, the Scots faced exclusion from trading between colonies: “Scottish merchants traded with the English colonies, but were not allowed to bring out the most valuable commodities, were excluded from the carrying trade between colonies, and could bring in only the produce of Scotland. A poor country had little to export save people, but the demand for servants in the colonies could make this a profitable business.”(Brock 1982, p.4) Some of the problems that the Scottish immigrants encountered in America were similar to the ethnic and social class discrimination they had dealt with in Scotland, especially in their relations with England. The English wanted complete autonomy of the colonies and especially of the trade with the Spanish or with the Indies. Therefore, in the beginning, the Scots faced segregation and ethnic discrimination as an ethnic group, not being allowed to become proprietor or to hold trade with other countries. Overall, they were treated as a subordinate ethnic group by the English and they were even denied official employment in the colonies at the beginning (Brock 1982, p. 9) Gradually however, the Scots managed to become politically influent and even to establish a colony in Eastern New Jersey before the Act of Union in 1707 when Scotland united with England forming the United Kingdom. After the Union, the influence of the Scots in the United States grew in many fields from politics and religion (the Scots brought their Presbyterian tradition with them, which became very influent) to trade and medicine. Medicine especially in the North America was greatly influenced by the number of doctors that emigrated from Scotland: “Scotland was a poor country and many of her doctors had no prospect of gainful employment in their native land. Some moved to England, others joined the armed forces or emigrated to British possessions overseas, including the American colonies. The chosen destinations in America were those colonies which, through emigration or trade, particularly the tobacco trade, already had Scottish settlements.”(Brock 1982, p. 115) the influence of the modern medical methods brought from Europe by the Scots was therefore very great. In the beginning the Scots suffered from discrimination on the part of the English colonists but, with time, things leveled and some of the most successful people had Scottish descending.
However, with the passing of the generations, an ethnic group becomes more and more assimilated in the mainstream culture. As such, the Scots along with the English and many other European descendents that had come to settle in the United States became the mainstream, ‘white’ culture. As Europeans, they came from countries that, although quite poor, had very good education opportunities. As part of the mainstream culture, my ethnic group also took part in the discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, including the African-Americans, the Hispanic-Americans, the Asians or the Native Americans. As part of the white group in America, the Scots presumably inflicted most of the forms of discrimination upon the racial and ethnic minorities, from the extremely overt and violent domination of the African-Americans during the period of slavery, to the more recent forms of discrimination, such as redlining, institutional discrimination, glass ceiling, environmental justice problems and so on.
The English and the Scots formed the first great waves of immigration into the United States, and along with their settlements they also established their supremacy over the other racial or ethnic minorities. These problems are reflected in a number of Immigration Acts that were issued during the twentieth century to prevent other ethnic groups such as the Chinese or the Latin Americans to enter the countries. Moreover, all the other forms of discrimination that aimed at keeping the minority groups into subordinate positions and that denied them equal rights were initialed by the white Europeans who had been the earliest settlers. It is also known that the Scots in colonial America have participated in the slave trade throughout the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries (Landsman 2001, p.60) Overall, the Scots that immigrated into the States were soon assimilated along with the British, and thus became the most important colonizers in early America.
The Scots were white Europeans therefore part of a “privileged” racial and ethnic group that took their mastery over the other races for granted. In the gradually growing diversity of the United States, the European descendents have become numerically inferior over the years, but the discrimination and the prejudice against racial otherness has not decreased significantly. Forms of discrimination still exist and they are manifested especially on the education and labor market, where the people belonging to a minority group may find it much harder to become integrated than a white person. Thus, it can be said that many forms of intolerance and overt discrimination still exist at the root of the social system. These culminate with acts of violence and racial hatred which assume that the members of a certain group are not only inferior but also dangerous. It is very difficult for racial discrimination to desist since there are still ingrained attitudes towards otherness and difference in general. I think that all should feel part of the large multicultural group rather than be isolated according to racial or ethnic criteria.
Brock, William R (1982). Scotus Americanus: A Survey of the Sources for Links between Scotland and America in the Eighteenth Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
Landsman, Ned C. Nation and Province in the First British Empire: Scotland and the Americas. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2001.