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Racial Policy and Racial Conflict in the Urban United States, 1869-1924

NCJ Number
Social Forces Volume: 82 Issue: 2 Dated: December 2003 Pages: 481-517
Susan Olzak; Suzanne Shanahan
Richard L. Simpson, Judith Blau
Date Published
December 2003
37 pages
This article examines how immigration and State policies together shaped race relations in turn-of-the-century urban America (1869-1924).
Prior to 1870, racial identity and citizenship in the United States appeared fairly straightforward with racial identity being fundamentally dichotomus in both public policy and popular discourse. However, from 1869 through 1924, the United States witnessed a dramatic rise in immigration and immense public debate surrounding immigration, immigrant and minority rights, and citizenship. Focusing on this period of time in American history, this article extends theories of race and ethnic relations to consider how legislation and court rulings about racial and ethnic identity are related to patterns of ethnic and racial conflict. An analysis is conducted using information on the exact timing of attacks instigated by dominant Whites, on African-Americans and Asians in the 76 largest United States cities during 1869-1924. It is argued that State policies had three possible effects on levels of violence against minorities in turn-of-the-century urban America and these consisted of laws and court rulings that established a White identity, as distinct from non-Whites that reinforced White dominance; laws or court rulings that removed barriers between diverse racial and ethnic groups and increased competition over resources and increased conflict; and laws successfully excluding minority groups that reduced levels of competition, thus decreasing the rate of violence directed against such groups. Results agree with previous research findings that immigration and its consequences significantly provoke competition and conflict among racial and ethnic groups. In addition, this research suggests that conflict was also shaped by court rulings and legislation that instigated competition and legitimated racial boundaries. References and appendix


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