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Immigrants and Discrimination
DuBois, in his "The Conservation of the Races" described racial prejudice as "the friction between different groups of people." (Dubois, 12) If one accepts this definition, then the United States contains a great deal of racial prejudice, as this nation is filled with different groups of people who are constantly experiencing friction. Considering that the United States of America is a country founded by immigrants, populated by immigrants, and built by immigrants, from a variety of nations, it is no wonder that the history of America is filled with incidents of racial prejudice and intolerance. Not only is there the friction between different groups of immigrants coming to America, but also between immigrants in general and those considered "natural-born" Americans. Natural-born Americans are those persons who ancestors were immigrants, but now enjoy the privileges of calling themselves "natural-born" Americans. Dubois wrote his book in the late 1890's, and mainly focused on the problems of African-Americans in society. However, he did discuss the different races and groups of immigrants who were coming to America at that time. But DuBois could not have foreseen the massive influx of immigrants, of various races, which have come to America since the beginning of the 20th century. And as each successive wave of immigrants have come to America, each has faced a certain amount of racism and discrimination. This essay will discuss the experiences of immigrants, particularly the racism and discrimination faced by immigrants, in light of DuBois and his ideas of race and friction.
DuBois spent a great deal of time discussing the definition of what exactly is a "race" and how individuals can be classified. At the turn of the 20th century there was no DNA technology and race was defined by Dubois as "a vast family of human beings, generally of common blood and language, always of common history, traditions, and impulses, who are both voluntarily and involuntarily striving together for the accomplishment of certain more or less vividly conceived ideals of life." (DuBois, 8) Using this definition, DuBois asserted that there were eight distinct races on the earth: Slavs, Teutons, English, Romance, Negroes, Semitic, Hindu, and Mongolian, along with several minor race groups. However, by the science of the day, Dubois was unable to discover any distinct physical traits which were inherent in every single member of any particular race. In other words, according to late 19th century science, each race was filled with a variety of individuals which may share some physical traits, but none share all the traits. Therefore, it was impossible for DuBois, or any other scientist of his day, to define "race" by listing a number of physical characteristics which all members of the race would share.
Dubois then went on to propose that the "black" race needed to separate itself from the "white" race and develop independently. Only through this radical separation could the "black" race develop the greatness that it was destined to develop. And it was the friction between the races which had held the "black" race back from it's destiny. Therefore, Dubois proposes that African-Americans form the nucleus of a new "black" race; to develop a "black" culture, independent of "white" culture.
While Dubois' conclusions can be debated as to whether they are effective or simply create more friction between the races, but what cannot be disputed is the racial friction, otherwise known as racism and discrimination, which immigrants face in their arrival in America. New immigrants must face a number of challenges including language problems, finding jobs, getting health care, and a myriad of others. Not only must they face problems from "native-born" Americans, but from other groups of immigrants as well.
Language is one of the biggest challenges faced by immigrants, and Spanish is the most predominant language spoken by immigrants. In fact, in the year 2000, it was estimated that "more than 28 million people in the United States spoke Spanish at home." (Huntington, 36) And even with the rise in immigrant populations, public schools still have only a limited Spanish education portion of their curriculum, not enough to accommodate the numbers of Spanish speaking children. And it is not only Spanish speaking children that have problems, for example, the high numbers of various immigrants coming to New York has put a strain on the teachers in that state. How can a teacher effectively deal "with classes containing students who may speak 20 different languages at home?" (Huntington, 35) They can't, and the public school system's inability to effectively handle the immense language problems is only the beginning of the problems faced by immigrants.
Many of the recent immigrants to the United States are undocumented, or "illegal" as some claim. Because of the lack of legal status, many immigrants face a number of discriminatory challenges. From 1995 to 2000, the number of illegal immigrants in the United States rose from 4 million to close to 10 million, and today that number is even higher. (Huntington, 35) These immigrants can only find work in areas that prey on those with no legal status. Unscrupulous business often prey on the undocumented, not paying the minimum wage as required by law, not providing benefits, and forcing them to work more hours than the law allows. Since notifying the authorities of the crimes of these businesses will most likely result in the person's legal status being discovered, and subsequent deportation, many undocumented workers simply accept this discrimination as part of living in America. And even among those immigrants that are documented, the average earning has been demonstrated to be significantly lower than the average American worker, especially among those immigrants who are economic migrants. (Borjas, 1982)
One of the major rights of living in America is access to health care: hospitals, doctors, injury rehabilitation, maternity coverage, etc., and immigrants do not receive the same access as ordinary Americans. Even in communities located in the Midwest, the heartland of America, where race is not supposed to be an issue, Hispanic immigrants are encountering barriers when trying to access the health system. (Cristancho 2008) First of all, because of the lack of health care in their native countries, immigrants often suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and others. It has also been estimated that more than a third of Hispanics, under the age of 65, lack basic health insurance coverage. (Cristancho, 2008) And even among those who have insurance, the high cost of co-payments and other fees, not including other costs involved with medication, physical therapy, etc., often discourage the use of all the benefits offered. Furthermore, many insurance plans only cover the employee, not their family, leaving the wives and children without healthcare.
Public assistance programs, which are supposed to supplement these deficiencies, often exclude those who are undocumented. Undocumented workers often refuse workman's compensation insurance or unemployment for fear that their legal status will lead to their deportation. And the confusing government bureaucracy will many times frustrate those needing assistance to the point where they simply do not bother.
Discrimination against immigrants not only causes emotional and economic suffering for the immigrants, it can also effect their health. And this does not mean that they lack health care, or that they cannot afford treatments or medication, it means that everyday discrimination can lead to increased stress levels and the development of chronic illnesses. It has been demonstrated that reports of discrimination are proportional to increases in cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure, hypertension, and heart problems. (Gee, 2007) Increased stress levels have also been linked to respiratory illness and "susceptibility to tuberculosis and reactivation of latent infection." (Gee, 2007) And these results were limited to discrimination against Asians, a group who many presume no longer experience discrimination. One can only assume that the health dangers will be greater among those immigrants who are traditionally victims of discrimination.
W.E.B. DuBois wrote about racism, discrimination, and immigration at a time when the problems faced by immigrants and the general populace were quite different. Science has demonstrated that race can be defined through genetics, a science that did not exist in DuBois' time. But even if race can be better defined, it still does not help those who experience discrimination because of their race. Racism and discrimination, much like American society, has evolved over time, changing and adapting to new social concerns and technologies. Whereas racism and discrimination were pretty straightforward in Dubois' time, lynchings, Jim Crow laws, etc., discrimination is much more insidious in modern society.
The average American can be part of a racist system without even realizing it. Most Americans do not know of the challenges faced by immigrants, they do not know of the problems with language and culture which plague them. Modern society allows for greedy businesses to take advantage of immigrants, especially undocumented ones, and there is nothing immigrants can do about it. Immigrants face discrimination in ways that most people do not understand, their lack of education often limits their earning potentials; sentencing them to…[continue]
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