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Chapter 9: Race and Ethnicity

9.5 Patterns of Intergroup Relations

(relationships between different groups of people) range along a spectrum from assimilation to pluralism. The most tolerant form of intergroup relations is , in which no distinction is made between minority and majority groups in terms of position and treatment. Groups are free to retain their unique cultural attributes and participate equally in society. Some forms of pluralism ensure by law that groups have equal access to political position, educational and economic opportunities and the like. While some forms of pluralism are equal, there are other forms that are unequal, where group separation is maintained, but minority groups are subordinated in different ways (including genocide, expulsion and segregation). At the other end of the continuum is , which is a pattern of intergroup relations in which groups become increasingly like one another. Assimilation is also defined as the process of boundary reduction between groups and can involve the adoption of one group’s culture by another, friendship and intermarriage between members of different groups and the adoption of one group of another group’s identity. Much of the examination of intergroup relations focuses on the patterns of pluralism which favor the dominant group at the expense of a minority group (Griffiths, et. al., 2015).

Test Yourself


, the deliberate annihilation of a targeted subordinate group, is the most toxic intergroup relationship. Historically, we can see that genocide has included both the intent to exterminate a group and the function of exterminating of a group, intentional or not.

Possibly the most well-known case of genocide is Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish people in the first part of the twentieth century. Also known as the Holocaust, the explicit goal of Hitler’s “Final Solution” was the eradication of European Jewry, as well as the destruction of other minority groups such as Catholics, people with disabilities and homosexuals. With forced emigration, concentration camps, and mass executions in gas chambers, Hitler’s Nazi regime was responsible for the deaths of 12 million people, 6 million of whom were Jewish. Hitler’s intent was clear, and the high Jewish death toll certainly indicates that Hitler and his regime committed genocide. But how do we understand genocide that is not so overt and deliberate?

The treatment of aboriginal Australians is also an example of genocide committed against indigenous people. Historical accounts suggest that between 1824 and 1908, white settlers killed more than 10,000 native aborigines in Tasmania and Australia (Tatz 2006). Another example is the European colonization of North America. Some historians estimate that Native American populations dwindled from approximately 12 million people in the year 1500 to barely 237,000 by the year 1900 (Lewy 2004). European settlers coerced American Indians off their own lands, often causing thousands of deaths in forced removals, such as occurred in the Cherokee or Potawatomi Trail of Tears. Settlers also enslaved Native Americans and forced them to give up their religious and cultural practices. But the major cause of Native American death was neither slavery nor war nor forced removal: it was the introduction of European diseases and Indians’ lack of immunity to them. Smallpox, diphtheria, and measles flourished among indigenous American tribes who had no exposure to the diseases and no ability to fight them. Quite simply, these diseases decimated the tribes. How planned this genocide was remains a topic of contention. Some argue that the spread of disease was an unintended effect of conquest, while others believe it was intentional citing rumors of smallpox-infected blankets being distributed as “gifts” to tribes.

image of box of photos of genocide victims

Genocide is a pattern of intergroup relations that occurs periodically, leaving behind destroyed lives and nations. This picture represents the loss of human life from genocide. Kaboompics Pexels

Genocide is not a just a historical concept; it is practiced today. Recently, ethnic and geographic conflicts in the Darfur region of Sudan have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. As part of an ongoing land conflict, the Sudanese government and their state-sponsored Janjaweed militia led a campaign of killing, forced displacement, and systematic rape of Darfuri people. Although a treaty was signed in 2011, the peace is fragile (Griffiths, et. al., 2015). Additionally, on January 19, 2021, the Trump administration declared the persecution of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority group in China, a genocide. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state” (Wong and Buckley, 2021). Further, Pompeo stated that officials of the Chinese government were “engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group” (Wong and Buckley, 2021). Evidence shows that more than one million Muslims, most of whom are Uighurs, have been arbitrarily incarcerated in internment camps in China with no legal rights (Human Rights Watch, 2019). A campaign to shrink the Uighur population and eradicate their culture (referred to as cultural genocide) has been ongoing, including tactics such as the destruction of mosques, the forced removal of children from their parents coupled with mandatory attendance at boarding schools, and the subjection of Uighur adults to forced sterilization and abortions (Zenz, 2019; Turdush and Fiskesjö, 2021; Associated Press, 2020). Similar tactics have also been used in Tibet against the Tibetan people since the 1980’s.

image of propagandist billboard in China showing President Xi Jingping surrounded by Uighur children.

This propagandist billboard in the city center of Kashgar in the Xinjiang region of China shows Xi Jingpin, President of the People’s Republic of China, surrounded by a group of school children who are (presumably) members of Xinjian’s minority groups. The billboard reads in both Uighur and Chinese, “General Secretary Xi Jinping’s heart is connected with those of the people of all of Xinjiang’s nationalities” [rough translation]. Kubilayaxun – CC BY-SA 4.0 – Wikimedia Commons


refers to a subordinate group being forced, by a dominant group, to leave a certain area or country. As seen in the examples of the Trail of Tears and the Holocaust, expulsion can be a factor in genocide. However, it can also stand on its own as a destructive group interaction. Expulsion has often occurred historically with an ethnic or racial basis. In the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in 1942, after the Japanese government’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The Order authorized the establishment of internment camps for anyone with as little as one-eighth Japanese ancestry (i.e., one great-grandparent who was Japanese). Over 120,000 legal Japanese residents and Japanese U.S. citizens, many of them children, were held in these camps for up to four years, despite the fact that there was never any evidence of collusion or espionage. (In fact, many Japanese Americans continued to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States by serving in the U.S. military during the War.) In the 1990s, the U.S. executive branch issued a formal apology for this expulsion; reparation efforts continue today (Griffiths, 2015).


refers to the physical separation of two groups, particularly in residence, but also in workplace, schools and social functions. It is important to distinguish between (segregation that is enforced by law) and (segregation that occurs without laws but by custom). A stark example of de jure segregation is the apartheid movement of South Africa, which existed from 1948 to 1994. Under apartheid, black South Africans were stripped of their civil rights and forcibly relocated to areas that segregated them physically from their white compatriots. Only after decades of degradation, violent uprisings, and international advocacy was apartheid finally abolished.

image of sign from segregation era stating, "No dogs, negroes or Mexicans."

During the era of de jure segregation in the U.S., signs permeated communities, establishing which groups had lawful access to restaurants, hotels, transportation, drinking fountains, etc. During this period, signs were also found throughout white communities in the U.S. threatening racial-ethnic minorities to leave before sundown. Check out this website to learn more about sundown towns: Sundown Towns Mapping Website . Adam Jones, Ph.D. – CC BY-SA 3.0 – Wikimedia Commons

De jure segregation occurred in the United States for many years after the Civil War. During this time, many former Confederate states passed Jim Crow laws that required segregated facilities for blacks and whites. These laws were codified in 1896’s landmark Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which stated that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional. For the next five decades, non-white Americans were subjected to legalized discrimination, forced to live, work, and go to school in separate—but unequal—facilities. In 1946, Gonzalo Mendez challenged the Westminster School District (Orange County, California) in federal court because it would not allow his daughters to enroll because they were Mexican American. He was successful and a year later, the Westminster School District was ordered to integrate. Mendez v. Westminster was the very first successful federal case challenging segregation. A young African American attorney and civil rights activist by the name of Thurgood Marshall followed that case closely and would later use some of the same arguments to challenge legal segregation in front of the Supreme Court of the United States (Vaca, 2004). It wasn’t until 1954 and the Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, KS case that the Supreme Court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” thus ending de jure segregation in the United States. In 1967, Thurgood Marshall, by then an acclaimed civil rights attorney, was appointed as the first African American to the Supreme Court of the United States.


Think Like a Sociologist

Watch the following short video which focuses on some of the generational trauma suffered by American Indians because of the forced assimilation programs employed by the United States: Interview with Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland.

When and why were American Indian boarding schools used in the U.S.?

What does Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland mean when she states the U.S. government has a “trust obligation to Indian tribes?”

Which sociological terms that we have covered in this section do you think best applies to the quote cited from the founder of a Pennsylvania Indian Boarding school, “Kill the Indian in him and save the man?” Explain.


De facto segregation, however, cannot be abolished by any court mandate. Segregation is still alive and well in the United States, with different racial or ethnic groups often segregated by neighborhood. Sociologists use segregation indices to measure racial segregation of different races in different areas. The indices employ a scale from zero to 100, where zero is the most integrated and 100 is the least (Griffiths, 2015). In the New York metropolitan area, for instance, the black-white segregation index was 74.3% for the year 2020. This means that just over 74 percent of either blacks or whites would have to move in order for each neighborhood to have the same racial balance as the whole metro region (Logan and Stults 2021).

Because of continuing institutional discrimination in housing, African Americans remain highly segregated by residence in many cities, much more so than is true for other people of color. Sociologists Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton (1993) term this problem and say it is reinforced by a pattern of subtle discrimination by realtors and homeowners that makes it difficult for African Americans to find out about homes in white neighborhoods and to buy them. The hypersegregation that African Americans experience, say Massey and Denton, cuts them off from the larger society, as many rarely leave their immediate neighborhoods, and results in “concentrated poverty,” where joblessness and other related problems are pervasive. Calling residential segregation “American apartheid,” they urge vigorous federal, state, and local action to end this ongoing problem.


Think Like a Sociologist

As you can see from the tables below, the most segregated communities in the U.S. are located in northeastern and midwestern states, and some of the least segregated communities are in southwestern or southern states. The charts also show a slow, gradual decline in segregation over two decades.

Table 9.3 Least Segregated Cities in the U.S.

Table showing communities segregation figures for least segregated cities over time, from 2000 to 2020, including Las Vegas, NV, Raleigh, NC, Tucson, AZ, Anaheim, CA and Auburn, AL. In 2020, segregation for these cities ranged from 33.2 to 38.8 (100 means complete segregation and 0 means complete integration).

Table 9.4 Most Segregated Cities in the U.S.

Table showing communities segregation figures for most segregated cities over time, from 2000 to 2020, including Newark, NJ, Milwaukee, WI, Detroit, MI, New York, NY, and Chicago, IL. In 2020, segregation for these cities ranged from 73.8 to 76.6 (100 means complete segregation and 0 means complete integration).

Given the history of Jim Crow segregation and other forms of institutional discrimination, how might this data challenge some of the implicit biases some of us may have about regions in the US?


Test yourself


Section 9.5 References

Associated Press News. (2020, June 29). China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization.  Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/ap-top-news-international-news-weekend-reads-china-health-269b3de1af34e17c1941a514f78d764c.

Human Rights Watch. (2019). China, Events of 2018. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/china-and-tibet.

Lewy, G. (2004). Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide? Retrieved from http://hnn.us/articles/7302.html.

Logan, J. R. and B. Stults. (2021). The Persistence of Segregation in the Metropolis: New Findings from the 2020 Census. Diversity and Disparities Project, Brown University. Retrieved from https://s4.ad.brown.edu/Projects/Diversity.

Massey, D. S., & N. A. Denton.  (1993). American Apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

Tatz, C. (2006). Confronting Australian Genocide. In R. Maaka and C. Anderson (Eds.) The Indigenous Experience: Global Perspectives (pp. 125-140). Toronto, Canada: Canadian Scholars Press.

Turdush, R. and M. Fiskesjö. (2021).  Dossier: Uyghur Women in China’s Genocide.  Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 15(1), 22–43. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/gsp/vol15/iss1/6.

Vaca, N. (2004). The Presumed Alliance: The Unspoken Conflict Between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America. Harper Collins:NY.

Wong, E. and C. Buckley. (2021, January 21). Uighurs ‘genocide,’ echoing Biden’s earlier comments.  The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/us/politics/the-us-calls-chinas-repression-of-the-uighurs-genocide-echoing-bidens-earlier-comments.html.

Zenz, A. (2019). Thoroughly reforming them towards a healthy heart attitude’: China’s political re-education campaign in Xinjiang. Central Asian Survey, 38(1), 102-128. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02634937.2018.1507997.

All Rights Reserved Content

PBS News Hour.  (2021, July 16).  Sec. Haaland on healing from the indoctrination, dehumanization at Indian Boarding Schools.  YouTube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/3HlJ7_V9U-0.

CC licensed content, Shared previously and Adapted

Barr, Scott, Sarah Hoiland, Shailaja Menon, Cathay Matresse, Florencia Silverira and Rebecca Vonderhaar.  (n.d.).  Introduction to Sociology. Introduction to Sociology | Simple Book Production. Lumen Learning.  License: CC BY 4.0. License Terms:  Access for free at https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-introductiontosociology/.

Conerly, Tonja, Kathleen Holmes, Asha Lal Tamang, Jennifer Hensley, Jennifer L. Trost, Pamela Alcasey, Kate McGonigal, Heather Griffiths, Nathan Keirns, Eric Strayer, Tommy Sadler, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry and Faye Jones. (2021).  Introduction to Sociology 3E. OpenStax. Houston, TX.  License: CC BY 4.0.  License Terms:  Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-3e/pages/1-introduction.

Griffiths, Heather, Nathan Keirns, Eric Stayer, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Tommy Sadler, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry and Faye Jones.  (2015).  Introduction to Sociology 2E. OpenStax. Houston, TX.  License: CC BY 4.0.  License Terms:  Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-2e/pages/1-introduction-to-sociology.

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