Ethnic Studies Research Paper: race determined inclusion, exclusion, and segregation in U.S. society

How has race determined inclusion, exclusion, and segregation in U.S. society? What can be done to ameliorate historic inequality along racial lines caused by institutionalized privileging and underprivileging of specific racial groups?

Race has played a significant role in determining inclusion, exclusion and segregation in U.S. society throughout its history. This paper argues that race has promoted inclusion, exclusion and segregation by classifying whites as separate identities from other races of color including the Latinos and Black Americans, and according privileges to the Whites that other races did not have. This historic inequality through institutionalized privileging and under-privileging can be ameliorated trough affirmative action that limits the privileges of the privileged and improve the privileges of the underprivileged.

First, property was racialized through racial identities. Some people were accorded the identity of Whiteness that gave them the right to property. Immigration played a significant role in this form of racial identity segregation. Systems of oppression for Native Americans and Black Americans also differed. While Black Americans were appropriated through labor, the Native Americans were appropriated through property ownership. By law, Native Americans owned property and Black Americans participated in the labor markets, working in the property of the Native Americans as laborers. In this regard, Harris (1993) suggests that the relationships between race, slavery and property were determined by racial identities.

Race gave the basis for property rights allocations. This began during the time of colonialism when Blacks were captured in Africa through the slave trade and sold in America to work for the colonizers. The Native American workers were given different roles from those of Blacks. Blacks were significantly considered as laborers. Harris (1993) says, “Slavery was the only appropriate status for them.”[i] The Whites were privileged through property land rights provided through laws. This was justified by the seizure and conquest of lands by colonists. Although Indians were one of the first races to occupy America, their race excluded them from the property rights ownership privileges. Black Americans were subordinated to being laborers and had no right to property. In this case, race played a significant role in exclusion and inclusion in property ownership in U.S. society.

Race also caused exclusion and segregation through the legalization of whiteness as a property. According to Harris (1993), white identity is a property because it gave people valuable and tangible benefits. It was regarded as a valuable possession to only a few people who met specific criteria or standard of proof. Therefore, some races who did not meet the standards of whiteness such as Blacks and Indians were not privileged to benefit from the white identity. Whiteness in itself was a property that came some races privileges over others. If a person was Black, then he lacks the property of Whiteness and hence lacks the privileges that come along with being White. In this case, race became a basis for exclusion and inclusion because Black races were excluded in the privileges of property ownership while White races were included. U.S. society is structured in a racial subordination where white privilege is an expectation, and whiteness is an essential property for personhood.[ii]

Race has also created inclusion, exclusion and segregation through racialized hierarchies of the U.S. societies. White races have the privileges of higher hierarchies and benefit from those privileges in education, housing, inheritance and employment opportunities. Whiteness is considered as an identity created to rank white races at the top of U.S. society hierarchies.[iii] According to Lipsitz (1998), white supremacy can be associated with any race that supports it. Insiders are considered as part of the group if they exclude outsiders.[iv] This shows that the concept of white supremacy in American society sought to include some races and exclude others from the privileges of accessing basic resources and economic benefits.

Immigration was also an essential manner of racial inclusion, segregation and exclusion. Immigrants entered United States from Africa, Mexico, Asia and Europe. Immigration laws were formed to exclude some races, e.g. the Chinese exclusion laws which excluded Chinese immigrants from U.S. society activities and institutions. The harsh treatment of Mexican immigrants is seen through this statement by Hernandez, “So young Harlon picked up his shotgun and headed out to find the Mexican boys.”[v] The boys were playing around in his house and were considered to be causing disturbance in the neighborhood. This shows that the Mexican immigrants were treated harshly.

Discrimination in terms of hiring, housing and education were based on races. Unequal education and school segregation was common during the Jim Crow system that allowed separate but equal schools. This system has led to “racially segregated neighborhoods and school districts.”[vi] Therefore, the legal separation of schools through Jim Crow laws encouraged racial segregations. Employment discrimination was also based on race. For instance, black women and immigrants got opportunities to work as domestic workers while white races were eligible for white collar jobs that earned more income and more prestige.[vii] The legalization of separate schools caused low quality of education in Black schools because Black people were offered less economic opportunities and jobs to earn income. Segregation in neighborhoods was also based on race because passengers in different means of transport are separated in terms of race.

In the modern period, the problems of privileging and under-privileging can be improved by using affirmative action. In this case, awareness is created to eradicate the problems associated with racial identities and privileging of whiteness as a property of benefits.[viii] This can be achieved through the courts as judges provide the doctrines and discourse of affirmative action. However, affirmative action has been considered as a threat to the whites as blacks become emancipated. This problem can be overcome by encouraging equality in all public institutions including equal access to education and employment regardless of color or race. The affirmative action should also be used to “distort the prism of whiteness as property.”[ix] The legal system should be reinforced to provide distributive and corrective justice in order to protect the interests of all citizens regardless of their race. However, for affirmative action to be effective it should be properly conceived and protected.

It is clear that race has played a significant role in the segregation, exclusion and inclusion that was seen through the history of United States society. These racial segregation, exclusion and inclusion practices are clearly seen through violence against immigrants and discrimination in schools and hiring. School separation and exclusion of races from employment were encouraged by the legal consideration of whiteness as a profitable property. The privileges and under-privileges of races can be ameliorated through affirmative action.


Davis, Angela I. Women, Race and Class. New York: Vintage Books, 1981.

Gomez, Laura E. Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race. New York and London: New York University Press, 2007.

Hernandez, Kelly Lytle. Migration: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010.

Harris, Cheryl I. “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review, 46, no. 8 (1993): 1707-1791.

Lipsitz, George. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

[i] Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review, 46, no. 8 (1993): 1721.

[ii] Cheryl I. Harris (1993), p. 1730

[iii] Laura E. Gomez, Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race (New York and London: New York University Press, 2007), p. 98.

[iv] George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998), p. 4.

[v] Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Migration: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010), 83.

[vi] Angela I. Davis, Women, Race and Class (New York: Vintage Books, 1981), xviii

[vii] Davis, A.I. Women, Race and Class (New York: Vintage Books, 1981), 83.

[viii] Harris (1993), p. 1757.

[ix] Harris (1993), p. 1993

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