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Race and Ethnicity Paper

0 March 14 2018, 13:15 in History Essays


The people in the United States belong to one country and are called Americans or American citizens. The Americans are expected to live harmoniously as one nation and people. However, there are "borders of belonging” that separate them from one another. These "borders” hinder them in achieving a sense of belongingness. Time has passed, yet the barriers are still blocking their way toward the goal of total inclusion in the society. This essay identifies three "borders” and how these three categories prevented them from being fully included in the society.

Race and Ethnicity

To be considered an American, one has to be born in the United States or if born with U.S. citizen parents. This has been the widely acceptable way of defining who an American is. Other than that, one can be considered an American through naturalization. Before, the naturalization could not be easily acquired as the race and ethnicity had to be considered. The African Americans and other races had gone through long years of exclusion from the society in the United States.

When it comes to race, the American society always favors and prioritizes the white people. There’s always a line separating the whites from the other immigrant races. There’s always a racial segregation that has rooted long ago. During 1916 to 1920 period, racial segregation went further than black and white relations. Other races such as Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans also experienced isolation and exclusion in the society. In order to be accepted in the society, immigrants had to set aside and disregard their culture and adapt the American culture. They had to "merge their identity into existing American nationality.”[1]It was also referred as the Americanization of immigrants. Americanization was degrading because a foreign immigrant had to forget about the culture that had shaped a person’s character and individuality. However, as these immigrants were the aliens in the American soil, they had to adapt and abide. In order for them to be fully considered as American citizens or somehow to be able to feel the sense of belongingness, they had to integrate themselves to different Americanization programs such as the use of the English language in schools, workplaces, and other public places. Americanization had to be done because of the influx of immigrants that created tension to the native white Americans. In addition, "the low birthrate of native white women threatened the foundations of American civilization.”[2] It seemed that there had been an extinction of natural-born Americans and that was unacceptable. With that, the American culture had to survive and stand against foreign cultural influences, in any way possible.

Other races’ journey to becoming Americans was not easy. There were changes that occurred like the exemption of the Mexicans from taking literacy tests in 1917[3], conferment of American citizenship for Puerto Ricans[4], and the enactment of Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 between Japan and the United States[5]. However, these changes were just for a short span of time and were made by the American government as part of their colonization strategy. Race discrimination was not complete without the African Americans. They had experienced the longest period of exclusion from the society, from the time of slavery even until Barrack Obama’s presidency. Several changes had took place, but still race and ethnicity were the hindrances from total inclusion.


For a long time, there had been inequality between men and women. The world was dominated by men. Men were superior, while women were inferior. Women were then left behind in terms of education, social status, political prowess, and the right to suffrage. In spite of gender inequality and discrimination in the society, there were women’s right advocates such as Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, and Lucy Stone who voiced out their sentiments against injustices toward women, especially from the deprivation of the right to vote. It took decades of organizing rallies, women’s rights movements, campaigns, and conventions before the desired output was attained.

During 1916 to 1920 period, under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson as the American president, democracy and freedom were heard most of the time from the speeches of Wilson. There was a call for liberty across the country, including a call for gender equality. One great change that occurred during this period was when President Wilson "had cautiously endorsed votes for women” in 1916.[6]The endorsement of Wilson led to the amendment of the Constitution that later on granted the American women the right to suffrage. Meanwhile, the Civil War had brought positive effects and opportunities for American women. Several job opportunities were opened and led to the gathering of new and additional women suffrage supporters and advocates, which made the call for the right to vote stronger. With that, in 1920, the ratification of the 19th Amendment took place, allowing women to participate in suffrage.

In terms of citizenship, an American woman who married a foreign national would have to give up her American citizenship.[7] The privileges as an American woman would be forfeited as well. Working African American women were given too little wages and "they remained unaffected by the era’s laws regulating the hours and conditions of female labor.”[8]Despite all the hard work of achieving race and gender equality, the life of African American women had never been just and fair. Those women from the South could not exercise the right to vote. Gender as one of the borders of belonging had changed over time. Women stood out from different field of studies, politics, music and arts, and in everything they took part in. This border had positively changed. However, not for the African American women who were not fully included in the society.

Social Classes

Getting to the United States had been a dream for immigrants. They considered the American territory as the fulfilment of their long desire for good life. They migrated because of the better opportunities in the country. The United States served as their hope in achieving the life they had always been dreaming of. The Land of the Free seemed to have promised them a greener pasture. True enough, others became successful and had their name known around the world through hard work and determination.

As mentioned earlier, the Civil War opened employment opportunities for women. There were 22,000 clerical workers and nurses in Europe.[9]The enactment of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, therefore they had been part of the social classes in the society.

Social classes could be divided into two: the upper and the lower class. Those in the upper class were the American citizens who had worked hard to put their money to business or those who became professionals during the Progressive Era. Without a doubt, the majority of these people were whites because they were given the best options in every endeavor. Also, these people had the opportunity to go to college and later became professionals in the selected fields. They engaged themselves to music, arts, and any other field of studies. Meanwhile, those in the lower class were those in the poverty line, victims of inequality, and oftentimes those uneducated. This kind of social class were dominated by black people. Despite the era’s good effect on the economic aspect of the United States, black people were deprived from the opportunity to be treated equally as the white people. They were most of the time discriminated and maltreated in the society. Other races and ethnic groups such as Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans could also be part of the lower class. Although they were all American citizens, the Land of the Free did not provide equal opportunities for everyone. There would be always hierarchy in terms of social classes in the society.


Today’s modern living is nothing compared to the early life of people during the 1916 to 1920 period. But technological advancement before were already considered modern during that time, hence making the life of American people easier during that period. This part of the essay discusses the tremendous changes that occurred in the 1916 to 1920 and why the Americans during that period considered these changes modern.

One industrialization breakthrough during this period was the completion of the Panama Canal. This was constructed in the early years of the 20th century which drastically reduced the travel time of commercial and naval vessels from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.[10]This engineering and transportation breakthrough made the commercial activities convenient for the American people, such as procurement of goods from other countries and restocking of supplies. The construction of the Panama Canal was considered modern by the people in this period because it was the largest, man-made waterway in the world. What’s more interesting was the reason of its construction. It aided in the elimination of deadly mosquitoes. The United States was serious about protecting its people from any life-threatening diseases brought by mosquitoes. As it was the biggest man-made canal during the period, it required thousands of people to finish its construction. It therefore provided job opportunities to a number of individuals. The Panama Canal also symbolized the United States’ dominance in the world. It showed the America’s greatness in terms of economic aspect. It was one of the most expensive projects ever made during the early 20th century. It did not only serve as the United States’ pride in the engineering and transportation industry, it also brought a feeling of satisfaction and pride to its American people. It made them feel that they were living in a modern time then.

Another transformation was the enactment of the National Prohibition Act of 1919. This was considered advancement in the pattern of consumption and a scientific thought in the 1916-1920 periods. The law banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.[11]The Act specifically banned intoxicating liquor. Just like the suffrage campaign, several movements and rallies were organized seeking approval and enactment. The Prohibition advocates sought the support of different organizations and religious bodies that opposed drinking of intoxicating liquor. The law hoped to discipline the labor force and promote an orderly city environment.[12] Employees under the influence of liquor could not be productive and would only bring chaos to the workplace. Aside from that, a more undesirable effect could be the possibility of a person to kill another person due to loss of control. Women Prohibition supporters also believed that they were saving the lives of wives and children from their drunken husbands.[13]Domestic violence was one of the major reasons for the imprisonment of most irresponsible husbands. The law also wanted to make sure there would be more than enough supply of alcohol for scientific and industrial use. The Prohibition would promote a peaceful and orderly environment in schools, workplaces, churches, and other public places. Although there had been researches and studies that claimed effectiveness of the intoxicating liquor in the field of medicine, the law would want to assure proper guidelines on its use. The law also wanted to keep away the juveniles from drinking liquor at an early age. Thus, it kept them well-focused on their studies. This National Prohibition Act might have been considered a modern movement by the American people during this period as the law regulated the amount of alcohol appropriate for human consumption. It had regulated the oversupply of intoxicating liquor to the general public.

When it comes to innovation, war machines were invented to help ease the lives of the American people, especially during war. First on the list was the invention of fighter planes. Land fighting tanks, firearms, and other combat weapons of destruction were not enough to win in wars. There was a need to protect the air territory as well. Although the materials used were not as refined and destructive as today, what’s important was that the United States was not left behind in terms of fighting machines. These fighter planes were one of the great projects of the U.S. military and to be used exclusively for defending the country during invasion. As a powerful country, the United States had the capacity to defend other countries during wars. It was also prone to possible invasion due to economic reasons. The invention of fighter planes showed modernization in the 1920s. The World War 1 served as a proof that there would be another world war in the future. With the fighter plane invention, the United States was putting its best foot forward for possible attack. This also implied that the United States military had modern war weapons to defend the American people from future invaders.

[1]Eric Foner, . Give Me Liberty: An American History. 3rd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton &

Company, 2011), 792.

[2]Foner, 790.

[3]Foner, 794.

[4]Foner, 795.

[5]Foner, 795.

[6]Foner, 783.

[7]Foner, 790.

[8]Foner, 795.

[9]Foner, 783.

[10]Foner, 772.

[11]Foner, 784.

[12]Foner, 785.

[13]Foner, 785.

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