Module 1. The Significance of Ethnic Studies


By studying the structure of social institutions, we understand how race, ethnicity, and other social categories work as systems of power. The social world we live in is supported by ideological beliefs that make existing power structures and discrimination appear normal (Andersen & Collins, 2010). However, the social categories we use to label or identify people are socially constructed and developed through historical processes and intergroup relations. Additionally, these constructs are defined in binary terms of “either/or” (e.g., Black/White, female/male, poor/rich, gay/straight, alien/citizen, etc.) which create “otherness” stigmatizing minority or subordinate groups as out-groups by the majority or powerful (Andersen & Collins, 2010). Otherness directly relates to the advantages and disadvantages of individuals and groups based on their status or location in the stratified society. Because racial formation and racism shape everyday life, we find significant indicators of inequity for Americans of color in family income, poverty, home ownership, education level, and employment.


Table 2. Indicators of Racial-Ethnic Inequity in the United States1

  Population Income Poverty Home Ownership2
Racial-Ethnic Group % of U.S. Population Median Family Income ($) %

Below 100% of Poverty


Home Ownership (2020)

African American 13.4 58,518 18.8 45.3
Asian American 5.9 112,226 7.3 60.3
Latina/o/x 18.5 60,927 15.7 50.1
Native American 1.3 54,9203 23.0 3 54.0
White 76.3 $89,663 7.3 71.3
1Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2020 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC).
2Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey/Housing Vacancy Survey, March 9, 2021.
3Source: 2019 American Community Survey 2019: 1-Year Estimates Selected Population Profile in the U.S.


Table 3. Indicators of Racial-Ethnic Inequity in the United States1

  Years of School Completed Employment3
Racial-Ethnic Group %
High School
Employed Unemployment Rate
African American 30.5 18 9.9 57.0 7.7
Asian American 15.8 34.2 26.9 63.6 3.5
Latina/o/x 28.1 14.4 6. 5 64.3 5.1
Native American 31.52 10.42 5.72 53.5 8.0
White 24.3 25.6 15.7 60.0 3.9
1Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2020 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC).
2Source: 2019 American Community Survey 2019: 1-Year Estimates Selected Population Profile in the U.S.
3Source: 2019 American Community Survey 2019: 1-Year Estimates Selected Population Profile in the U.S.

In the United States, under tribal sovereignty, indigenous tribes have the inherent authority to govern themselves within the nation’s borders. The U.S. recognizes tribal nations as domestic dependent nations and reaffirms adherence to the principles of government-to-government relations (The United States Department of Justice, 2020). As a result, the U.S. Census Bureau has challenges in conducting and collecting accurate data in American Indian and Alaska Native areas as available data for Native Americans is presented in Table 2. Estimates conducted by the American Community Survey administered by the U.S. Census Bureau are shown for indicators where current data is not available.


Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe sign that says "No visitors please"
Image by Michael Anthony, Pexels is licensed under CC BY 4.0

To help us understand the impact of systemic racism of Americans of color, let’s explore the data collected and published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

  1. According to Table 2, which racial-ethnic groups have the lowest median family incomes?
  2. In the same table, which groups have the highest poverty rates?
  3. Which groups have the lowest homeownership rates?
  4. According to Table 3, which groups complete the highest levels of education? Which groups achieve the lowest levels?
  5. In the same table, which groups obtain graduate (i.e., Master’s, professional, or doctorate) degrees?
  6. Which groups have the highest unemployment numbers? How does unemployment correspond to population size by racial-ethnic group?
  7. Review your analysis of the data presented in Table 2 and 3. What racial-ethnic group patterns do you find?

Data and factual information provide relevant context to understanding racial-ethnic relations and inequality in our social world. We cannot develop the capacity to recognize, appreciate, and empathize with each other if we do not know all the facts of our country’s history and experiences of all people living in it. Current psychological research has found that knowledge of historical racism is related to own’s ability to understand contemporary racism (Feagin, 2014). Data and factual information are critically important to helping us make connections that lead to insights and improvements in the quality of life for all Americans and all of humanity. Everyone has an important role to play in the future of our country and our lives together.




To understand how housing and geographic location shape one’s life chances and opportunities.


  1. Research and define redlining.
  2. Analyze Adam Ruins Everything – The Disturbing History of the Suburbs to illustrate systemic housing discrimination.
  3. Research and define wealth and wealth inequality.
  4. Analyze the socioeconomic data across racial demographics in Tables 2 and 3.
  5. How do you think the differences in access to homeownership and home equity between Black and White households contribute to the wealth inequality we see today?
  6. Why do you think there is a relationship between historic redlining and neighborhood health today?
  7. What inequalities exist now because of neighborhood segregation?
  8. Using your new knowledge about wealth inequality, how does where you live influence how you live?


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Our Lives: An Ethnic Studies Primer by Vera Guerrero Kennedy and Rowena Bermio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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