Study on Immigrants and Involuntary Minorities

Until now, research has been focused on the cultural differences between Native Americans, the U.S. government, and the general public and how these differences prevented Native Americans from succeeding in the mainstream school system. Native Americans are not the only minority in the United States. The largest minority groups - Blacks, Asians, Hispanics- and a host of other smaller groups all face similar barriers as Native Americans. In 1983, at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Chicago, a symposium was held to present and discuss ethnographic findings on school experiences of different minority groups in order to shed light on why some groups are more successful than others. Following the symposium, Gibson and Ogbu (1991) compiled a volume of papers on the subject titled Minority Status and Schooling: A Comparative Study of Immigrant and Involuntary Minorities. This volume addresses the central question of why some minority groups do relatively well in school, in spite of facing substantial barriers related to such factors as their different cultures and languages, the prejudiced attitudes of the dominant group toward minorities and unequal access to jobs, while other minorities confronting similar barriers do far less well in school. (Gibson Ogbu. 1991, p. ix) In a nutshell, Gibson and Ogbu (1991) asserted that there were two types of minorities in the United States, immigrant minorities and involuntary minorities. Immigrant minorities are those who come to this country voluntarily, looking for a better life. They accepted hardships, barriers, and prejudice because they wanted to become part of the mainstream. They came to this country because they believed the move would lead to economic well-being, better opportunities, and greater political freedom. These immigrants appeared to interpret the economic, political, and social barriers against them as temporary problems that they would or could overcome with the passage of time, hard work, and more education. Such immigrants accepted marginal jobs because they felt they were still better off than they would have been in their own country. Therefore, they tended to "explore economic resources and niches not wanted by members of the dominant group or other members of their host society" (Ogbu, 1991, p. 12). The immigrants appear to rationalize and to acquiesce to the prejudice and discrimination against them by saying, for example, that they are strangers in a foreign land and have no choice but to tolerate prejudice and discrimination as a price worth paying in order to achieve the goals of their emigration. (Ogbu, 1991, p. 13) Involuntary minorities are those who were forced to become part of American society through slavery, conquest, or colonization. They usually resented the loss of their former freedom and perceived the social, political, and economic barriers against them as part of their undeserved oppression (Ogbu, 1991). This undeserved oppression led involuntary minorities to differ from immigrant minorities in their perceptions of chances for success in mainstream society. They interpreted the economic, social, and political barriers against them differently than immigrant minorities. The biggest difference was they did not see their situation as temporary; on the contrary, they interpreted the discrimination against them as permanent and institutionalized, which led them to develop oppositional identities (Ogbu, 1991). Indians who developed oppositional identities believed that regardless of their ability, training, or education, whether they lived off or on the reservation or dressed and acted like white men, they would not be treated as equals (Green & Wallat, 1981). Furthermore, Indians, as involuntary minorities had no place to go to seek relief from a society that treated them like second-class citizens; they were strangers in their own homeland (Ogbu, 1984). Finally, involuntary minorities distrusted members of the dominant group and the societal institutions controlled by the latter. This was especially true of Native Americans. Native Americans did not trust schools to provide their children with a good education. Unlike the immigrants, Native Americans find no justification for the prejudice or discrimination that they experience against them in school and society other than the fact that they are Indian. Furthermore, Native Americans, unlike the immigrants, see the prejudice and discrimination against them as institutionalized and enduring. Beginning with the earliest attempts to educate them, Native Americans believed discrimination against them was institutionalized and that it was not going to be eliminated entirely by getting an education (Ogbu, 1982). Unlike the immigrants, Native American students did not interpret the cultural and language differences they encountered in school as barriers they had to overcome and did not, apparently, make concerted efforts to overcome them. Rather, they interpret the cultural and language differences as markers of identity to be maintained. Moreover, they do not appear to make a clear distinction, as the immigrants do, between what they have to learn or do in order to succeed in school (such as learning the standard language and the standard behavior practices of the school) and the dominant-group's cultural frame of reference (which may be seen as the cultural frame of reference of their "oppressors"). (Ogbu, 1991, p. 26 This attitude, on the part of involuntary minorities, often led (and still leads) to a dilemma; they have to choose between academic success or maintaining their minority cultural frame of reference and identity - a choice that does not arise for immigrants. Involuntary minorities have a deep distrust for members of the dominant group in society and a distrust for the schools that this dominant group controls more than immigrant minorities do because the former "lack the advantage of the dual frame of reference that allows the immigrants to compare the schools they now attend with the schools they knew 'back home'" (Ogbu, 1991, p. 28). Instead, involuntary minorities compare their schools with those of the dominant group and conclude that theirs are inferior because they are minorities (Ogbu, 1991). Having concluded that their schools and education are inferior, they divert their emotion and efforts in a continual quest for "better schools and better education." The message is also communicated to children quite early that the schools they attend and the education they are receiving are inferior, a message that contributes to the development of distrust for the system. (Ogbu, 1991, p. 28) Gibson and Ogbu's (1991) book contained a chapter solely dedicated to the Ute tribe of Utah. For 100 years, the Utes have been exposed to the American educational system through private, church-run, or federally funded on-reservation schools, boarding schools and the state public school system. The free public education system of Utah has served Utes since 1952 but has produced relatively few Ute high school graduates. Utes perceive the school district and the schools as generally hostile to their children and as a system which is nearly unassailable. This perception is based on a history of long-standing grievances between Utes and neighboring non-Indians, on the racist attitudes of many non-Indians, and on the differing values and expectations held by Utes and the public school. (Kramer, 1991, p. 287) The Utes also view the schools as agents of assimilation. They are viewed, therefore, as a threatening rather than a beneficial force in the lives of Ute children. Fred A. Conetah, the Ute tribe historian, noted that '"one issue that was particularly troublesome for the People was the efforts of federal officials to educate Ute children'" (as cited in Kramer, 1991, p. 291). "Utes opposed and resented the notion of their children being taught 'white ways,' and most refused to send their children to school until the second decade of this century" (p. 291). This resulted from how they perceived their children would be treated in school, and their perceptions were often correct. Coleman et al. (1966) found that as many as one-fourth of all teachers in public schools if given a choice, would prefer not to teach American Indian children. Thus, "teachers' negative attitudes have often dominated the Indian child's school experience and hindered academic achievement" (Berry, 1969, p. 34). Cultural differences between Utes and the people who operated the schools were a frequent cause of friction between the groups. This was most noticeable in the manner each group viewed awards. For example, the school recognized students who "came in first," whether it was grades or athletics. Ute's parents could not comprehend this; "they believed that awards were deserved by those who tried the hardest in every class or in every game, regardless of the final grade or score" (Kramer, 1991, p. 297). Clearly, the dominant group's values that promoted production and competition were at odds with tribal values that encouraged process and personal commitment. According to Kramer (1991), American Indian tribes cannot be compared to other ethnic minorities because American Indians stand to lose their culture by integration into the larger society. Christensen and Demmert (1978) "urged tribes to take legal and moral responsibility for their children's education by exercising control over school boards, approval of curricula, and, if necessary, by establishing separate schools" (p. 140). The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1981) reinforces Christensen and Demmert's advice: Politically, other minorities started with nothing and attempted to obtain a voice in the existing economic and political structure. Indians started with everything and have gradually lost much of what they had to advancing alien civilization. . . . Indian tribes have always been separate political entities interested in maintaining their own institutions and beliefs. . . . So while other minorities have sought integration into the larger society, much of Indian society is motivated to retain its political and cultural separateness, (pp. 32-33) Unknowingly, tribal college leaders may have been familiar with Gibson and Ogbu's concepts of involuntary minorities and immigrants. They expect their students to perpetuate their respective Indian societies, not the American society at large, and they promote that the most viable political and economic position for Indian tribes is to co-exist with American society, not enter into it (American Indian Higher Education Consortium [AIHEC], 1999).

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Erich Longie published on August 7, 2023 3:22 AM.

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