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Race and Ethnicity

The Prevalence of Racism Based on Population Diversity


Annie Berns
December 10, 2018
Racism occurs in various ways throughout all parts of the world despite race itself being

a socially constructed concept. Racism can be present on an individual level, through gestures,

thoughts, etc., or on an institutional level, where nonwhites are systematically given less

opportunities than their white peers (Desmond, 2015). Generations post baby boomers have

grown to accept races outside of their own more openly while older generations tend to keep

their more reserved prejudices (Arjomand, 2010). Similarly, racism can be more or less prevalent

depending on the geographical area, for example rural versus urban areas. Urban areas are often

stereotypically thought of as ever changing and generally see the most change in a small amount

of time. Some would say the people who live in urban areas are adaptable and open to change.

On the other hand, people who live in rural areas are usually the places where change happens

slowly over time. These are common generalizations or stereotypes that are associated with these

types of areas, and each geographic area is different regardless of the population size. With these

stereotypes, however, comes a sense of acceptance for newcomers. Depending on the type of

diversity one grows up in often determines how accepting this person is to those who are

different than themselves. People who are exposed to a more racially diverse population area are

less likely to hold racial biases.

Diversity can be described as there being variety in the society being lived in, especially

when discussing culture and race. There are generalizations which can be made about certain

populations and the diversity associated with them. In most circumstances, larger populated areas

have a substantial amount of diversity while rural areas have low amounts of diversity, and in

some cases, no diversity at all. When looking at a suburban or urban city area, most people

would consider it to be a very diverse population as there may be a large percentage of

nonwhites living in the city limits. What most people don’t know, however, is that a majority of
larger cities have been carefully arranged so segregation is still seen in high numbers (Desmond,

2015). This began after World War I when veterans returning to the United States received

money and other financial benefits in order to afford a house and education (Desmond, 2015).

Surprisingly, that money was only given to white veterans and nonwhites who served were left

with nothing. This allowed for white families to get out of downtown areas of cities or ghettos in

order to move out to the suburbs and continue growing their wealth. As the white families moved

away, so did the job opportunities, leaving behind a very poor, ghetto neighborhood composed of

primarily nonwhite families in poverty (Desmond, 2015). From this segregation based on money,

the segregation in cities continued as school district boundaries decided who went to what

school. The schools which were in poorer areas than the suburbs were often left with little

resources setting those students up for failure (Desmond, 2015). So, although many cities seem

diverse by statistics, diversity is also a rare occurrence in many cities. Those who live in lower-

income areas or urban areas are most likely to be exposed to a diverse population. People

populating urban areas, or metropolitan areas, are generally more concerned and open to

exposing their children to diversity as 70% said that was a main point they look for in choosing a

community to live in while on 52% of rural living people said that (Parker et al, 2018). On the

other hand, those who remain in suburban areas, or those on the outside areas of cities, are more

likely to remain in a community predominantly white families with little diversity.

People in rural communities often aren’t exposed to many situations in life with people of

different races or cultures. Most rural areas lack in diversity and this can have a large impact on

the way those individuals react towards people of color, whether it be extrinsic in person or their

own personal intrinsic biases. According to current studies by Parker et al, the nation is

becoming more diverse racially and ethnically in urban and suburban areas, but this change is
rural areas is muted (2018). This can be reflected as 69% of residents in rural areas stated their

neighbors were the same race or ethnicity as them whereas only 43% said this in urban areas

(Parker et al, 2018). Lacking the opportunity to be exposed to diversity allows for false

stereotypes of nonwhites to be considered true. This is commonly true because those who don’t

have the opportunity to interact with nonwhites have no reason not to believe what is spread on

new channels, in social media, or through older generations of family about those individuals.

Due to this lack of exposure, they often generally fear the unknown. By the time most people

who have lacked exposure to racial diversity are exposed to diversity, they have already

developed their own biases against groups of people, as that’s something we naturally do as

humans.

In urban areas, the resources available for people is present in a much larger quantity than

those in rural areas, making it much more appealing for nonwhites to live in areas with more

options. Due to various biases, it is often hard for nonwhites to get the correct care and fairness

of opportunity they deserve. Not only is this present in housing and education as previously

mentioned, but also in health care, insurance, and other various resources (Caldwell et al, 2016).

Rural areas where less diversity and more biases appear make access to these types of services

much more difficult (Caldwell et al, 2016). In cities, these services appear in a high number and

have a larger chance of a nonwhite individual being a worker at the service needed, which allows

for easier access to the nonwhite individuals. Opportunity is just one of the many political and

social views that are different when changing from an urban area to a rural area (Parker et al,

2018).

Rural areas have such a small population where the minority groups are only a few

people at most. In fact, rural areas in the Midwest have been shrinking since 2000 as people
move to urban areas (Parker et al, 2018). It’s very hard for those who don’t fit the social norms

to feel welcome and open about who they are in rural communities where being different is so

uncommon. Discrimination, especially racial discrimination, has been known to have negative

effects on children as they grow up with that exposure. Although white may be the norm in rural

areas, studies have shown that African American children growing up in rural areas may have

positive effects from the cohesive community (Berkel et al, 2009). Additionally, schools in rural

areas have been found to follow more of a colorblind teaching, leaving nonwhite children feeling

as if racism is less prevalent in their lives (Yull, 2014).

Rural areas are notorious for being seen as slow living that is based off of making

connections with neighbors and the small town everyone associates with. These are the people

who commonly take life at a slower pace and spend time building relationships with neighbors

and people from the community and are known for their hard work and humility (Christman,

2017). Small rural areas give people the chance to get to know everyone in the community. Rural

residents are more likely than urban residents to know most if not all of their neighbors (Parker

et al, 2018). This can be very intimidating when a person of color considers moving into a

community like this. Midwesterners often see people of color in their rural areas as ever new and

out of place and having them move into their area of life threatens the cohesion of life

(Christman, 2017). It would be hard to fit in as a minority where everyone knows one another.

To study the effects of racism in rural areas, Christina Wood an African American

woman, traveled to Delaware County, New York to study and immerse herself in this 95% white

population (2017). This rural area is known for being against change and has a history of

revolting against outsiders in inhumane ways (Wood, 2017). This area fits the stigma that most

urban area residents believe to have on rural areas. Delaware County took pride in using racist
symbols and in supporting white supremacy (Wood, 2017). Race wasn’t something that was

discussed, and she even had a hard time getting the few nonwhite residents to discuss it with her.

Essentially, this community has made no progress in increasing diversity and continues to live in

the segregated past world (Wood, 2017). Wood sees little progress in the future being possible as

most residents are closed off to the idea of racial diversity and are proud of their segregated ways

(2017).

Rural areas which have been exposed to diversity, however, have seen improvement

when it comes to the acceptance of outsiders from the community. An example of a small rural

community where diversity has played a large impact on the racism which occurs is a town

called Postville located in northeastern Iowa. For many years, Postville has been a popular place

for immigrants, both legal and illegal, to travel to for work and was known as a wonderful

example of pluralism. This raising diversity started in 1987 when a Hasidic Jewish man opened a

kosher meat-processing plant where he recruited Latino and Guatemalan immigrants to work

(Higgins, 2018). The citizens of this tiny town were shaken when these newcomers first came

into their neighborhood. They felt fear and they felt threatened, mostly because they hadn’t been

expose to people of such cultures. One life-long resident, Mel Brink, stated that the immigrants

weren’t really accepted at first because everyone in that small of an area was so used to knowing

everyone and all of a sudden there were so many new people she didn’t know (Higgins, 2018).

This is how a lot of the people of Postville felt until they had the chance to get to know these

newcomers. Another Postville resident, Goldsmith, stated that these people grew to be his

neighbors and in terms of character they were decent people, even family people (Higgins,

2018).
Eventually, under the Busch administration, large-scale raids began to be a reality all

around the United States (Higgins, 2018). Postville was one of the places hit with a raid and was

among the largest of them all. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided

Postville in May of 2008 and detained almost 20% of Postville’s tiny 2,200 population (Higgins,

2018). Although some people may argue that the people who were deported where here illegally

and that the economy would be better off without them, but that is not the case. The people of

Postville were devastated and a great silence fell over the entire town after the raid happened.

The scene itself is terrifying to imagine as police officers swarmed in fully armed in busloads

and helicopters flew overhead. People tried to run and others tried to find their children who

were still in school (Higgins, 2018). As for the town as a whole, many were out of work as the

plant employed the majority of the town (Higgins, 2018). Due to this large loss of work, most

ended up leaving Postville leaving it as another small Midwest town to eventually disappear.

This left multiple vacant houses and shuttered businesses. John Austin, the director of Michigan

Economic Center who studies economic developed stated that, “Most small towns are

disappearing in rural economies and the only clear exception are those communities who attract

immigrants. Small towns with large immigrant populations see economic revivals that

homogenous communities don’t” (Higgins, 2018).

A decade later, the only thing which has saved Postville from this economic disaster was

yet again, immigrants. A new plant called Agri Star was opened by a Canadian Jewish

businessman who recruited only legal immigrants in 2009, stabilizing the population and

economy in Postville (Higgins, 2018). This new plant has brought in new immigrants from even

more areas, such as Guatemala, Somalia, and Eastern Europe, creating a more diverse population

than ever before (Higgins, 2018). Even more importantly, the town of Postville is an example of
how important diversity is for the population to grow and be sustainable. Before any diversity in

Postville, the rural community members were apprehensive about having newcomers in their

community, but with time and exposure they grew to enjoy their presence. Community members

had left their previous biases that made the newcomers feel like intruders and started to see them

as neighbors they enjoyed having around. In the end, they were greatly sad to see them leave.

This shows that exposure to diversity does lead to the breaking of racist biases in small areas that

have limited exposure to different cultures.

Some people argue that segregation no longer exists and that diversifying communities

isn’t a necessity in urban or rural areas. Contrary to that belief, communities which have not

shown diversity have shown to continue past poor examples and lack of positive change. This is

apparent all around the rural United States, but a prevalent example are rural counties in southern

states, such as Georgia and Alabama, which still see a large impact of segregation. This study

looked specifically at five counties in rural Georgia and the statistics associated with the student

population. These areas have a lot of poverty and are still stuck in the ways of the mid 1900s

when segregation was in its prime. One easy way to figure out if a school is for primarily whites

it to see if it says “founded in…” Many of them are after the 1970s and are known as prestigious

schools that are expensive and unattainable for black families who are still in poverty.

Additionally, the rural county school populations also reflect on how prevalent racism still is.

The public schools in the five Georgia counties have a majority population of blacks. The highest

school being Clay with a population of 96.2% black and only 3.2% white. Miller had the highest

white population of 59.3% and Webster came in second at 39.9% (Livingston, 2013). These

public schools are lacking the resources and opportunities the more expensive private schools are

offering. This study shows how segregation is still an issue and how racial diversity in rural areas
is an issue in other areas outside of the Midwest as many rural areas in Midwest states commonly

see this racial diversity issue.

Although all humans are subject to biases, racial biases can be broken down when

individuals are exposed to racially diverse populations. The racial exposure helps to create a

more accepting society altogether as white individuals who believed the biases taught to them

through generations of racism learn to accept others by looking past skin color. People in

populated urban areas have a greater opportunity at exposure to diversity as there is a higher

amount of diversity in the population statistics, however, years of segregation has caused many

areas throughout cities to lack racial diversity. Rural areas, which often lack racial diversity,

have seen great improvement in racial biases when exposed to a diverse population, such as the

model town Postville, Iowa. Despite the geographical area, exposure to other races and cultures

has shown to improve the biases present by the individuals in that area.
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