A guest post by Kiwi:
Note: This post builds on Abagond’s posts on “rootedness” and “counter-frames” and is also based on anthropologist John Ogbu’s work. To fully understand what is said below, read “rootedness” and “counter-frames” first.
In America, racial minorities fall into two groups: “voluntary” and “involuntary”, or what Abagond calls “transplants” and “uprooted”.
Involuntary minorities include Blacks, Natives, some Mexicans (ie: Chicanos), Puerto Ricans, and Native Hawaiians. All were forcibly incorporated into America through conquest, colonialism, or slavery.
Voluntary minorities came to America by choice and trace their immigrant origins to countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Refugees are neither voluntary nor involuntary because while they were forced off their homelands by war, they still chose to come to America.
Whereas voluntary minorities usually join the middle class in one generation through hard work and education, involuntary minorities make up a large share of the permanent underclass and suffer disproportionately from the following social problems:
crime, violence, imprisonment, drugs, gangs, poverty, unemployment, truancy, dropouts, single motherhood, illegitimacy, homelessness, ghettos, low IQ
Why do voluntary and involuntary minorities have such different life outcomes despite members of the same race belonging to both groups?
Here is the causal mechanism:
Frame of reference: Voluntary minorities compare their status in America to their former status in their home countries. Almost always, life was worse back home so their outlook on America is positive. They see America as a land of freedom and opportunity. Involuntary minorities have no other homeland so they compare their status to Whites, which makes their outlook on America negative. They see America as robbing them of freedom and opportunity.
Identity threat: Because voluntary minorities have a positive outlook on America, their identities do not feel threatened by their subordinate status. They trust the system and society’s rules. Involuntary minorities have a negative outlook, so their identities feel threatened by their subordinate status. They distrust the system and society’s rules.
Obedience to authority: Because voluntary minorities do not feel threatened by their subordination, they see society’s norms and values as legitimate and follow the rules. Involuntary minorities feel threatened by their subordination and thus reject society’s norms and values, so they disobey the rules. This often results in maladaptive behaviors that lead to the social problems listed above. This mindset is known as oppositional culture.
Descendants of voluntary minorities become involuntary minorities if they assimilate into an involuntary group of the same race. For example, descendants of Mexican immigrants become Chicanos while descendants of African immigrants become Black Americans. Some involuntary minorities choose to become voluntary by reinterpreting their place in society but this is rare.
While involuntary minorities tend to have strongly antiracist counter-frames due to their distrust of society, voluntary minorities have weak counter-frames due to their trust of society. However, voluntary minorities develop strong counter-frames by their third or fourth generation, even if they have no involuntary group of the same race to assimilate into. An example is Asian Americans.
This phenomenon is largely unconscious but explains the sense of hopelessness in non-immigrant minority communities in contrast to the sense of hope in immigrant minority communities, even when the latter starts off poorer.
Thanks to The Pragmatist, King, and Sharina for inspiring this post.