Author of the Month: Ron SchmidtPublished: April 15, 2010
Newcomers, Outsiders and Insiders: Immigrants and American Racial Politics in the Early Twenty-first Century
Ron Schmidt, professor, Political Science
Published in 2010 by the University of Michigan Press, Newcomers, Outsiders and Insiders: Immigrants and Racial Politics, examines the impact on American racial politics of the largest influx of immigrants in U.S. history. Schmidt and his coauthors – Yvette Alex-Assensoh, Andrew Aoki, and Rodney Hero – point out that in the last four decades, immigrants from countries in Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean and Africa have transformed the demographic composition of the United States, but most especially the size and composition of the country’s long-standing ethno-racial minority groups. The book studies the impacts of this transformation on the efforts of these groups to gain greater equality through increased political representation and power. Schmidt predicts that, for some time to come, U.S. politics will function as a complex multiracial hierarchy rather than as a racial democracy. After looking at existing literature on the topic, Schmidt and his coauthors came up with four possible scenarios for America’s political future. “The first is a move toward greater individual assimilation, which, if successful, would mean an end to racial politics in the U.S.,” he explained. “The second scenario is political pluralism where Americans would still identify with specific racial or ethnic groups on a more level playing field of interest group political competition. The third scenario is a biracial hierarchy where the U.S. ‘white’ population will be dominant over a disadvantaged ‘black’ population, and immigrants from around the world will be assimilated into one group or the other. The fourth scenario is a multiracial hierarchy, in which a more complex and multifaceted racial order will still feature advantage for those who are ‘white.’” The book was completed just as President Barack Obama won his historic election. “We recognized his achievement by asking if his success changed American politics,” he said. “In many ways he is emblematic of what we’re studying. Doesn’t he prove that assimilation works? But our answer is that, while it was a positive sign, the reply is no. We don’t believe President Obama is in a position to alter public policy in favor of genuine racial democracy. Those voters in the middle of the political spectrum – who tend to swing elections one way or another – are not likely to back candidates for either president or Congress who push strongly for policies likely to bring about more racial equality. So potential leaders – including Obama – must play to that middle to win, and that means no major challenge to the existing advantages of the white population.”
Racial politics in America are not going away any time soon, Schmidt concludes. “Racial politics are becoming more complex because diversification is happening in all communities and in all parts of the country,” he said. “The African-American and Latino communities are themselves becoming more diverse. For instance, Southern California has become home to a significant number of Central and South Americans. That generates more political complexity and because of this complexity, the future will be more challenging.” Schmidt, who joined the university in 1972, has been president of the Western Political Science Association and served on the executive council of the American Political Science Association. He earned his B.A. in 1965 and his M.A. in 1966 from UC Berkeley while his Ph.D. came from UC Riverside in 1971, all in political science.