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White ethnic is a term used in American sociology to refer to whites who are not of Old Stock American or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant background. They consist of a number of distinct groups, and within the United States make up approximately 9.4% of the population.
The term "white ethnic" generally refers to white immigrants and their descendants whose origins come from Southern, Central, and Eastern Europe, the Celtic language speaking areas of Europe, the Middle East/North Africa, and Latin America. Starting in the 19th century, the development of the United States into an industrial juggernaut saw the migration of millions of immigrant workers from Europe to the United States in order to provide labor for the industrial growth that took place in the Northeast and industrial Midwest. Various Slavic, Magyar, Baltic, Celtic, and Mediterranean ethnic groups settled in the nations growing cities in great numbers. This immigration wave continued unabated up until the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act by Congress, which restricted immigration in 1924.
Separated from the Anglo-Protestant establishment by blood, religion and economic circumstances, white ethnic identities retained a strong sense of group cohesion throughout the early 20th century. During this period, many white ethnics were relegated to menial or unskilled laboring occupations. Often, they were subject to discrimination and lampooned with ethnic stereotypes by the White Anglo Saxon Protestant majority culture. White ethnic groups (i.e. Italians, Irish, Russians, Poles, Spanish, Portuguese, Greeks, Hungarians, Slovaks, Croats among them) experienced ethnic discrimination and xenophobia by the majority culture. Often included alongside these European ethnic groups were Arabs, Jews, Caucasian peoples such as Armenians, and certain Middle Eastern Christians such as Assyrians and Lebanese Maronite Catholics, who were likewise marginalized. In contrast to the mainly Protestant Old Stock Americans, white ethnics tend to practice Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. These cultural and religious differences helped to retain and sharpen a strong sense of separateness from the dominant American culture.
The post World War II era and mass suburbanization of the 1950s and 60s marked a turning point as many young veterans from urban ethnic backgrounds decamped for the nation's burgeoning suburbs and attained middle class status. Additionally, beginning in the 1950s white ethnics of the G.I. Generation became more involved in the nation's civic and political life and it became accepted that the country's institutions were not the exclusive preserve of a small Anglo-Saxon elite. The election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960 marked a turning point as it was the first time that a person from a white ethnic background (Irish-Catholic) won the presidency. A number of ethnic organization groups in the 1960s and 1970s were more vocal and supported promotion of the white ethnic cultures of the United States.
Since the mid-20th century, many traditional white ethnic groups have moved into the managerial and professional class and in terms of socio-economic status, income level, occupational status and level of educational attainment, boomers and Gen Xers from a white ethnic background are at par with white Protestants. Many have relocated from their traditional strongholds of the Northeast and industrial Midwest to the Sun Belt or the West Coast and intermarried with other white Americans of a similar class or educational background. In doing so, they have effectively ceased to identify with an ancestral white ethnic consciousness and assimilated into a generic white American identity. This phenomenon has played into the development of symbolic ethnicity in the US.
- Marger, Martin N. (2008). Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives (8 ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 282. ISBN 0-495-50436-X. "Religion is the most critical factor in separating white ethnics in American society. As Catholics and secondarily Jews ... they were immediately set apart from the Protestant majority at the time of their entrance and given a strongly negative reception."
- Marger, Martin N. (2008). Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives (8 ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 281. ISBN 0-495-50436-X.
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