Looking beyond the Invisible: Can Research on Leisure of Ethnic and Racial Minorities Contribute to Leisure Theory?

Article excerpt

KEYWORDS: Ethnicity, race, leisure theory

Jupiter's moons are invisible to the naked eye and therefore can have no influence on the earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist.

Francisco Sizzi

Professor of Astronomy, 1610

During the last decade, work on the leisure of ethnic and racial minorities has attracted renewed interest and has gained a certain degree of recognition as a legitimate area of research in our field. Besides the sheer number of new studies devoted to the subject, the literature has significantly expanded its scope both by turning to previously overlooked ethnic and racial groups and by shifting its general focus toward aspects of the leisure experience other than mere participation. Readers may refer to the excellent reviews of research on the leisure of minorities by Floyd (1998) and by Gramann and Allison (1999) for in-depth information about recent trends in the area. On a somewhat more symbolic side, the recent publication of a special issue of the Journal of Leisure Research devoted to research on ethnicity and race as well as the incorporation of chapters on the subject into mainstream leisure studies textbooks (e.g. Jackson & Burton, 1999) may be interpreted as signs of a growing recognition of this strand of research.

While many have recognized research on ethnic and racial minorities as significant and useful, some still question the rationale behind studying groups whose very name seems to imply obscurity and marginal social standing. One may argue that these sentiments within the field are merely a reflection of the feelings toward minority groups that persevere in the society at large. After all, some members of the white Anglo-Saxon mainstream do not perceive minorities to play any significant role in shaping the "American" way of life or in defining the social and cultural norms by which they live, work and play. We still appear to live in an era of de facto segregation, maybe in a more subtle form than institutional segregation of the pre Civil Rights Movement period, but perhaps just as effective. The white Anglo-Saxon mainstream continues to enjoy its privileged position in terms of wealth, political power and education. Particularly in leisure, mainstream whites are still relatively free to limit their interacti ons to those of their own kind. Thus, it might in fact be quite natural to question the rationale behind research whose significance is limited to those who are few, inconspicuous and perhaps ultimately unimportant.

A common response to such criticism is based on the notion that the popular understanding of the term "minority" is based on misunderstanding of the actual status of ethnic and racial groups in contemporary American society. Currently more than a quarter of the population of the United States is accounted for by racial minorities and by Hispanics and approximately 10 per cent of the population is foreign born (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1994). In Canada, almost half of the population growth is due to immigration (Statistics Canada, 1997). Given the spatial concentration of some minorities combined with their relatively high population growth rates, it is projected that in as little as two decades Caucasians will be forced to concede minority status in certain American states (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1994). However, it is not only the sheer numbers of ethnic and racial minorities that should attract attention. Demographic changes occur simultaneously with a certain degree of political and economic emancipa tion of these marginalized groups, which in turn creates a pressure for action (Gramann and Allison, 1999). Consequently, provision of leisure-related services tailored to the needs of minorities is likely to become one of the more evident reactions to the changing role of racial and ethnic groups in the North American society in decades to come.

Even though it is appropriate to acknowledge the potential for practical applicability of work on leisure behavior of ethnic and racial minorities by pointing out current demographic and economic trends, we should be cautious not to overemphasize the utilitarian aspect of this research. …