Separatist Trends in U.S. and Canada

Article excerpt

In recent weeks, events in the headlines have demonstrated the growth of separatist influences among both African-Americans and French Canadians. In the United States, the Million Man March is now estimated to have drawn more than 800,000 African-Americans, which makes it one of the largest demonstrations in the nation's history.

Despite controversy over march organizer Louis Farrakhan, there is no question that his message of self-help and independent thought and action among African-Americans struck a powerful chord. The idea that "we can't count on white people to help us or even give us a fair chance, so we've got to do it ourselves" has an unmistakable appeal in today's racial atmosphere.

In Canada, meanwhile, the voters of Quebec came within one percentage point of deciding to leave Canada. Among Quebecois of French ancestry, a resounding 60 percent voted for independence.

The causes of a growing separatist thinking among African-Americans and French Canadians are more similar than has generally been recognized by political or media commentators.

In his award-winning book, "Sociology and the Race Problem: The Failure of a Perspective," Michigan State University sociologist James McKee demonstrates that ethnic identity and ethnic conflict do not fade away when societies modernize and industrialize, as many sociologists once believed. That hasn't happened anywhere. No matter how much effort is made to get people in modern, diverse societies to think of their common nationhood or their common humanity, old loyalties and identities don't go away. Not in the United States, not in Canada, not anywhere.

Sociological studies have shown that this is especially true when ethnic minority groups, such as African-Americans and French Canadians, were historically forced to submit to the rule of society rather than choosing to do so voluntarily, as immigrant groups did. Thus, for all his legislative power, Newt Gingrich cannot legislate away the forces of multiculturalism or ethnic consciousness in the United States. This does not mean we are condemned to a future of ethnic conflict that will rip our countries apart. That's where the second reality comes in.

Ethnic nationalism and separatism grow when ethnic groups conclude that the larger society is not responding to their concerns. That's precisely what's going on today in both the United States and Canada.

In the United States, a startling growth in separatist thinking among African-Americans has been documented by the University of Chicago's Black Politics Project. Researcher Michael Dawson reports a striking increase in support among African-Americans for a black political party - from around 25 percent in the mid-1980s to about 50 percent today. And look at what has happened in American race relations over the past decade.

Rates of poverty, unemployment and infant mortality among African-Americans have remained two to three times those of whites, and there are more black men in prison today than in college. No matter how strongly black people have spoken out on the unfairness of all this, poll after poll has shown that the majority of whites believe that blacks have the same opportunity in American society as do whites. …