The Racial Middle: Latinos and Asian Americans Living beyond the Racial Divide

The Racial Middle: Latinos and Asian Americans Living beyond the Racial Divide

The Racial Middle: Latinos and Asian Americans Living beyond the Racial Divide

The Racial Middle: Latinos and Asian Americans Living beyond the Racial Divide


The divide over race is usually framed as one over Black and White. Sociologist Eileen O'Brien is interested in that middle terrain, what sits in the ever-increasing gray area she dubbed the racial middle.

The Racial Middle , tells the story of the other racial and ethnic groups in America, mainly Latinos and Asian Americans, two of the largest and fastest-growing minorities in the United States. Using dozens of in-depth interviews with people of various ethnic and generational backgrounds, Eileen O'Brien challenges the notion that, to fit into American culture, the only options available to Latinos and Asian Americans are either to become white or to become brown.

Instead, she offers a wholly unique analysis of Latinos and Asian Americans own distinctive experiences- those that aren't typically White nor Black. Though living alongside Whites and Blacks certainly frames some of their own identities and interpretations of race, O'Brien keenly observes that these groups struggles with discrimination, their perceived isolation from members of other races, and even how they define racial justice, are all significant realities that inform their daily lives and, importantly, influence their opportunities for advancement in society.

A refreshing and lively approach to understanding race and ethnicity in the twenty-first century, The Racial Middle gives voice to Latinos and Asian-Americans place in this country's increasingly complex racial mosaic.


They say, if you's white, you's all right,
If you's brown, you can stick around,
But if you black, oh brother, get back, get back, get back.

—Big Bill Broonzy, “Black, Brown, and White” (1951)

The experiences of persons in the racial middle in the United States have always been framed by those on the racial poles of white and black. As the above song lyric makes plain, those in the “brown” ambiguous middle category have oft en been juxtaposed against a “white” category that is favored and a “black” category that is not. Thus, a “brown” person is anyone conditionally accepted as “not black” (and thus can “stick around”) but still not completely favored as “white.” They hover in a middle that subverts the simple characterizations in this dichotomy of “right” and “wrong,” “front” and “back.” This is undoubtedly a precarious position and begs the question: How have those in the racial middle negotiated this position, framed largely by the poles on either side of them? How do they navigate this middle territory?

If one studies in detail the social construction of racial categories and the ideologies attached to them in the United States, one soon realizes that virtually everyone in the society actually fits into a middle category, because the idea of a “pure” racial stock is an absolute scientific fallacy. There are indeed many Americans, however, who either think of themselves as “white” or “black,” and perhaps more important, Americans who are treated as “white” or “black” in social, economic, and political institutions. This ever-present reality fuels modern racism as we know it. History shows that the U.S. government has attempted at all costs to fit all persons into this seemingly clear-cut white/not-white dichotomy, making it difficult for those who did not fit it to assert their own exceptionalities.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.