Race Prejudice and Discrimination: Readings in Intergroup Relations in the United States

By Arnold M. Rose | Go to book overview

Introduction to Part One

T HE term "minority group" grew up in Europe to describe the particular social position of some people in relation to the rest of the population. In European countries with a long history, people with a certain cultural background frequently had an ancient attachment to a given piece of land. They were known as a nationality group, and the land they occupied bore their name. But in the course of many wars, conquests, and migrations, small groups of people frequently found themselves within the political boundaries of a nation in which the majority group was of a different, nationality. That is, the territories covered by political nations have never been, and could not possibly be, exactly the same as the territories inhabited by the historical nationality groups.1 Not only did these nationality groups sometimes occupy only small pieces of territory, but sometimes also they were dispersed by residence and place of occupation throughout the territory of the majority group. Since the modern conception of a political nation included a belief that it was to serve the interests of a particular nationality, the smaller groups within the physical boundaries of a nation became known as minorities. Most nations had laws to establish the political conditions of existence of their minorities: Sometimes the minorities were enjoined to live within a certain area, sometimes they were restricted to certain occupations, sometimes they sent their own group representatives to the national parliament instead of voting as individuals, and so forth. In nearly all countries, they were regarded as a group apart.2 For example, a Slovak living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire would never be regarded as a Austrian or Hungarian, even though he was a subject of the emperor, and a Ruthenian would never be

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1
Failure to understand this point led President Wilson to proclaim the ideal of "self- determination for nationalities." Since political sell-determination for one nationality was incompatible with political sell-determination for other nationalities, as well as being incompatible with economic and military needs, the statement led to endless friction.
2
After the First World War, a body of international law came into existence to protect the national minorities within the boundaries of both the defeated nations and the newly created nations.

-3-

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