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The Nature of Subjugated Cultures

Updated: Feb 21, 2018

“When we try to interact from a point of departure--our differing view of American institutions--we end up frustrated and combative in our relationship. The interaction is made almost impossible when the groups do not hold honest and open dialogues surrounding these differences".


Oftentimes you find yourself starting a project not knowing exactly how the experiences derived from it will stretch the borders of your knowledge. Such has been the case with regard to the Educational Leadership Field Project in which I was required to create a committee to review Board Policies that affected the intra-district transfers of students. The interaction between the African-American parents and the Latino parents on the Review Committee has led me to gain more insight into the philosophical, cultural, and social differences that exist between the various cultural groups in America. I am even beginning to understand why, for example, Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans do not want to be identified as Hispanics. The interaction has also underscored the reason that Africans of first generation have almost been at loggerheads with African-Americans. It is apparent that subjugated groups view the U.S. government and its institution differently than do first generation immigrants.

Subjugated cultures are those cultural groups that are forcefully made part of a nation by enslavement, conquest, or colonization. Subjugated groups in the United States include Native Americans who were conquered by Europeans and the U.S. Government; African-Americans who were forced to come to the United States as an enslaved people; Mexican-Americans who were living in the southwestern part of the U.S. at the time of the Mexican-American war; and Puerto Ricans who were conquered by the U.S. during the Spanish-American war. These groups even though liberated, still live under the yoke of memory and the people that subjugated them.

The educational, cultural, political and social issues created by forced subjugation are different from those faced by recent and voluntary immigrants (i.e., first-generation Americans). Subjugated groups often feel a level of hostility toward the institutions that subjugate them. Having lived under oppression and having been denied access to services provided by these institutions, subjugated groups hold a frame of reference that is suspicious of the government. To get these services, they had to fight the system that subjugated them. It is significant to remember that the relationship of equality between the subjugated groups and the dominant culture is a very young one if not one that is still in transition. It was only 40 years ago that subjugated groups, especially African-Americans, found relief from years of discrimination and marginalization.

The first-generation Americans, or voluntary immigrants, enter the U.S. having sought relief from the cruelty of governments in their home countries. America is almost a second chance at living a humane life. These immigrants come with the hope that the U.S. government and its institutions will provide them with improved living conditions. America to many of them is a land that flows with milk and money and untold opportunities for making it in life. Even tough first-generation Americans sometimes face the same discrimination and bigotry experienced by subjugated groups, but they often see these negatives as part of the price for improving their conditions in the U.S. It is better sometimes to be incarcerated in America than to live under horrific conditions that certain countries provide for their people. In fact, it can be argued that many immigrant groups, particularly people of color, encounter the same problems of racism and social and cultural exclusion as subjugated groups. The difference here is that first-generation Americans sometimes do not know the cues of racism and exploitation since the benefits that accrue from being under the U.S. Government outweigh the mistreatment they might receive as compared to their former land of abode. Having grown up in lands where opportunities to make a decent living are scarce, asking these immigrants to feel some sense of antagonism toward the U.S. Government is like asking them to bite the hand that feeds them.

Subjugated groups often feel some antagonism toward government and public institutions such as public schools because these institutions have, in the past, been a vehicle for slavery and control. By contrast, first-generation Americans welcome the services these institutions have to offer. For example, public schools are not generally perceived as oppositional or as threats to the identity and the acculturation that first-generation immigrants wish to acquire and to maintain. Actually, quite often some first-generation Americans may believe they are not better off in America and may choose to exercise their option to return to their former countries. This is a choice that subjugated groups do not have. First-generation immigrants have a frame of reference that is totally different from those who have lived under the welcoming government as a subjugated people. Consequently, immigrants in general have different attitudes regarding government institutions than do dominated cultures.

Therefore, while subjugated and immigrant groups share similar problems of prejudice and discrimination, they often differ with regard to how they see their possibilities for advancement in U.S. society. The experiences in American schools of African-Americans, Native-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Puerto Ricans who are from subjugated cultures have often been negative and have created a level of suspicion and hostility toward the institution. These feelings often manifest themselves in forms of resistance to public schools and a lack of support for local district schools. Since the teacher cadre in the public schools is still almost 85 percent white, subjugated groups of color view the schools as an extension of continued subjugation, especially when the books their children learn from do not reflect their ethnic groups’ contributions to society and learning in the United States.

I hope you will find, as I have, that the divide that exists between certain groups in America has both a historical and a cultural context. When we try to interact from a point of departure--our differing view of American institutions--we end up frustrated and combative in our relationship. The interaction is made almost impossible when the groups do not hold honest and open dialogues surrounding these differences. This dialogue of divide is more exemplified between African-Americans and Africans of first generation. The failure of these two groups to interact around these differing perceptions has led to a relationship of hostility, antagonism, isolation, exclusion, and, sometimes, outright loathing. Many African students of first generation origin have faced serious discrimination and exclusion at predominantly black colleges in America than anywhere else. Due to this difference and a failure to recognize that these differences exist within their philosophy of thought and culture, their relationship has been one of misunderstanding. The Latinos and Hispanics have not faired any better.

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