Racial reproduction: The development and expression of racial knowledge among immigrants

Date of Completion

January 2003


Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




Most of the literature on race, racism, and the racial social structure in the United States tends to limit the discussion to a strict white/black analysis, while the literature on social reproduction focuses on class reproduction processes. Furthermore, much of the work on racial identity focuses on white and black native-born Americans, largely ignoring racial identity development for newcomers. My research utilizes key concepts from the racial social structure literature and the social reproduction literature to develop the theoretical concept of racial reproduction. Examining the experiences of recent immigrants, I explore how their acquisition of racial knowledge affects their racial identity development, and in turn, how this helps lead to a reproduction of the racial system. ^ As new individuals enter into the racial social structure of the United States, they are involved in the process of racialization; they become defined, and pushed to define themselves in particular racial terms. These processes and mechanisms for identification are the key components to this research. Where does this knowledge of the United States' racial social structure come from and how does this knowledge affect racial identity development? What is the relationship between immigrant racial perceptions of others and their own racial identity? What are the implications of immigrants' racialized thinking for the prevailing patterns of racial inequality? Using interviews and participant observation, this research reveals that recent immigrants tend to reflect the dominant racial ideology. They acquire knowledge of this ideology from the larger society in general, and from the various services they utilize in particular. Finally, while they may not necessarily challenge the dominant ideology, their identity constructions are not limited to the prevailing white-black binary constructions existing within the United States. ^