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The Historical Construction of Race and Citizenship in the United States

  • George M. Fredrickson

Abstract

Nationalist ideologies have often associated membership of a nation state (existing or imagined) with primordial ethnic identities. Nations have thus been regarded as extended kin groups or communities of descent (Smith, 1984). In the context of European history, the ethnic basis for citizenship was most fully articulated in Germany during and after the process of unification and in the nations of Eastern Europe that emerged within the Austro-Hungarian empire and became independent after World War I. France and Great Britain have manifested a more complex relationship between ethnicity and citizenship. The former has combined a strong sense of its ethnocultural identity with the universalistic republicanism fostered by the revolution of 1789, and the latter has been a multinational kingdom under a relatively benign English hegemony. American identity and citizenship have not been based in any compelling and consistent way on the ethnocultural character of its population. But, more than the nations of Europe, it has made physical ‘race’, especially as represented by differences in skin colour, a determinant of civic and social status.

Keywords

African Descent Democratic Citizenship White Supremacy Fourteenth Amendment Equal Citizenship 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© UNRISD 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • George M. Fredrickson

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