Bob Blauner's sociological work on class and race is based on his years as a factory worker. The "Blauner Hypothesis" states that minority groups created by enforced colonisation experience a greater degree of racism and discrimination than those created by voluntary immigration. In his studies, and responding to the limitations of the ethnicity and class models of race, Blauner contrasts the assimilation experiences of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican-Americans. Blauner’s internal colonialism theory also attempts to argue that minority racial status in the US not only parallels colonised groups abroad, but is also inherently linked to a more global appraisal of race. While there is an emphasis upon the idea of minority groups as victims, his argument allows for a comprehensive arena of group racialisation processes which works especially well for Filipino Americans, as colonials both in the international and United States setting. Blauner's colonised minority theory compensates for the shortcomings of the ethnicity and class models and provides an appropriate framework for colonised racuak minority groups who often maintain strong transnational ties and continue to encounter institutional barriers in the United States; such groups can be distinguished by their forced entry, unfree labor, and cultural restrictions.
By pointing out the difference in mode of entry between immigrant and colonised groups, Blauner establishes how this historical context hinders the ability of racial minority groups to be fully included in the American political agenda. Within a multicultural nation like the USA, immigration and colonisation are the two means by which different racial and ethnic groups become introduced into a type of racial hierarchy. In the case of colonialism, metropolitan nations incorporate new territories or peoples through processes that are essentially involuntary, such as war, conquest, capture, and other forms of force or manipulation. Through immigration, new peoples or ethnic groups enter a host society more or less freely. The issue of choice (or of it) distinguishes immigrant and colonised groups—who, generally speaking, are poor—because the former see the United States as an opportunity to improve their economic status by means of assimilation. By contrast, colonised groups do not have a genuinel opportunity for inclusion because of their non-white skin; hence the USA becomes the slave master. The racial state that emerges from the mix of acculturated immigrants and minority racial groups is so powerful that even after civil rights reforms during the 20th century, old stereotypes still impede racial minorities from becoming more than what Blauner calls “differentially included.”
While both ethnic immigrants and colonised minorities by and large experienced poverty and discrimination at the hands of Anglo Americans, the European conquest of the New Land and enslavement of Africans manifested a link in society between colour and unfree labour. There is no denying that all immigrants, white and non-white, had little choice but to work in unskilled jobs. But as Marx pointed out, particular “work and systems of labour are crucial in shaping larger social forces and relations.” The agricultural goods that slaves produced were crucial to establishing the US economy, and not until after the Civil War (1861-65) was the exploitative institution abolished, at least nominally. The idea that whites of all backgrounds were unfit for what was defined as slave labour, especially agricultural labor, had crystallised in the national pysche. As the USA industrialised in the 19th century, white immigrants worked in the factories and steel mills, while blacks remained in the fields. While manufacturing represented modernisation, agricultural work appeared almost backward; thus, if racial minorities represented a majority on the plantations, how could society see them as civilised? Blacks were essential to the capitalist system by virtue of their differential inclusion in the labour force. Blauner argues that since white immigrants worked within a wage system with an aspiration of upward mobility, minorities barely had any choice over where they worked. In fact, non-Anglo whites were able to facilitate their own assimilation more quickly by participating in the collective exploitation of black labour.
The forced entry into the U.S. and unfree labor status of racial minorities translated into a struggle for cultural nationalism because these circumstances led to the creation and maintenance of ghettos which did not allow blacks to separate their marginalised status in society from their lives at home. Blauner recognizes the importance of the home environment for immigrants, primarily in providing a space for them to establish and even maintain their culture within a non-threatening setting. However, third world people living in the U.S. could only practise their culture within the confines of the dominant group’s tolerance, which often meant self-censorship. Ethnic immigrants had the advantage of white skin and European descent, and thus, even through assimilation, they could reconstruct most of their traditions in an American setting. Colonised immigrants had neither option: they could not realistically become fully-fledged Americans because they were too different, and often whites consciously attempted to destroy aspects of their cultures that they deemed “uncivilised.” In fact, the most pragmatic means for immigrants to integrate into the greater society seemed to lie in their discriminating against a less powerful, non-white group.
Blauner’s theory draws important parallels between racial minorities and colonised groups. However, he does stress that every group has a different experience and thus should be analysed objectively; this distinguishes his approach from earler models. Blauner makes a fair assessment that marginalised groups everywhere share “economic underdevelopment, a heritage of colonialism and neocolonialism, and a lack of real political autonomy and power.” He also recognises that he cannot make absolute generalisations for all oppressed groups, for such an oversimplification would weaken his argument. The black experience of slavery and Filipino agricultural serfdom will not automatically yield identical characteristics for these groups. Furthermore, within each group there is disparity. In the case of Filipinos, not all immigrants arrived in the USA as labourers. Although most worked in the fields, there was also an elite of Filipino pensionados who matriculated in American universities in the early 20th century and eventually repatriated to reinforce the American way of life in the Philippines after they had graduated. In addition, Filipino immigrants of the 1920s lived in circumstances that differed significantly from other Asians. While Chinese and Japanese farm workers may have experienced similar exploitative field conditions to Filipinos, neither group came from a country controlled by Western powers. Filipinos on both sides of the Pacific were living under American rule, whereas Chinese and Japanese maintained sovereignty in their home countries. This colonial dynamic, however, meant that Filipinos “had greater familiarity with Western culture than other Asian immigrants,” and as a result, Filipinos intermarried more often.
Perhaps the most significant insight of Blauner’s theory is the connection American racial minorities have to the countries from which they ancestors came. The Spanish and American colonisation and neocolonisation of the Philippines sheds light on why Filipino Americans have continued to occupy caste status, even though post-1965 Filipino immigration has been relatively voluntary. Drawing from the “essential connection between colonised people within the United States and the peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” Blauner’s theory remains crucial for an understanding of Filipinos and other transnational citizens. A people whose history has been defined by conquest, Filipino Americans endured slave-like conditions in the fields and second class citizenship during the decades of American occupation. However, in the generations following Philippine independence in 1946 and the Immigration Act of 1965, Filipino Americans have benefited from more economic and political opportunities. There is a clear disparity with regard to the Filipino American social condition between the generations living during and after colonialism. Such correlations can be made using Blauner's model in a way that is not possible within the more static ethnic-, class-, and nation-based models.
While Blauner’s approach proved to be the most comprehensive for studying Filipinos, certain shortcomings still needed to be addressed. Omi and Winant, his harshest critics, do not believe Blauner consistently maintains his colonial framework in all situations. For example, he does not consistently appky his theory in his analysis of ghetto revolts, despite the fact that the theory is rooted in race-based communities. In dismissing race riots as “normal politics,” Omi and Winant feel Blauner is avoiding his discrepancies. Furthermore, while Blauner relies heavily on Marxist ideas, he fails to effectively explain intra-group class cleavages, inter-minority rivalries, and the impact of minority infiltration into traditionally racist institutions such as government, education, and the judiciary.
I hope this is helpful.