Furthering the Field of Intergroup Relations

Intergroup resources

By Cheryl Staats, Research Associate,

With the United States predicted to become a so-called “majority minority” nation around 2042, it is undeniable that our nation and neighborhoods are currently undergoing a significant demographic shift toward greater racial and ethnic diversity.  In addition to births, one key component of this blossoming diversity is immigrant inflows.  According to 2010 American Community Survey, approximately 40 million foreign-born individuals reside in the United States, comprising approximately 13% of the U.S. population.  Many of these newcomers have begun to settle in areas outside of traditional gateway communities, which means that new locales have begun to wrestle with the dynamics of migration, identity, and race prompted by cross-racial encounters in neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools.  In some cases, tensions and misunderstandings accompany these new and often unfamiliar intergroup interactions, as proclaimed through thinly-veiled refrains such as, “they’re taking our jobs” or “we are hard workers; they are lazy.”  A lack of understanding regarding the circumstances of the other group often drives the development of these stereotypes, whether it is due to imperfect knowledge of the political/economic dynamics that undergird migration patterns, limited awareness of the legacy of slavery and the workings of white supremacy in the United States, or other factors.  Amplifying this friction, employers in some regions and industries capitalize on tensions by pitting low-wage African American and immigrant workers against each other, thereby fueling a sense of economic competition.

To counter these tensions and help receiving communities and newcomers acclimate to their new demographic circumstances, organizers, educators, and activists are engaging in efforts to intentionally build relationships across differences of race, ethnicity, and nationality in venues such as worker centers, community organizations, and unions.  The approaches to these programs vary considerably depending on the constituencies involved, the geographic context, and prior intergroup experiences, but they largely fall within two formats: dialogues designed to facilitate the sharing of life experiences as a means of finding common ground, and structured materials/curricula that often utilize popular education techniques.

Despite the established need for these kinds of intergroup programs, the organizations and entities leading these programs often operate on tight budgets, which can limit the time and resources they are able to invest in this work.  Moreover, groups that engage in intergroup dialogues or programs are often not in a position to formally document their efforts, which limits opportunities for sharing and field-building.

Recognizing this need, Kirwan Institute research provided the catalyst for Intergroup Resources, a newly-launched online resource center that contains a treasure of materials and insights designed to facilitate bridge building across lines of difference.  Intergroup Resources provides users a robust array of tools and guidance for teaching and talking about immigration, race, globalization, structural inequalities, and related topics.  The site consolidates and disseminates curricula, dialogue guides, and useful reflections from organizers, educators, and activists from across the nation.  More than just a clearinghouse, though, Intergroup Resources features thoughtful analyses that distill valuable lessons learned and makes the content easy to review through accessible curricular summaries, examples of pedagogical innovations, and a frank discussion of the challenges associated with intergroup work.  Complementing the site and further building the field, offline assistance* is available to help users navigate and apply the site’s content.

Efforts such as Intergroup Resources advance field-building by cataloguing and making broadly available the knowledge and materials previously housed in disparate locations.  Equipping organizers and educators who may lack the resources to create their own materials with a plethora of intergroup curricula, dialogue guides, advice, and inspiration creates ripple effects that extend the impacts of the materials well beyond their initial reach.  This generous sharing expands the field, furthering the creation of cross-racial, cross-ethnic, and cross-national relationships among individuals with divergent life experiences.


*For more information about the online and offline aspects of Intergroup Resources, you can contact Dushaw Hockett, Founder and Executive Director SPACEs (Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity) at dushaw@thespacesproject.org or (202) 360-7787.