Questioning the revival : white ethnicities in the racial pentagon

  • Ruwan Ubeysekara

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis embodies a comprehensive analysis of the assimilation of Southern and Eastern European immigrant groups in the United States. Despite being considered racially distinct upon arrival en masse in the period 1880-1920, assimilation theorists posited that these white ethnic groups would be quickly absorbed into the prevailing white population. With the aid of Americanization campaigns targeting immigrants and their offspring, it appeared as though ethnic attachments had progressively declined with each successive generation. However, an explosion of white ethnic sentiment and activity in the 1960s and 1970s suggested otherwise, and led many to believe that white ethnic identities had not been entirely forsaken and were in fact being revived by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the immigrants. This view is fundamentally questioned within this thesis which argues that, due to a multitude of forces and factors, white ethnicities could not have been revived in any meaningful sense. Significant attention is drawn to America’s racialised history and racebased social framework within which white ethnics categorically benefited from being classified as ‘white’. Also examined are factors such as generational distance from the point of immigration, language loss, upward mobility, and intermarriage, which together facilitated the comprehensive assimilation of white ethnic groups into the majority white population in the decades leading up to the alleged “ethnic revival.” The upsurge in white ethnic sentiment in the 1960s and 1970s is therefore argued to have transpired due to the chance convergence of a number of different factors, and given the continued classification of Americans as belonging to one of five racial groups, this thesis concludes that white ethnicities stand little chance of surviving in the long-run within a society in which race continues to hold significant sway.
Date of Award1 Jul 2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorBrian Neve (Supervisor)


  • assimilation
  • Ethnic revival
  • racial pentagon
  • race relations
  • white ethnics
  • ethnic identity

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