Chapter 8: Racial and Ethnic Minorities in Rural Areas

In Chapter 8, “Racial and Ethnic Minorities in Rural Areas,” we examine the historical roots and contemporary realities of the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities in rural America. While nonmetropolitan America is often less diverse than metropolitan areas as a whole, rural America is far more racially diverse than popular imagination often presumes. We begin by discussing the concepts of race and ethnicity and how they have been used as social, and sociological, constructs. We then look at the socio-demographic characteristics of rural minority populations, focusing in particular on three principal minority populations in America: Blacks, American Indians, and Latinos. This chapter concludes by discussing more recent trends of immigration, settlement, and resettlement that are changing the social and demographic makeup of many rural areas, calling for a closer examination of these new patterns of ethnic and demographic change.

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Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions

1. What do social scientists mean when they state that race is a social construct? Discuss some of the ways in which social constructs, such as race, can shape human behavior.

2. How does the U.S. Census Bureau collect data on race? How does it count the Hispanic population?

3. This chapter states that the “ways in which people identify themselves, are identified by others, and the social, political, economic and spatial implications of that identification have significant effects on the distribution of resources and the life chances that are available to people,” (p. 177). What does this mean to you? How have you seen or might you see this in practice?

4. Immigration opponents often claim that immigrants reduce the employment opportunities of U.S. rural citizens. Discuss the evidence for and against such claims.

5. It is inaccurate to discuss the history of America’s founding without discussing the abuse and exploitation of black and brown bodies. How do we see this legacy of subjugation still play out in rural spaces today? What implications does this have for the social relations of rural life?

6. Political observers and demographers have been paying attention for some time to the changing socio-demographic transitions in rural America and specifically the growth of rural racial and ethnic minority populations. What are the possible implications for changing rural politics and political participation of rural people?

7. Consider the ideologies surrounding the construct of community in rural spaces. How might the boundaries created by these communities allow some people to participate in society while leaving others out? What does this look like for those not in the majority? How might an influx of “outsiders” affect community understanding in rural spaces?


1. Constructing Bar Charts of Race & Ethnicity. Using data obtained on FactFinder of the nation, compare the racial composition of: i) the total U.S., ii) the state and county where your school/college is located, and iii) the metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas of the state where your school/college is located. Use these data to examine the changing racial composition of these areas between 2000, 2010 and 2016. Display these data to construct bar charts showing these comparisons.

To find these data, navigate to American FactFinder ( Selecting the link to “Demographic and Housing Estimates” will extract the total U.S. population data broken down by age and race/ethnicity. To obtain these data at the state, county, and municipal level, type in the state name, county name, or municipal name in the box under “Community Facts.” Then, select “Go.” You should find basic demographic data for 2000, 2010, and the most recent American Community Survey (ACS) data.

You can then enter these data into a spreadsheet program such as Excel or Google Drive Sheets to create a histogram chart.

To determine total, rural only, urban only, metropolitan, and nonmetropolitan populations for 2000, 2010, and the most recent American Community Survey data, follow the steps below:

  • i. Navigate to American FactFinder (
  • ii. On the American FactFinder main page, locate the heading “What We Provide” on the left side of the page. Locate “Decennial Census” and click “Get Data.”
  • iii. Select “Geographies” located on the left sidebar. A popup window should appear.
  • iv. On the “Select Geographies” page, select “Name” on the second tab at the top.
  • v. On the left side of the name page under “Geography Filter Options,” scroll down and select the checkbox “Show Geographic Components (e.g., urban, rural).”
  • vi. In the “Geography Results” section to the right, you will see a long list of geographies covering multiple pages. At the top of the list, you should see “United States” and “United States–Urban.” Select the two categories’ checkboxes and click “Add.” You should now see the two geographies under “Your Selections” at the top left of your window.
  • vii. To find the other geographic components, you will need to repeat these steps with: “United States–Rural,” “United States–In metropolitan statistical area (MSA)/consolidated metropolitan statistical area (CMSA),” and “United States–Not in metropolitan statistical area (MSA)/consolidated metropolitan statistical area (CMSA).” You can use the search bar at the top, or you will find “United States–Rural” on page 2, “United States–In MSA/CMSA” on page 3, and “United States–Not in MSA/CMSA” on page 4. Select the respective checkboxes and click “Add.” You should now see all geographies under “Your Selections” at the top left of your window.
  • viii. Select “Close” on the top right of the “Geographies” selection box.
  • ix. At the top of the list, you should see “Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000” (2000SF1 100% Data). Clicking on the link will generate a table that shows the total population for urban, rural, metro, and nonmetro in 2000, as well as those populations broken down by a variety of demographic and household characteristics. Make a note of this data in your table.
  • x. To obtain the 2010 data, repeat the same procedure, but instead of selecting “Decennial Census,” select “American Community Survey.” Be sure to select the same geographies (United States, United States–In metropolitan statistical area, United States–Not in metropolitan statistical area, United States–Rural, United States–Urban). Do not forget to select the checkbox “Show Geographic Components (e.g., urban, rural).” All selections should be on the first page.
  • xi. To view the 2010 data, locate the “show results from” box on the top right corner of the Search Results” box. Click the dropdown menu and select “2010” for 2010 data.
  • xii. The 2010 ACS 5-year estimates will be the first result. Click on the link to access the data needed to complete your table.