When two distinct groups first come into contact with each other, the conditions of that meeting can determine the fate and mold the relations of the two groups for generations. This is called the “Contact Situation.” Donald Noel and Robert Blauner have analyzed this initial contact and developed hypotheses that aid in the understanding of this phase of the inter-group relations.
The Noel hypothesis recognizes that there are three segments to the contact situation, that when working together, lead to some sort of inequality between the groups. The hypothesis states: If two or more groups come together in a contact situation characterized by ethnocentrism, competition and a difference in power, then some form of racial or ethnic stratification will result (Noel, 1968, p. 163). In other words, if the contact situation contains all three of the situations, ethnocentrism, competition, and a difference in power, then some sort of dominant-minority social structure will be created.
Ethnocentrism is defined as the tendency to judge other groups, societies or lifestyles by the standard of one’s own culture (Healy, 1999, p. 175). At some level, ethnocentrism is a necessary part of human culture. Without it, people would tend to not obey laws, social norms or work with others in every day life. Ethnocentrism can also create a negative effect. At the extreme end of it, it can create the view that other cultures are not only different, but are also inferior. When ethnocentrism exists at any level, most people follow group lines and tend to differentiate between “us” and “them” (Healy, 1999, p. 175)
Competition is a struggle over a scarce commodity (Healy, 1999, p 175), and usually leads to prejudice and discrimination. In contact situations, the dominant group is the one that come out on top of the competition. Competition can be over anything that is desired by either group, or what one group has that other wants. The dominant group serves its own interests by ending the competition and exploiting, controlling, eliminating or dominating the minority group (Healy, 1999 p.176).
Differential in power is the third component in a contact situation. There are three things that can determine the differential of power: the size of the group, the organizational skills, and group leadership skills, and the controlling of resources. A larger, better organized group with more resources will generally be able to impose its will on the minority group (Healy,1999, p.176).
The Blauner hypothesis, analyzed in his book Racial Oppression in America (1972), identifies two other types of contact situations, colonization and immigration. Blauner’s hypothesis states “minority groups created by colonization will experience more intense prejudice, racism, and discrimination than those created by immigration. Furthermore, the disadvantaged status of colonized groups will persist longer and be more difficult to overcome than the disadvantaged status faced by groups created by immigration” (Blauner, 1972).
Colonized minority groups such as African Americans are usually forced into minority status. The status is forced upon them by the military and political powers wielded by the majority group. One example is the slave status. Colonized minorities have virtually no chance for assimilation and are typically identified by highly visible physical characteristics.
Most immigrant minority groups have some semblance of control over where they are immigrating to. For this reason, they usually keep enough of their culture and resources to help them achieve that which they strive for. While immigrants will face problems trying to assimilate, they usually have a better chance than those that have been colonized.