The Concept of the Noel Hypothesis in the Relationship between Races and Gender

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Updated: Feb 04, 2023
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The Noel Hypothesis is a theory that describes the development of a dominant and subordinate group of people due to the circumstances of their contact situation. (Healey, Pg.109) According to the theory, the three main aspects that lead to an inequality of two groups or more include ethnocentrism, competition, and a differential in power. The first aspect of Daniel Noel’s hypothesis, ethnocentrism, describes the tendency for people to judge other societies based on the differences of lifestyle, religion, physical traits, or traditional ways. As humans we acquire social constructs that determine our way of life and our realities.

Throughout history though, these norms have often been used to contrast with the norms of other cultures for criticism. The next aspect of Noel’s hypothesis, competition, is the “struggle over a fierce commodity.” These commodities could include land, labor, jobs, housing, educational opportunities, or political offices. Through the struggle of these commodities, competition usually occurs between groups, which can develop into prejudices. The last part in Noel’s hypothesis is differential in power. Characteristics such as population size, strength, technology, and organization are all factors, which determine the difference of power between two groups. If all of these conditions are met, the hypothesis states, “Inequality and institutionalized discrimination between the two groups will occur”. (Healey, Pg.109)

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One way we can apply the Noel hypothesis to a certain event in history is by looking at the establishment of institutional slavery in the United States. In contrast to popular belief, we have learned that blacks were not initially slaves in the colonies. In early colonial days (1600’s) blacks were indentured servants among whites. These indentured servants could earn their freedom; attain citizenship, and even own land and property. It was not until the British colonist were in need of a strong workforce for their plantations that the colonist looked to a group of people to do the taxing work. The option for the colonist to enslave white indentured servants and American Indians did not exist due the fact that there was no differential in power between the groups.

And in fact the initial relationship with American Indians and colonist was mainly harmonious. American Indians were conservationists and each tribe had a very elaborate culture that included many skills that were used for trade with the colonist. (Parillo, Pg.183) By the time the colonists looked at American Indians for a labor force, American Indians were well organized and in large enough numbers to fend off slavery by the colonist. As for the white indentured servants, most of them had attained their freedom by the time colonial elites were looking to institutionalize slavery in America. As for the blacks, there was a clear difference in power, being that the colonist outnumbered the blacks. Along with a difference in power there were clear physical traits that obviously separated blacks and whites. William Shakespeare made this clear separation even more acceptable to the English with his story and play, The Tempest. (Takaki, Pg.49-50) By establishing slavery the colonist defined themselves as the dominant group over the subordinate blacks from Africa.

In addition to the clear differential in power between blacks and whites, ethnocentrism of the whites was also a catalyst in the establishment of slavery in the colonies. The colonists were whites from Britain who were Protestant, they spoke the English language, and according to their selves, they were a civilized group of people. Blacks on the other hand were in every which way different. In the 1660’s the colonist began to define the “slave” through laws, which were known as the slave codes. (Healey, Pg.145) These laws were used as tools to institutionalize slavery in the colonies and allow the colonist to use the blacks as laborers for their crops. Crops such as sugar, tobacco, and rice were a major export for the colonies and in order for the colonist be successful they needed a large work force. Enslaving the blacks was seen as very profitable to the colonist since the blacks were forced to work for free. According to Healey, by the mid 1700’s slavery was well defined by the law and custom in the American way of life. These laws that defined slavery also gave the white colonist the right to treat their slaves any, which way they chose. In the eyes of the law, blacks were the property of their white masters.

Unlike the blacks who were a colonized group of people by the colonist, the American Indians had a different kind of contact situation with the British colonist. The main competition between the colonist and the American Indians in the early 1600’s was land. It was estimated that there were millions of American Indian tribes in North America; all had unique cultures, different tribal kinds, and different languages. These numbers dwindled to nearly 250,000 due to the diseases brought by the settlers. (Healey, Pg.241) Since the American Indians had large numbers on their side during the 1600’s there was not much that the British colonist could do to control the American Indian populations. Even then, the colonist did not look to enslaving a group of people until the demand for labor in their agricultural economy started to boom later on.

In this sense we can see that there was no differential in power between the American Indians and the British colonist in the 1600’s. As more and more immigrants from Europe started to arrive in America, the British colonist sought to take up more land and in doing so started occupying American Indian territories. These conflicts between the whites and Indians led to many wars, kidnappings, and murders between the two groups for nearly two centuries. By the beginning of the 1800’s the English settlers, along with the diseases they had brought from Europe, had killed so many American Indians that many sources claim the atrocity to be of genocide proportions. The contact situation between the American Indians and the white settlers fulfills two of the conditions, ethnocentrism and competition, needed to satisfy Noel’s Hypothesis but it does not satisfy the last condition of differential in power. Although the American Indians were never enslaved by white settlers, they were a highly oppressed group of who had their land and culture stripped away from them. Furthermore, the acceptance of oppression and isolation of the American Indians led to discrimination and prejudices by white settlers.

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The Concept of the Noel Hypothesis in the Relationship Between Races and Gender. (2023, Feb 04). Retrieved from